Summerland Tour: PNC Bank Arts Center, Holmdel, NJ, 07/21/12

The recent temperatures in New Jersey apparently aren’t the only things stuck in the 90s. This past Saturday night, thousands of local concertgoers came out to catch a stop of the Summerland Tour, featuring a slew of bands that first rose to prominence in that magical decade before the second millennium. Participating acts Marcy Playground, Lit, the Gin Blossoms, Sugar Ray and Everclear treated fans—Kurt Cobain lookalikes, girls with mohawks, and those adorned with chain wallets and Vans sneakers—to a barrage of blasts from the past, performing their biggest hits and some of the best songs of the 1990s.

Yeah, Mama, This Surely Is a Dream
Three-piece Marcy Playground opened the show, playing a set of blues-based rock songs that more closely resembled that of an anonymous bar band than a successful group 17 years into its career. Although the band was tight, many of its songs seemed to blend together, and not a single track encompassed the originality and quirkiness of the band’s massive 1997 hit “Sex and Candy.” When Marcy Playground finally did play its hit single at the close of its set, the song was met with no more than polite acknowledgement, as much of the crowd was still filing into the amphitheater at the time.

Everything Goes By So Fast
Whereas the unassuming Marcy Playground was ostensibly content to perform its songs in front of a somewhat apathetic crowd, Lit refused to be ignored, mercilessly forcing its brand of ostentatious rock down the audience’s throats. Lead singer A. Jay Popoff, a consummate showman who’d hit the stage wearing a tight, black vest, removed the article of clothing before the end of the band’s second song and proceeded to shirtlessly lead the group through its myriad sing-along anthems of debauchery. Lit ended its set with “Miserable” and “My Own Worst Enemy,” two hit singles from the band’s 1999 platinum album A Place in the Sun. During the last song, the crowd went berserk, singing at the top of their lungs and banging their heads with little regard for the brains inside. No song the rest of the evening would incite such a strong reaction.

The Past Is Gone, But Something Might Be Found to Take Its Place
The Gin Blossoms were the first band of the night whose set almost entirely consisted of hit singles. Opening with 1996’s “Follow You Down,” the band ran through a long list of near-perfect pop songs, from “Until I Fall Away” and “Found Out About You” to “Til I Hear It From You” and “Hey Jealousy.” Vocalist Robin Wilson sounded as mellifluous as he did 20 years ago on the group’s 1992 breakthrough album New Miserable Experience, while guitarists Jesse Valenzuela and Scott Johnson traded deftly played solos throughout the set. With fans on their feet from the first note played, the Gin Blossoms did not disappoint, delivering a set chock-full of gems that inspired the crowd to unabashedly sing along and dance in the aisles.  

There’s No Time to Think About Starting or the End
Taking the night’s ‘90s theme a step further than the other bands, Sugar Ray hit the stage to the “Saved by the Bell” theme song. The band subsequently took the audience with them on a journey through the preceding decades, beginning their set with a cover of the Surfaris’ 1963 classic “Wipe Out” and segueing to and from their own hit singles with covers of the Young Rascals’ “Groovin’” (1967) and the Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop” (1976). They even recruited a couple of audience members to participate in a bizarre karaoke showdown and perform the Beastie Boys’ “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party!)” (1986) and the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling” (2009).

As master of ceremonies, the charismatic Mark McGrath created a party-like atmosphere. Never the best vocalist—he was flat on numerous occasions throughout the set—McGrath more than made up for this with his onstage antics, enthusiastically prancing around the stage and constantly engaging the crowd. At one point, he kissed the cheek of a male security guard in the front row. Despite his vocal deficiencies, McGrath is as charming a front-man as you’ll ever see, and this, in tandem with his band’s surprisingly strong catalogue of music—“Fly,” “Every Morning,” “Someday” and “When It’s Over”—was enough to make Sugar Ray the highlight of the show.

I Know We Will Never Look Back
If there is one band on the Summerland Tour that can compete with the impressive catalog of the Gin Blossoms and Sugar Ray, it’s Everclear. In fact, when Mark McGrath introduced the group before they came on, he joked that they had “more hits than Rod Carew.” Unfortunately, Everclear turned out to be the most disappointing band of the evening. While the group’s songs hold up—arguably more so than virtually any band from the 1990s—lead singer Art Alexakis’ voice sounded worn, and Everclear’s performance of its numerous hit songs seemed perfunctory. Of course, following Sugar Ray is no easy feat, but by the time the band played “AM Radio” midway through its set, both the group and the crowd appeared to be disinterested. Given the benefit of the doubt, it’s possible that Alexakis was stricken with a cold or perhaps the sound system took a turn for the worse. Either way, songs like “Father of Mine,” “Everything to Everyone,” “I Will Buy You a New Life,” “Wonderful” and “Santa Monica” ranged from unenjoyable to unrecognizable.

Regardless of Everclear’s disappointing performance, the night was a success. Cynics may argue that there’s something pathetic about a tour like this. They may suggest that these bands are well past their prime and creative apex and have nothing to offer to music fans today. The truth is, this music remains important. These songs, for whatever reason, hold a special place in our hearts. They remind us of what we were doing and who we were with when we first heard them. They take us back to special moments in our lives, such as kissing your childhood crush or playing Little League baseball with your best friends. A tour like this can only be good, whether it involves fondly looking back on the past or creating new memories for the future.

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