Bands cashing in on ’90s nostalgia with Under the Sun tour

“I’d like to say we’re about a year or two away from a Sugar Ray T-shirt being at Urban Outfitters,” Mark McGrath says.

“That’s when you know the irony’s in full effect and the ’90s are up and running.”

But when it comes to ’90s nostalgia, McGrath had a head start. This is the second summer of McGrath’s Under the Sun tour, which teams Sugar Ray with Blues Traveler, Uncle Kracker, Smash Mouth on Friday in the Golden Nugget’s special events center.

And this tour comes after two years of one called Summerland, before McGrath and co-founder Art Alexakis of Everclear agreed to part ways and let this tour be more pop than alt-’90s guitar-rock.

“You can’t create nostalgia. It has to organically come from the people,” says McGrath, who put his stamp on the ’90s as the voice behind Sugar Ray hits such as “Fly” and “Someday.”

That said, “I just wanted to be in place when it was coming,” he says. “When you think of that decade, I want you to think of this tour.”

But the nostalgia seems to be here now.

The Under the Sun tour plays two nights before Counting Crows and Toad the Wet Sprocket are co-billed at Mandalay Bay’s outdoor beach stage.

The National Geographic Channel last month ran three nights of “The ’90s: The Last Greatest Decade?”

And local theater director Troy Heard says he hatched a jukebox musical based on the songs of Alanis Morissette, only to learn the singer herself is developing “Jagged Little Pill” as a stage musical.

The thing about the ’90s, McGrath says, is they are still somewhat frozen in time. “The ’80s ended the night Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’ came out,” he says. “It was like a sea change. It was very tangible.”

If the 2001 terrorist attacks put an official end to the happy-days part of the ’90s, the musical punctuation mark is still hard to find. McGrath says groups such as the Goo Goo Dolls and Barenaked Ladies are still strong enough as solo draws to pass on the bundled tour.

And some groups — such as Soul Asylum and Live — aren’t as willing as McGrath to speak of themselves in the past tense.

“All of us tried to be the Rolling Stones or Aerosmith,” he says. “We all swang for the fences and tried to become the legacy groups, if you will. It didn’t happen for us but we were able to come up with a few singles that people related to and still do.

“If the rest of my life I have to tour four Top 10 hits that we had in the ’90s, I’ve had the best life ever,” he adds. “Don’t worry about me.”

McGrath’s present tense isn’t so bad either, seeing how he got to be in “Sharknado 2: The Second One.”

“It’s like lightning in a bottle,” he says. “It truly is one of those things that cannot be explained.”

But since nostalgia rules the roost here, McGrath says few things in life will top his peak ’90s moment: Sugar Ray opening for the Rolling Stones here in Las Vegas while “Every Morning” ruled the charts in 1999.

“I wouldn’t say we swayed the audience, but I think people saw in us how elated we were to be there (and) they gave us a pass on that one,” he says. “We were kind of like puppies let loose on stage, and you’re not gonna kick a puppy when you see how excited it is.

“That was an incredible, incredible moment for me, musically and personally,” he adds. “Things got different, but they didn’t get much better.”

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.

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