Smash Mouth, Sugar Ray, Gin Blossoms & Fastball at Arena Theater, 8/17/2013
The '90s were an interesting time for music, especially in the realm of pop. It was an age of one-hit wonders, and as a band it seemed like it took a whole lot more than that one catchy song to keep you on the map. Saturday evening at Arena Theatre featured an onslaught of 90's bands that were good enough to take that next step and not fizzle off with the rest of the Aqua's and Baha Men.
In a show billed as the "Under the Sun" tour, Arena's spinning stage hosted Smash Mouth, Sugar Ray, Gin Blossoms and Fastball -- a grouping of bands responsible for more hits than you'd probably realize. Over the course of three hours, these four bands had no problem bringing the '90s nostalgia to full tilt.
Arena Theater is always an interesting place to see a show. If you've never been to this dated venue down 59 in Sharpstown, I'd highly recommend taking the trip. While it can be pricey, with tickets always a bit higher than their competitors, the in-the-round seating and spinning stage allow for a much more intimate show than a similarly sized venue like House of Blues or Bayou Music Center. Also, the whole no-rules/anything-goes vibe to the place is a huge plus that allows for a great concert experience.
Austin-bred alt-rockers Fastball were the first to perform, taking the stage while the venue was slowly starting to fill up. They only had a 20-minute set, so they wasted no time bringing the heat. Of course we all knew that "The Way" was to come -- actually, the nights emcee, Mark McGrath, informed us Fastball would play it upon their introduction --- but what was unexpected were the first few songs that most of the crowd were obviously not too familiar with.
They were just flat-out jams, and if this was where the bar was going to be set, then a night of great pop tunes was assuredly to be had. Fastball made their way through the short set, which included their other radio successes "Out of My Head" and "Fire Escape," before concluding with the aforementioned '90s mega-hit "The Way."
The crowd finally started to come alive, which might have had something to do with the expensive, yet stout drinks that were being poured at the high-school-football-stadium-style concession stands dotting the wall of the theater.
The bill originally was slated to also feature Vertical Horizon, but for some reason they were a no-show on this particular evening. While I wasn't too bummed they didn't play, it still would've been pretty cool to hear "Everything You Want" live. I'm not going to lose any sleep over it, though.
Gin Blossoms were next on the bill, and with a quicker than expected set change, they took the stage to a room now half-full. GB were the biggest surprise of the night, and with as many majorly popular songs as they had throughout the '90s, it's weird they don't pack similarly sized venues all by themselves.
But what truly made the band great was lead singer Robin Wilson's unbridled enthusiasm throughout the performance. He was bounding about the stage making everyone in the room feel as if they were a part of the show. His ability to work the crowd was unlike any other front man I've witnessed, and matched with the band's ability to bang out hit after hit, it made for the best performance of the day.
The Blossoms' set list read like a Saturday afternoon watching TRL: "Hey Jealousy," "Alison Road," "Follow You Down," "Found Out About You" and "Til I Hear It From You" were all included in the band's allotted 45 minutes. Walking into the show, I was excited to hear "Hey Jealousy," but somehow forgot about the greatness of the rest of their catalog.
Sugar Ray's Mark McGrath
At this point, I could've walked out a happy man, but knowing that Sugar Ray was next to hit the stage, I stuck around to see if they could match the previous two bands' solid sets. They actually had no problem with it. Sugar Ray, specifically Mark McGrath, has slyly stayed just under the radar since their megahits of the 90's and early 2000's. McGrath had been holding down a regular spot hosting the TV clip show Extra, but since Mario Lopez took over for him five years ago, has been re-focused on Sugar Ray.
McGrath is a born star, and actually seems like he might be a pretty cool guy if you just bump into him on the street. He was super-appreciative of his fans, and while he could have just phoned hits like "Every Morning" and "Someday," he didn't. Not only that, though, but he added a bit of extra energy and pizzazz to the songs and made them current. Even their huge hit "Fly" served as a fitting end to the set, and had the whole room bouncing around, seemingly trying to do what the title of the song says.
Review continues on the next page.