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Music Review

Back to the ’90s with Under the Sun tour

Sugar Ray frontman Mark McGrath laid down the ground rules for this year’s Under the Sun tour in the middle of his band’s set Tuesday night: “If you don’t like No. 1 songs from the ’90s,” he proclaimed, “don’t come here.” The tour, which also has Blues Traveler, Smash Mouth, and Uncle Kracker on its bill, both embraced and expanded on that mandate; each band not only ran through its most radio-flogged tracks during its 45-minute set, it threw in pop from other eras.

More than anything, the tour was a testament to how the public-memory version of “ ’90s music” has become an amorphous blob. Blues Traveler took a left turn into alt-rock playlists from the jam-band circuit, and its set appropriately tried to fit in a bunch of well-turned-out solos alongside the cynical “Hook” and the huffy “Run-Around.” Smash Mouth’s earliest singles positioned it as a polished garage act — think “96 Tears,” only spit-shined — but the massive success of the jock jam “All Star” propelled it into stadiums. Sugar Ray’s airy bubblegum-reggae hit big in the pop world at the decade’s end, and it was hard not to hear strains of MAGIC!’s current chart-topper “Rude” in the affably screwed-up narrator of its 1999 hit “Every Morning.” Uncle Kracker didn’t go fully solo until 2001, but he assisted on Kid Rock’s albums in the ’90s and co-wrote Rock’s ’08 Zevon/Skynyrd homage “All Summer Long,” which closed out his set.

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Uncle Kracker’s affable personality, country-tinged originals, and AM Gold callbacks set the stage for a night of group singalongs and crowd selfies. The extroverted, banter-filled McGrath cracked jokes about Sugar Ray’s Urban Outfitters merchandising potential and shouted out TLC and Cher for keeping “Every Morning” out of the Hot 100’s top spot during Sugar Ray’s set. Smash Mouth and Blues Traveler, meanwhile, were mostly business, with Smash Mouth’s swaggery, organ-heavy rock and Blues Traveler’s rootsy jams serving as a two-pronged lesson in how heavily rock in the ’90s was influenced by the 1960s forebears its youth supposedly repudiated.

The night’s copious covers and callbacks made history the evening’s overarching theme. As McGrath noted in the aftermath of his band covering Violent Femmes’ “Blister in the Sun,” the ’90s wouldn’t have existed without the ’80s; similarly, the landscape that allows these four bands to travel the country wouldn’t have existed without an overarching desire to remember high points of the recent past, even if those memories are slightly fuzzy.

Maura Johnston can be reached at maura.johnston@gmail.com.
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