90s nostalgia seemed at an all time high in 2011. The deluxe re-release of Nirvana‘s Nevermind ushered in a slew of deluxe reissues from important bands of the decade like Smashing Pumpkins, Blur, and U2. But for less important bands who could not still sell out a stadium, the revival of the 90s just seemed to mean more bookings at state fairs that is until Mark McGrath had the genius idea of the Under the Sun tour–a gathering of 90s hitmakers that together could actually play larger venues. The bill boasts three headliners and one hit wonder opening acts. As the tour entered its final leg at the idyllic Newport Yacht Club the bill was openers Fastball with Smash Mouth, Sugar Ray, and Gin Blossoms playing headliners.
As an opener, Fastball was an interesting choice. The band’s one big hit was “The Way” but true 90s fans remember tertiary hits like “Out of My Head,” “You’re an Ocean,” and “Fire Escape.” Needless to say, all of those tracks were played with a few others sprinkled in. Miles Zuniga and company started out the set with a new song–a 90s fans’ worst nightmare. Luckily the track, “Love Comes in Waves” is high energy and most people hadn’t quite found their seats yet so there was little crowd backlash. As people filled in from the ocean side digs to the tented stage area, Fastball broke out their more well known tracks focusing on cuts from 1998’s All the Pain Money Can Buy and 2000’s “The Harsh Light of Day.” The performance was fairly solid despite Zuniga not being in great health. The singer joked that he suffered injuries the night before (no word on how) and had to see a doctor. The doctor told him he had all the signs of a concussion: headache, nausea, and blurred vision. The punchline being “I’ve woken up like this everyday the last 20 years. Have I had a head injury this entire time?” Oh Miles, stick to the music.
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Miles’ time on stage was not limited to the Fastball set. Gin Blossom’s contain a surprising amount of original members save for the bass player. Zuniga was happy to fill that role for the band’s set. As far as aging well goes, Gin Blossoms may have been the best on the show. Lead singer, Robin Wilson looks strikingly similar to his 90s’ self and still has the same energy as he had in 1993. He hopped up on platforms set up on either side of the stage brandishing his signature white tambourine, demanding people put their hands up. Of the four bands on the show, Gin Blossom had by far the biggest back catalog to choose from. This afforded them the opportunity to play all their major hits (“Hey Jealousy,” “Allison Road,” “Follow You Down,” “Found Out About You,” “Till I Hear It From You,” and “Until I Fall Away”) in their 45 minute or so set.
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Sugar Ray on the other hand managed to squeeze not nearly as many songs in their 45 minute set. This was mostly due to Mark McGrath who really loves hearing himself talk. He at one point joked that he’s been called verbose and he doesn’t even know what that means. That was just one of many bad jokes told throughout the night. Music wise the set didn’t fair much better. The band started off with a new song about summer that included something about “bitches in bikinis.” McGrath was noticeably off key. Following that, the band got into the hits. A 45-minute set only afforded them enough time to play “Every Morning,” “Someday,” and the most annoying possible cover of Violent Femmes’ “Blister in the Sun.” They graciously closed out the set with “Fly” with the help of Smash Mouth’s lead singer, Steve Harwell (who did actually stay on key).
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Harwell basically just stayed on stage for Smash Mouth’s headlining set. McGrath introduced them as “one of the great bands of the 90s and maybe ever.” To prove so, Smash Mouth launched into their cover of ? & the Mysterians’ “Can’t Get Enough of You Baby,” most famously from the Can’t Hardly Wait soundtrack. The band ripped through a set of hits but ended up having the shortest set of the night because of Newport’s sound ordinance which demands such events end by 9:30pm. This meant there was no filler from any post 2001 album, just hits like “Walkin’ on the Sun,” “Then the Morning Comes,” and their cover of the Monkees’ “I’m a Believer” from the Shrek soundtrack. Despite the streamlined set Smash Mouth was impressive especially keyboardist Michael Klooster whose frenetic energy was captivating and relative newcomer to the band, guitarist Sean Hurwitz who put together some solid guitar solos. The band closed with “All Star” with Robin Wilson from Gin Blossoms coming out to sing the second verse and chorus. It seemed like a fitting closing to the show, uniting the two best bands on the show for one final hooray.
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