Concert Review: Summerland Tour Kicks Off in Saratoga, CA

Five bands whose heydays were the 90s have joined forces to create one fun night of music. They are: Everclear, Sugar Ray, Gin Blossoms, Lit, and Marcy Playground.

One supposes the idea is that everyone of a certain age (I'm on the young side of this particular collective, but I still count) will know and remember at least some of these songs and bands and will probably enjoy pretty much all that is on offer. This was generally my experience at the concert. I love Gin Blossoms and really like Everclear and Sugar Ray, but before last night I couldn't have told you what Marcy Playground or Lit were known for. This led to many, "Oh! I know this song!" and "Oh! They play that song!" moments. Not entirely unpleasant, and it's always fun to be introduced to some new music among the favorites.

Our Hosts for the Evening: Art Alexakis and Mark McGrath

Marcy Playground started things off (the song you know by them if you don't own the album? "Sex and Candy"), always a tough spot to be in because of course the house isn't nearly full yet so it can seem like one is singing into a void. But they were really good (to me, someone who couldn't have identified them prior to last night), and the song off their new album was also very catchy in a way that made me actively think, I need to go check them out.

Marcy Playground (lead singer John Wozniak)

Then Lit came out—and bravo to the stage crew for the super-fast switch overs—and again, I wouldn't have known anything by them until they did that one song all people who listened to the radio in the 90s can identify ("My Own Worst Enemy"). They're not entirely my bag, but I didn't dislike their music, and anyway, that's what Summerland is about: a five-course meal of music, and there may be some dishes you like more than others, but it's all within the same family of cuisine so nothing is likely to really offend your palate.

Lit (the Popoff brothers)

To their credit, the bands were up front about the fact they were there to play their big hits, though I always find myself wondering how much they hate having to do that. Part of the job, I suppose. And very crowd pleasing. Gin Blossoms could have done a much longer set and still never have touched all their best songs; as it was, they did the standards: "Hey Jealousy" and "Follow You Down" and "Found Out About You" and "Allison Road." All great songs. But I'm really pleased they did "Miss Disarray" because I think No Chocolate Cake is a fantastic album that doesn't get nearly enough love.

I also enjoyed that Robin Wilson climbed over the seats to stand near me a couple times (the benefits of being third-row center).

Robin Wilson of Gin Blossoms

But as much as I love Gin Blossoms—they were my reason for attending Summerland, all the rest being bonus—Sugar Ray was the most fun act of the evening. Mark McGrath has clearly embraced his spot in the rock cannon, truly enjoys it and the fans, and that joy is infectious to the audience. I enjoyed the entire evening, but I enjoyed Sugar Ray most; they were the dessert tray for this particular buffet.

Mark McGrath of Sugar Ray

Rounding out the night was Everclear. No one else has a voice like Art Alexakis; the closest I could come to might be a shade off Tom Petty. The band turned in a solid performance, if more staid than the other bands, ending on the two biggest of their hits, "Wonderful" and "Santa Monica" (the latter still being my favorite of their songs, though overall I like the Songs From an American Movie Vol. 1 album best). They, too, played a new number that was really good, giving me the sense that everything old is new again.

Everclear's Art Alexakis

I appreciate the Summerland tour for reminding me what I liked—and still like—about this music and these musicians. More than mere nostalgia, these are great songs and great singers and great albums. As radio rotation grows increasingly bizarre in that new stuff is constantly consumed only to plateau at the same ten or so songs being played repeatedly, I enjoy finding new stuff to listen to . . . Even if it isn't technically "new." Summerland had me thinking, I need to go find that CD, and, I need to remember to put that back on my iPod. And yes, even: I need to pick up their new album. Which is the bottom line, perhaps, but what a fun way to reach it.

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