COUNCIL BLUFFS — Under the hot sun at Stir Cove, it seemed that every member of Generations X and Y in the area decided to bring a camping chair to the grassy bowl.
As Sugar Ray, Gin Blossoms, Smash Mouth and other bands whose heyday was solidly in the '90s rocked on, the sloping lawn came alive with waving arms, dancing bodies and raised drinks.
The nostalgia must have weighed heavy on the area because it was a packed concert full of thousands.
The entire bowl was full by the time Fastball, known for songs such as “The Way” and “Out of My Head,” took the stage to open the show and I was forced to sit in the only spot with any open space: the very rear of the venue.
We weren't alone back there, either. More people ditched their chairs and found somewhere to stand while the music played, and others hit the beer lines so much that they snaked through the audience. (Naturally, the bathroom lines later did the same.)
Vertical Horizon followed Fastball with songs such as “You're a God” and “Everything You Want” as well as a new song from the band's upcoming album.
In a bright blue Hawaiian shirt, McGrath acted as MC by making a few wisecracks between bands and then introducing the next group. Even during his band's set, he was a total cheese, which makes him perfect for the job of host.
The show's headliners — which all played less than an hour — all hail from the same era, but each was quite a bit different from the others.
Gin Blossoms' alt rock is full of as many pop hooks as it has power chords, and their songs are super catchy.
Banging on a tambourine, frontman Robin Wilson was full of energy as he ran around the stage and reached out to fans as he sang songs such as “Hey Jealousy,” a personal favorite. They also played fan favorites such as “Alison Road,” “Found Out About You,” “Follow You Down” and “Til I Hear It From You,” during which Wilson provided plenty of vocal pauses and let the audience sing along.
“Rock and rollers of the great American heartland, we salute you,” Wilson said after the audience roared.
Wilson, 47, showed that aging doesn't mean losing your voice. The man sounds exactly like he did in 1992. McGrath was much the same. We should all hope to age as well as McGrath, who looks the same at 45 as he did when he was 29 and his band became famous.
Full of energy and boundless smiles, McGrath's cheeseball enthusiasm (aided by his white linen suit) made Sugar Ray's set that much more enjoyable.
McGrath praised the '90s and its music, which the audience ate up, and also made cracks about getting older (including an anecdote about meeting a pretty girl who told him that her parents were big fans).
The band stuck mostly to its funky, acoustic-based hits including “Someday,” “Every Morning” and “When It's Over.” They also played a new, catchy and very much Sugar Ray-styled song called “Summertime Coming.”
The band ended its set with “Fly,” which forced many in the audience to pop out of their camping chairs to dance along and turn Stir Cove into a wavy lake of outstretched, sun-kissed arms.
Smash Mouth's set was a bit disappointing. Fans left in droves during the set, singer Steve Harwell couldn't match McGrath's grinning enthusiasm and the band can't beat Gin Blossoms' near-perfect songcraft.
Fans ate up songs such as “Can't Get Enough of You Baby” and “Walkin' on the Sun,” but really obscure songs and long fills (drum solos and lengthy breakdowns) fell flat in the set. But the night's closer, “All Star,” made it all better for the audience.