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Pop Music Review

Goo Goo Dolls and Sugar Ray Both Settle for Perky Pop Sound

July 23, 1999|STEVE APPLEFORD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Popularity, the Eagles once sang, has its price. And that's never more true than when a band rooted in punk rock finds mainstream success. For the Goo Goo Dolls and, to a lesser extent, Sugar Ray, it's a difficult, if not impossible balance destined to leave no audience fully satisfied.

A decade ago, the Goo Goo Dolls were a Buffalo, N.Y., band with metal tendencies and a fondness for punk icons the Replacements. At the Greek Theatre on Tuesday, the band retained some of that sound on selected songs, but leaned most heavily on a perky romantic pop formula utterly disconnected from its past.

The Dolls are a tight five-piece band that has blunted its edge by choice, building the hits "Slide" and "Iris" from smooth hooks and melodrama. While the band seemed determined to flex some hard rock muscle between the pop ballads, they were moments mostly lost on Tuesday's pop crowd.

By contrast, Sugar Ray makes no claims of punk integrity. It is simply a Newport Beach party band content to be this generation's Jimmy Buffett, trumpeting the joys of drink on a stage decorated with Bruce Lee posters, a basketball hoop and a bar with a thatched roof.

Mark McGrath is an unexceptional singer, especially live. But on Tuesday he was a charmingly energetic front man, gracious to the fans within reach, even bringing up a little girl on stage to help him sing the hit "Fly."

With his spiky blond hair and jeans hanging low on his backside, McGrath injected life into material that was flat and unmemorable. But Sugar Ray occasionally shows a real flair for the unbreakable pop hook, as in the acoustic, tropical blend of "Every Morning."

These moments were so effective at the Greek, and so much stronger than Sugar Ray's other material, that the hits seemed to come from another band altogether. McGrath even sang better.

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