They called this caravan of ’90s bands the Under the Sun tour. When it rolled into Crossroads KC on Saturday evening, the sun was peeking intermittently through the cloud cover but the sky was threatening.
After a few heavy rumbles of thunder and spectacular flashes of lightning, the powers that be shut down the DJ who had been getting the crowd in the mood with period music, spinning songs by Finger Eleven, Chumbawumba, Rage Against the Machine, Linkin Park, the Offspring and Kid Rock.
After the DJ bolted, all the equipment was covered in tarps and the stage went dark for nearly two hours. And no one emerged to announce anything about the situation: whether the show would proceed or was going to be canceled or postponed.
Tickets say “rain or shine,” but lightning can be a deal breaker, and there was plenty of it – nature’s fireworks on the day after the Fourth. But not many of the nearly 1,200 or so in the place left the grounds. A few hundred piled inside Grinders and Grinders West, the two adjacent restaurants. But most stood outside and waited. In the occasional rain and lightning. For nearly two hours.
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The openers, Uncle Kracker, emerged after 10 p.m.. Mark McGrath, lead singer for Sugar Ray, the middle of three bands, had come out earlier and announced (finally) the house rules: Bands would play abbreviated sets, which meant, most likely, a hail of greatest hits. He was right, for the most part.
Kracker’s set was brief but lively. He opened with “Nobody’s Sad on a Saturday Night,” a modern-country song that aroused a big ovation from a crowd that, by this point, was in the mood to hear just about anything.
He followed with ‘Good To Be Me,” then “Follow Me,” which got a huge ovation. But he made the mistake of trying to choreograph a sing-along among a crowd that had been numbed by a two-hour wait. When it didn’t go off to his liking, he got snarky about it: “Are they selling pillows at merch?” Well, no they weren’t, but if they had the probably would have sold a few. Sleeping bags, too.
He finished his six-song set with his cover of “Drift Away,” then “Smile” and “All Summer Long,” the Lynyrd Skynyrd/Warren Zevon mashup he wrote with (among others) Kid Rock.
Sugar Ray followed Kracker, and they, too, devoted parts of their short set to someone else’s song. McGrath, who has the slick personality of a ’70s game show host (think Wink Martindale), juiced up the mood in the place instantly.
Sugar Ray opened with “Some Day,” a breezy likeable pop tune, into which they fused a verse from the Young Rascals’ “Groovin’.” Then came “Every Morning,” another sugary pop tune with a peppy groove, and “When It’s Over,” from their self-titled album. McGrath wasn’t shy about mentioning how many Top 20 singles the band had, and they did all four, including “Fly,” their closer. Yet, they bothered to include in their abbreviated five-song set a cover of “Blister in the Sun,” a signature tune for an ‘80s band, the Violent Femmes.
By the time Blues Traveler took the stage, the clock was about to pass 11:30 p.m., which was less than 90 minutes after Uncle Kracker had started but only 30 minutes away from the noise-ordinance curfew.
Blues Traveler played the longest set of the night, six songs, but it felt like John Popper and his gang were in a hurry, as if a getaway car awaited them. (And speaking of sleepy, he initially thanked Cracker for opening for them.)
They did two covers: of Sublime’s “What I Got” and Charlie Daniels’ “The Devil Went Down To Georgia,” both of which got loud and friendly responses from a crowd that hadn’t dwindled much since the first lightning strike three hours earlier. They also did Blues Traveler’s standards: “Run Around,” “But Anyway” and “Hook,” and were off the stage before the clock struck midnight.
By then, the sky had cleared, revealing the quarter-moon, which would have been a better name for this abbreviated show, which was, at best, a glass half-empty.