Music News & Reviews

July 31, 2012

Music from the ’90s lives on with Summerland Tour

Contrary to popular belief, singer Mark McGrath didn’t forsake his band Sugar Ray for a lucrative career as a TV host.

Contrary to popular belief, singer Mark McGrath didn’t forsake his band Sugar Ray for a lucrative career as a TV host.

Nor did the band, which fused hip-hop, rock and metal, break up because he co-hosted celebrity “news” show “Extra,” hosted game show “Don’t Forget the Lyrics!” and competed last year on “Celebrity Apprentice” (Donald Trump fired McGrath after week six).

“It’s a misconception that we ever took a break. The reality is we never did,” McGrath said in a recent telephone interview. “For 24 years, it’s been the original members, until this year.”

The lineup shakeup is the result of the band’s involvement in the 33-city Summerland Tour, which also features current incarnations of ’90s hitmakers Everclear, the Gin Blossoms, Lit and Marcy Playground.

The summer-long tour comes to Hartman Arena on Wednesday.

It’s among the stops on a tour Rolling Stone described as “the ultimate Nineties-monster that 30-somethings will be unable to resist.”

Headliner Everclear, which revolves around founder Art Alexakis, was the most successful of all the bands on the bill, with 3 million selling albums and a string of hits that include “Santa Monica,” “Everything to Everyone,” “Father of Mine” and “Wonderful.”

McGrath said his old friend’s band is “still a favored son on alternative radio.”

Everclear released a new album, “Invisible Stars,” earlier this summer, its first in six years, a period marked by the death of Alexakis’ mother, his divorce and financial problems.

The longtime buds had kicked around the idea for a tour for a few years, “but the time never seemed right,” McGrath said.

“He was a guest on ‘Don’t Forget the Lyrics!’ and we laughed at the conversation a year and a half ago,” he recalled. “Then he moved to L.A. last fall, and I said, ‘What about this summer?’ And he said, ‘Let’s give it a try.’ ”

They rounded up three other alternative rock acts from the period, all of which had their fair share of hits and personal tragedies. Phoenix’s Gin Blossoms, hard rockers Lit and quirky Marcy Playground didn’t achieve the kind of sustained popularity that Sugar Ray and Everclear did.

But each enjoyed runs up the charts. The Gin Blossoms hit with “Hey Jealousy,” “Found Out About You” and “Til I Hear It From You.” Lit, which recently released a new album, “View From the Bottom,” was a radio fixture with “My Own Worst Enemy” and “Miserable.” Marcy Playground, which released an album of new and older material, “Lunch, Recess and Detention,” earlier this summer, scored big with “Sex and Candy.”

Sugar Ray’s heyday came to an end in the early 2000s. McGrath, now 44 and the father of 2-year-old twins, parlayed his good looks and charm into a succession of hosting and occasional acting roles.

“I don’t have a great voice. Nobody is ever going to confuse me with Pavarotti,” he cracked. “It took a while to hone my songwriting. But I love to perform. I love the adulation.”

The band’s recorded output declined, and it did fewer shows, often opting for more lucrative work.

“We averaged 30 to 40 shows a year,” McGrath said. “We definitely want the band to put out a record every two years and tour the world, but we stopped doing that and got these incredible gigs, corporate shows and private shows you get offered, hopefully for the rest of our career. We’d be fools not to take them.”

The group’s last studio album, “Music for Cougars,” came out in 2009. Craig “DJ Homicide” Bullock left a year later. Bassist Murray Karges and drummer Stan Frazier aren’t taking part in the Summerland Tour, McGrath said. Karges took “a full-time job,” while Frazier is more interested in producing.

Singer and guitarist Rodney Sheppard recruited brothers Justin and Jesse Bivona on bass and drums, respectively, and Al Keith on percussion.

McGrath isn’t sure what’s ahead for Sugar Ray.

“The door is still open for getting back together for a reunion in the future,” he said.

But he’s pretty sure that if Summerland flies with audiences and returns in 2013, he’d like to expand the ’90s nostalgia concept.

“This is must-see viewing for people who love the music of the ’90s,” McGrath said. “We’d like to broaden it, do some hip-hop and make it one of those big festivals you go to every year.”

Contributing: Eagle staff

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