MELBOURNE, Australia The praise went both ways Saturday, as a packed Rod Laver Arena cheered on grateful U.S. pop-rockers Sugar Ray and Live.
Sugar Ray bass player Murf Karges and guitarist Rodney Sheppard walked out in front of a giant backdrop of their latest album, 14:59 (1999), wearing suits. Singer Mark McGrath soon followed to a deafening welcome and announced, "It's our first time down unda" in his best Aussie accent. "And I just wanna say that everybody's been so great and cool to us, and I want to thank you guys."
McGrath dedicated the hit "Fly" (RealAudio excerpt) to "the ones that we've lost," saying he'd "lost some good ones this year." Mixing up '50s-style pop harmonies, '90s turntable action (courtesy of DJ Homicide) and both rock and hip-hop beats, the five members of Sugar Ray demonstrated their unique style.
McGrath introduced "Someday" (RealAudio excerpt) by saying it was inspired by Bob Marley's favorite recreational habit ("of course I'm talking about soccer"), and DJ Homicide brought the song in with a well-received call-and-response session.
Then McGrath picked two fans to rap onstage. He gave the young girl and guy a chance to entertain the crowd over Homicide's beats, but neither showed any aptitude, and McGrath was forced to concede that it hadn't been such a great idea.
Sugar Ray's set concluded with "RPM" and "Every Morning."
There was a lengthy interval between bands while much of the set was dismantled and rearranged for Live. But by the time the lights went down for the Pennsylvanian six-piece, there was not a spare seat in the house.
Two people playing didgeridoos, an aboriginal wind instrument, battled to be heard above the crowd's ear-splitting reception as Ed Kowalczyk strode onstage carrying a walking cane and sporting a cowboy hat and sunglasses. The superfluous apparel was soon shed as Kowalczyk and band, augmented by a keyboard player and Kowalczyk's brother Adam on guitar, launched into "Operation Spirit," from their first album, Mental Jewelry (1991). Kowalczyk asked the crowd to help the band bring a little spirit into the room and gave of his own throughout the 16-song set that included two encores.
Early highlights were "All Over You" and "Selling the Drama" (RealAudio excerpt), from Throwing Copper (1994).
"It's good to be back in Melbourne; it's been way too long," Kowalczyk said. "But we worked on our record for two years, and I wanted it to be really good, because the last thing we wanted to do was to let Australia down."
The band then kicked into "The Distance" and the powerful "Voodoo Lady," both off The Distance to Here (1999). After playing a beefed-up version of John Lennon's "Imagine," Kowalczyk continued his tribute to Australia.
"Last time we were down in Australia," he announced, "you people gave us a very great gift. It was a gift of reception of what Live is about. To such a degree that we went and we made the best record I think we've ever made, and I thank you for that. This is your record."
The first set concluded with "Heropsychodreamer," "The Dolphin's Cry" (RealAudio excerpt) and "Lakini's Juice." For an encore, the band came out with the new single "Run to the Water" and then dedicated part of "I Alone" to the memory of late singer Jeff Buckley.
The crowd reaction stirred Live to return for a second encore. Though Kowalczyk's proclamation "I want to turn this into the Deep South" conjured up some alarming images, it was soon clear that he was talking about Gospel music. For "They Stood Up for Love," he got everyone to sing along "like they do in Alabama and Mississippi every Sunday."
Live concluded the evening by playing "Dance With You," with Kowalczyk introducing bandmembers as they left the stage.