By Ross Bonaime
Had it been 1998, the collection of Fastball, Vertical Horizon, Gin Blossoms, Sugar Ray and Smash Mouth would have been enough to make my thirteen-year-old heart skip a beat. Back in the late 90s, these acts owned radio, MTV and VH1 in an era that probably brought around the best collection of pop-rock songs. They weren’t very intricate or challenging, but they were fun, and that’s all that mattered.
But 2013 Ross is more cynical, less likely to listen to the radio and much more likely to laugh off the songs of his past. However once Mark McGrath from Sugar Ray and Robin Wilson from Gin Blossoms came out to MC the show, it was clear that this stop on the Under the Sun tour at Wolf Trap would be a blast, a trip deep into 90s nostalgia and songs that couldn’t be avoided if you tried.
Starting off the ironically titled Under the Sun tour, since Wolf Trap was covered by clouds and the occasional sprinkling of rain, was Fastball, a band that I was obsessed with as a child. I remember even voting for “The Way” on TRL before it became the huge song it ended up being.
Fastball sprinkled some of their lesser-known songs and new track “Love Comes In Waves” with a collection of their most popular songs, ending with a trio of their biggest, “Sooner or Later,” “Out of My Head” and their biggest, “The Way.” It was a shame that Wolf Trap was barely half full though at that point since Fastball is actually still quite good.
Next up was Vertical Horizon, who unlike most of the other bands on the tour, is known for their sadder songs. Yet lead singer Matt Scannell pointed this out saying he fell in love, which made his songwriting happier, which he didn’t like since all their hit songs are sad. With only five songs in their set, Vertical Horizon spaced out their most well-known songs “You’re A God,” “Best I Ever Had” and “Everything You Want” with new songs.
Not only were Fastball and Vertical Horizon a bit of a surprise by how good they still sound, but also their new songs are worth checking out as well. They aren’t far off from their hits, and in the case of Vertical Horizon, the happier sound really works for them.
Growing up in the 90s, I was well aware of the Gin Blossoms, however I never really put together that the songs that their songs that dominated the radio were all from the same band. Gin Blossoms were the first band to really get the audience out of their seats and Robin Wilson made sure that the entire crowd was into it, coming into the audience and always working everyone up.
After starting with “Lost Horizons” and “Don’t Change For Me,” Gin Blossoms got into the big hits, first with “Found Out About You” and only escalating from there, with Miles from Fastball on guitar joining them. Listening to Gin Blossoms is basically like listening to 90s radio again, with them playing “Allison Road,” bringing out members of Smash Mouth for “Hey Jealousy” and then ending with “Til I Heart It From You” and “Follow You Down.”
If Gin Blossoms had plenty of energy, getting the audience going, Sugar Ray took things to a whole new level. Mark McGrath came out wearing a Hawaiian shirt, sunglasses and a white suit jacket, looking ridiculous, yet EXACTLY what imagine you think Mark McGrath would dress like in 2013.
Starting off with their new song “Summertime’s Coming,” McGrath quickly became the most flamboyant and all-over-the-place musician of the night. After noticing a lady that had been signing the entire show, McGrath walked over and flirted with her for the rest of the evening.
McGrath was clear that he had co-created the tour to celebrate as we called it “the glorious music of the 90s,” pointing out before playing “Someday” that it had been a #1 hit from 1999, then apologizing about lying, since it had only made #3, behind Cher and TLC.
It’s easy to forget just how long Sugar Ray was on the radio for and how many hits they have. Their high-energy set was sprinkled with nonstop anecdotes from McGrath about love and the 90s, that ended with “When It’s Over,” a cover of “Blister in the Sun” and their hugest hit, “Fly.”
Easily the band I was least interest in seeing was Smash Mouth, who I think America had sort of gotten tired of even prior to having their music in every Shrek film. After an opening that made it seem like Smash Mouth were still one of the largest bands in the world, they won me over pretty quick.
They started with “Can’t Get Enough of You Baby” and their set had scattered covers throughout, including “You Really Got Me” and “I’m A Believer.” I wasn’t expecting them to also be as high-energy as they were, especially keyboardist Michael Klooster, who was incredibly fun to watch jump around. A fitting end to an evening of 90s summer was “All Star,” which brought out Robin from Gin Blossoms.
I’ll be honest, I was a little worried about the show prior to it. I was sort of worried it would be a sad experience, bands that had passed their huge popularity. What I ended up seeing was something completely different.
These five bands have seen the height of popularity and are still doing what they love. I can’t imagine it’s easy to do and there’s something to be said about not giving up. All these bands are still quite good at what they do and regardless of what you think of their music, are for the most part, incredibly talented.
What was most wonderful about Under the Sun was the camaraderie between the bands. All five of these acts have been through similar career trajectories, ones that have seen highs and lows, and are still performing and doing it well. It was great to see these bands intermingle, share members and just having a good time on tour together. There’s something wonderful about seeing bands that are willing to embrace each other on stage, or praise each other, just because they’re good friends having a good time doing what they never thought they’d still be doing. On the outside, Under the Sun may have seemed like it could be a tour of disappointing nostalgia, but instead it represented what summer is supposed to be all about: good music, having fun and good friends, and it seems like these five bands get that.