Summerland Tour a rousing success at the Greek

Orange County Register - July 1, 2012
2012-06-30 21:17:14

On the surface it looks like nothing more than a collection of past-their-prime bands packaged for the road to potentially up their sales ante, but the Summerland Tour – which made its second stop Friday night at the Greek Theatre – is actually one of the most culturally significant tours of the summer.

To any aging grunge-rockers still obsessed with credibility, that’s a somewhat sickening suggestion, but it isn’t hyperbole. The kinda-all-star conflagration of Marcy Playground, Lit, Gin Blossoms, Sugar Ray and Everclear (two of which just put out new albums) is more or less the first ’90s nostalgia tour, although it narrowly beat out the launch of the similarly constructed Last Summer on Earth Tour (featuring Barenaked Ladies, Blues Traveler, Cracker and Big Head Todd & the Monsters) by a mere week. (That arrives at Gibson Amphitheatre on July 27.)

Both bills are a test of whether Gen-X’ers, like their parents before them, are ready to put aside any need for relevance in favor of a rush of remembrance from bands whose days of radio hits are behind them – whose minor cultural significance, that is, faded away with the end of the Clinton presidency.

The results at the Greek were resoundingly favorable. A surprise turnout (both Sugar Ray frontman Mark McGrath and Everclear’s Art Alexakis declared it a sell-out, though roughly 500 of the venue’s 6500 seats were blocked off and unsold) combined with spirited, not-sad-at-all sets from four of the five bands (more on that in a minute) made the night, well, fun – which was the whole point in the first place.

McGrath, especially, served as a fine brand ambassador. Along with Alexakis, they introduced each band and explained how they’d hatched the idea for the tour at Aroma Cafe not far from the venue, turning it into reality just months later. But there’s perhaps no one in rock who so unapologetically “feels” as ’90s as McGrath, with his spiky hair and fratboy-gone-punk look. He knows it, and buys into it: More than once he referred to this lineup as “the music we all love” and went so far as to call the hits by these bands “the most iconic of the decade.” (Maybe he hasn’t heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit”?)

His group’s co-headlining set – literally a 45-minute smattering of hits, starting with “Someday” (natch) and ending with the same-sounding “Fly” (double-natch) – was clearly the highlight, all of it performed against a backdrop of nostalgic nods, like the band’s name done up in double-stamped Cheap Trick logo fashion or placed in mock-ups of old KLOS bumper stickers.

If you’re wondering if Sugar Ray really had 45 minutes of hits, well, no, they didn’t – which is why they peppered in a decent cover of the Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop” and a karaoke-off between two teenage boys who had to sing, respectively, Beastie Boys’ “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)” and the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling” – two non-’90s songs, but hey, if everyone’s singing along, who cares, right?

Unfortunately, Everclear might. Coming after that set plus surprisingly strong turns from Marcy Playground (whose tuneful pop, especially their one radio hit “Sex and Candy,” has aged well), Fullerton favorite Lit (whose Jäger-downing vocalist A.Jay Popoff is the destitute man’s Scott Weiland, and that’s a compliment) and the tambourine-obsessed Gin Blossoms (eight songs, seven hits, no complaints), Everclear started the night’s final set already frustrated with severe onstage sound problems.

Like the pro rockers they are, Alexakis and his players continued to soldier on, perhaps unfortunately, through “So Much for the Afterglow” and “Everything to Everyone” and “Father of Mine,” each song sounding looser, less rehearsed, sloppier. It may not have been entirely their fault: the frontman clearly was hoarse the whole evening and his game was thrown off. (He sounded great at a recent Viper Room show; this may well have been mitigating circumstances.) The disappointment on his face became palpable with each grunted vocal from the man McGrath had previously (and laughably) labeled “our generation’s Brian Wilson.”

That said, when it came down to it, this was all about the effort: For the night-closing “Santa Monica,” Alexakis had the audience chanting along, an empowering display of aging cathartic might.

He and McGrath spoke during mid-set banter about trying to do this tour with different bands next year. If their own groups take the summer off, may we suggest they enlist the Verve Pipe, Eve 6, Smash Mouth, the Goo Goo Dolls and Third Eye Blind?

In a way, it’s a sickening suggestion. It also would be totally awesome.