By Mark Harden, The Denver Post
The last time Matchbox 20 played in Denver, it was in a small room above a restaurant and maybe four people showed up.
Chances are good the band will improve its Mile High City attendance record this week.
The 2-year-old Orlando, Fla., group, which just hit platinum with its debut album, "Yourself or Someone Like You" (Lava/Atlantic), plays Wednesday at the Bluebird Theater.
The record, quietly released last fall, is now picking up sales steam, and reached No. 11 on this week's Billboard album chart. The single "Push," a bitter tale of love gone wrong, hit No. 1 on the modern-rock chart last week, and MTV is pushing the video, too. It's all still too new to sink in, says drummer and band co-founder Paul Doucette.
"It's kind of odd, because for us everything is still the same," Doucette said in an interview last week. "We're still trapped on the bus. But we've started to notice that more people are coming to see us."
Matchbox 20 blends the anthemic, hook-laden guitar rock of Live and Counting Crows with the growling, angst-ridden vocal sound of Midnight Oil's Peter Garrett and Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder.
In singer-songwriter Ron Thomas' lyrics, he clings desperately to love despite the various high crimes and misdemeanors of his lovers.
Doucette, Thomas and bassist Brian Yale played together in the Orlando area for a few years before forming Matchbox 20. With help from producer Matt Serletic (who recorded Collective Soul's albums), they recruited guitarists Kyle Cook and Adam Gaynor; the latter was a receptionist at Miami's Criteria Recording Studios when he was overheard playing late one night. The name was inspired by a sports jersey Doucette found bearing the number 20 and a patch that said "matchbox."
The best part of the band's recent success, Doucette says, is that "we'll be playing along, and people will start singing with us, and they'll be singing 'Busted' and 'Hang' (from the album), and not just 'Push."'
The angry chorus of "Push" ("I wanna push you down, well I will, well I will/I wanna take you for granted ") has some listeners concluding that Matchbox 20 advocates the abuse of women. But Thomas has explained that the "I" in the lyrics is a former girlfriend who emotionally abused him.
It may be the most misunderstood hit single since the Police's "Every Breath You Take," which many couples adopted as a romantic anthem of devotion, even though its composer, Sting, said he meant it to convey a spurned lover's ugly feelings of possession and jealousy.
"Rob's mom, when she first heard ("Push"), said, 'Oh, that's going to make a good prom song,"' Doucette says with a chuckle. "Oh, my God, that's the last thing we want. If I had kids, I wouldn't want them dancing to that song."
But despite its subject, "Push" rouses both the fans and the band.
"'Push' is my favorite song on the record, without a doubt," Doucette says. "I don't know what it is about that song, but every time we play it - and I play that song every single night - when we get to the end of the song, I can't stop myself from beating the hell out of my drums."
While Matchbox 20's near-constant touring since last year has taken the band all across North America, there's one place Doucette hasn't been since he moved to Orlando several years ago: Walt Disney World.
Not even to play a prom night.