The nostalgia factor has always been an easy way for bands that have become culturally irrelevant to join forces in order to tour and make a quick buck. It's a tried and true formula that has worked since the one-hit wonders of the '60s realized that there was actually a market for this specific brand of schlockfest. Though there were a few highlights, the Summerland Tour featuring Everclear, Sugar Ray, Lit, Gin Blossoms and Marcy Playground at the Greek Theater on Friday was exactly that--unless you consider '90s rock radio to be as good as it gets. If that's the case, you probably had a blast.
When Everclear frontman Art Alexakis and Sugar Ray's Mark McGrath, better known as the host of Extra these days, put their heads together to come up with the whole Summerland concept--named after a cut on Everclear's 1995 album Sparkle and Fade (this was the second night of the tour)-- even they addressed at the egregious amount of alt-rock rehashing happening on stage. Hey, at least they're not oblivious.
After being introduced by McGrath as this generation's Brian Wilson (either he was pandering to the crowd or just plain delusional), Alexakis and his band delivered a crisp, hit-filled headlining set. Believe it or not, the band released a new album this year and the song they played from it, "Careful What You Ask For," was actually pretty good. Let's not get carried away and say it was like one of their classics like "Santa Monica," "Everything To Everyone" and "I Will Buy You a New Life," but it was alright considering the rest of the bill.
Lit gave the night a bit of local flavor. The Orange County natives played a brief seven-song set, that went over well with the crowd. Their performance was energetic and like rest of the bands, they played mostly their well-known songs, with "My Worst Enemy" closing the set and receiving the loudest ovation of any tune from the night. Granted, their sound is a bit dated at this point, but hey, that doesn't mean that people didn't have fun singing along to them. Singer A. Jay Popoff's energy was infectious as he bouncing around the stage and giving fans all they can ask for from an early act.
The surprise hit of the night though, was Gin Blossoms. The Tempe natives delivered a set of mid-'90s radio staples that had women screaming along while their significant others could only nod along with approval. It's a credit to their writing that their songs have stood the test of time.
"We came here to chew bubble gum and kickass," singer Robin Wilson said. "And we're out of gum." I wouldn't say that they kicked ass because that their music isn't the type that kicks your ass, but it was definitely better than expected. They did what was necessary for a nostalgia tour, which was to play their hits and only their hits. Sticking to this formula had fans engaged throughout their set.
On that note, we come to Sugar Ray. How this band fits in with the other bands (were Fastball and Toad The Wet Sprocket not available?) on the bill I don't know, but since McGrath was one of the curators of the tour, they had to play. From musical perspective, the set was as painful as you'd expect. Sugar Ray's songs have not aged well, even if their singer has done the opposite. Though McGrath is very pleasant and authentic as a frontman, a great singer this does not make. The set was cringe-worthy, including a cover of The Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop," which probably had both Joey and Johnny rolling over in their graves agreeing (which was extremely rare) that these guys shouldn't tackle one of their signature songs. Despite having the weakest set (save for opener Marcy Playground) of the bunch, McGrath was affable and entertaining, using his self-deprecating charm to win over the crowd.
"How many have of you thought douchey Sugar Ray would still be around?" he asked the crowd. They seemed confused to how to respond, but I'll take a stab at an answer: Not in a million years. Sugar Ray's music allowed the crowd to enjoy sunny sounds and nonsensical lyrics--a time-honored tradition that extends back to their hit sophomore album Floored (there was a nincompoop in my high school graduating class who actually used a lyric from "Fly" as his quote in the senior class yearbook).
As the end of the night neared, McGrath pleaded with the sold-out (yes, we were equally shocked) crowd that if they wanted to hear keep hearing '90s pop music for the summers to come, to keep coming to the shows. But there's a reason that most of this music didn't last more than a few years (except Everclear, who had a longer prime than all the others combined), and this first edition was fun for fans, but it the concept promises to get old really fast, much like the music of the bands on this bill.
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Critical Bias: There was a reason these bands weren't on Lollapalooza. Last night reconfirmed why.
The Crowd: Aging post-Reality Bites Generation X'ers who can't let go of the past.
Random Notebook Dump: To the fella that was rocking a Lit shirt in the front row yet couldn't stay awake during their set, shame on you. Also, to the woman wearing the Von Dutch hat, this was a '90s show, not early Aughts. You still have a couple of years before you bust out that hat.