By Chuck Cox
I’ve been to my fair share of 1980s nostalgia tours that featured lineups of several bands, but until Wednesday night at the Allen Event Center, I had never been to a 1990s package tour with multiple acts.
When I heard the “Under the Sun Tour,” which features Smash Mouth, Sugar Ray, Gin Blossoms, Vertical Horizon and Texas’ own Fastball, was headed to town, it was a no-brainer for me. The chance to check out five bands I had never seen before and hear a good 20 or so radio hits on a Wednesday night sounded like, well, music to my ears.
And while the enthusiastic crowd was not very big (the arena was less than half full), it was still a very fun night of relieving the 1990s with tons of hits, along with plenty of singing and dancing on stage and in the audience. Not from me, mind you. Me singing and/or dancing in public is not something that needs to happen. OK, I sang under my breath a little bit. A few times.
Anyway, the show ran like a well-oiled machine. Fastball got things started right at 7 p.m. And there was never more than 20 minutes of set-up time between any of the bands. The Austin-based trio played a 20-minute set capped by its two most recognizable tunes, “Out of My Head” and “The Way.”
Vertical Horizon then took to the stage and sounded just phenomenal. The Boston-based quartet treated the crowd to a song from its forthcoming Echoes From the Underground CD, which is due out next month. Lead singer and band founder Matt Scannell was right at home in front of the crowd, leading VH through a 35-minute set that included its big hits “Everything You Want,” You’re a God,” and “Best I Ever Had (Grey Sky Morning).” Sacnnell joked about not knowing he wrote a country hit, as the latter was also a big chart-topper for Gary Allan on the country charts.
Next up was the Gin Blossoms, who churned out a hit-filled 40 minutes that included lead singer Robin Wilson going out into the crowd during “Hey Jealousy.” Wilson had tons of energy, which got the crowd even more into the show. Seeing a band like that, you really can forget just how many hits it has until you hear them live. All of the sudden, you’re singing along with “Allison Road” or “Follow You Down” like you did before “Friends” was ever in syndication.
Then, it was Sugar Ray’s turn. I honestly expected Mark McGrath and the boys to be the band on the bill I would enjoy the least. Guess what? I only liked Vertical Horizon better. McGrath is a true showman wrapped inside a game-show host. He’s “verbose,” flashy, and likes to dress a little bit on the loud side. But the guy knows exactly who he is. And he works it flawlessly. It doesn’t hurt that he can sing, too. Sugar Ray’s show was tight and fun. It also included a great cover of Violent Femmes’ “Blister in the Sun” during the 55-minute show.
Finally, Smash Mouth wrapped it up with a 40-minute set that included the band’s signature hits “Walkin’ on the Sun” and “All Star,” along with a pair of cover songs — “I’m a Believer” (which was also a hit for the band) and a rocking “You Really Got Me” a la Van Halen. With such a short time on stage, the drum solo was an odd choice. And I also thought it was kind of strange none of the bands had an encore. Five bands, four hours, “Good night, Allen.” Like I said, it was efficient.
Another cool thing was at least one member of one of the bands on the bill joined all five acts on stage for a song or two, which gave the tour a strong vibe. The bands really seemed to be enjoying being on tour with one another. McGrath and Wilson also shared emcee duties.
Make sure to check back later this week for my thoughts on the Heart show at Gexa Energy Pavilion.