Matchbox 20 plays with popular tunes

By Robin Vaughan, The Boston Herald

At Matchbox 20's tour-closing show at the Orpheum on Friday, the crowd of clean-cut white suburban teens and pre-teens screamed at the start of every song from the band's multiplatinum, major-label debut, "Yourself or Someone Like You. " The popularity of the Florida-based rock band isn't based on a groundbreaking musical approach. Matchbox 20's set was a repetitious run of generically arranged anthems and ballads that had more in common with mainstream '70s and '80s rock - more than one song sounded uncannily like Bob Seeger's "Night Moves" - than with contemporary roots rockers like Counting Crows, to whom they compare themselves.

Arena-style production values (billows of stage fog, grandiose lighting effects) gave the show some flash, but the band - guitarists Kyle Cook and Adam Gaynor, bassist Brian Yale, drummer Paul Doucette and producer-cum-keyboardist Matt Serletic - performed with a rock-by-numbers, session-player style that failed to add an element of originality to the material. The rhythms were generic and the guitar solos were fancy but insubstantial; washes of synthesizer added a layer of slick sound filler.

Vocalist Rob Thomas affected Joe Cocker-like poses as he clutched the microphone, stomping the stage and shaking a fist at his side. Thomas' voice was strong but his nasal growl was gratingly mannered and his lyric-choked melodies were remarkably similar from one song to the next. The singer spoke to the crowd with hippie-culture humility, repeatedly referring to them as "you guys" as he congratulated them for making the trek through the snowstorm, prompting another explosion of deafening applause. The high-decibel crowd response continued unabated throughout the show, falling off only during the few unfamiliar selections - including a relatively tuneful song called "Tired" - that are not on the album. The crowd went wildest, predictably, for the two hit singles from "Yourself or Someone Like You."

After a dramatic, low-key intro verse, the band launched into the full-country stomp of "3 A.M." with the audience bellowing along. "Push," a song that has been somewhat controversial for its seeming endorsement of spousal abuse ("I want to push you around," goes the chorus), was the obvious climax of the show.

Opening the night was 26-year-old violinist-singer Lili Haydn, a talented musician who has accompanied the Los Angeles Philharmonic and a variety of pop and rock bands, including No Doubt, the Rolling Stones and Tom Petty. Haydn's classically influenced sound and feisty stage presence added a note of creativity to the bill.