Sugar Ray Plays the Fun Factor

For all the brawny musical bluster Sugar Ray generates, the Orange County outfit is a lightweight when it comes to substance. Retracing the Red Hot Chili Peppers' well-worn footsteps, the quintet spruces up a familiar funk-metal hybrid with a smattering of au courant punk and hip-hop gestures plus an even more fevered party-hearty credo. Not striving for much beyond a good time, the group invariably succeeds, as it did at the Hollywood Palladium on Saturday night.

Striking one studly pose after another, frontman Mark McGrath inspired squalls of delighted shrieks from the capacity crowd. His only major misstep was copping a political pose--an obtuse pro-U.S. rant explaining the irony behind the band's song "American Pig."

But the mood wasn't serious for long, and the group quickly moved on to wackier capers. At one point McGrath invited a fan on stage for a freestyle rap, but the results were more like a lame pep-rally cheer. Later, the singer mugged his way through a karaoke rendition of Engelbert Humperdinck's "After the Lovin' " while his bandmates clowned with props. The most sincere moment of the set came near the end when members of 311 and openers Goldfinger joined Sugar Ray for a festive version of "Fly."

Bravado alone makes Sugar Ray an engaging spectacle, but without a meatier attack, its music will always be more bark than bite.

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