Story & Photos by Scott A. Smith
Rock fans will be hard pressed to find a brighter, more beach friendly concert than the new Under the Sun Tour with Gin Blossoms, Smash Mouth and Sugar Ray.
The trio of 1990s radio kings performed part of that upbeat tour for a near-capacity, multi-generational audience on Aug. 15 at The Joint inside the Tulsa Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Catoosa, Okla. Chipper hit singles and positive vibes dominated the evening, serving some of the happier, non-grunge sounds that, as evidenced by the dancing, singing audience, still carry weight and meaning almost two decades on.
Gin Blossoms took the stage first, almost magically recreating the rock-pop sheen of their early studio recordings. Like all of us, the band’s lead singer, Robin Wilson looks a bit older than his 1992 physical self, but his voice hasn’t changed a single tone. With Smash Mouth member Paul De Lisle sitting in on bass at stage left, Gin Blossoms played moving versions of “Hey Jealousy,” “Til I Hear it from You,” “Found Out About You” and “Follow You Down,” letting every Badfinger-esque melody line inspire the audience.
Adding feeling to Wilson’s vocals was the note-perfect interplay of guitarists Jesse Valenzuela and Scott Johnson. Both six-stringers played solos without betraying Gin Blossoms’ effective verse-chorus-verse presentation.
Following Gin Blossoms’ brilliant-but-brief set were the members of Sugar Ray, who gleefully kept the summer-break mood in check. Sugar Ray singer (and tour organizer) Mark McGrath and guitarist Rodney Sheppard, the quartet’s co-founders, led the group through sunshine readings of most of their best-known tracks. When an audience member asked McGrath if the group would play a No. 1 song from 1999, McGrath removed his sunglasses and smiled.
“Well, Jill, this really isn’t the question-and-answer portion of the concert,” McGrath joked with a grin.
McGrath then looked back at his band.
“Hey boys, you want to bump that up?” he asked, referring to the set list’s running order, before the musicians nodded yes.
“OK, Jill, this one is for you,” McGrath said.
A few seconds later, Sugar Ray played “Every Morning,” which was followed by the equally appreciated “Someday” and “Fly.”
Headliners Smash Mouth also played and swayed in a greatest-hits frame of mind, strutting through a hard-hitting take of “Walkin’ on the Sun.” Weakened slightly at times by a few pitchy notes from lead singer Steve Harwell and a soundboard mix that showed too much favoritism to the bass drum, Smash Mouth’s set stood by its promise to deliver the hits. “All Star” and a cover of The Monkees’ “I’m A Believer” kept attendees happy, as did a thunderous jog through The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me.” Although it didn’t surpass the importance of original version or the fun lunacy of Van Halen’s famed 1978 version, Smash Mouth’s take of “You Really Got Me” was a high point.
Many people seemingly remember only the grunge, rap and country albums that were released in the 1990s, wrongfully ignoring the melodic tunes from Gin Blossoms, Sugar Ray and Smash Mouth. The Under the Sun Tour makes the perfect case that pop-rock albums and singles also helped define that era. Thankfully, Gin Blossoms, Sugar Ray and Smash Mouth still can hit the stage and take their fans on a song-filled ride back to a pre-9/11 time when the world moved a little slower and seemed quite a bit safer.