By Jeremy Engel
Daily Bruin Contributor
A crowd of friendly minglers hunched into the El Rey Theatre to hear Orlando-based rockers Matchbox 20 crank out a flawless stream of tunes Thursday night.
Festivities took off as concertgoers guzzled Heinekens and shook hands until staff pros wielded their flashlights to herd everyone off the fire escapes just before the rock 'n' roll began.
Hands launched in the air and heads bopped up and down like a pumpkin patch during an earthquake when Matchbox 20 opened its set with "Girl Like That," a grinding number from their Top 10 album "Yourself Or Someone Like You." When the song ended, singer Rob Thomas welcomed the crowd to the show and was met with fervent cheers that increased in volume each time he said the f-word. Next, the band played "Shame," also from the album. "Funny in a certain light, how we all look the same," Thomas sang.
Actually, Thomas' impassioned vocals and the tight musicianship of guitarists Kyle Cook and Adam Gaynor distinguishes the band from other guitar-poppy-rocky fare. One could stretch and compare Matchbox 20 to any number of other bands (Gin Blossoms, Counting Crows, Live), but seeing them in concert affirms their ability to rock on their own terms.
"They're far out, bro. Good drums. They definitely have their own sound," explained concert attendee Daryl Lophem, a Frank Zappa look-alike who drove out from Redlands for the show.
Highlights included an energetic rendition of "Push" that sounded better than it ever has on the video (played at 10-minute intervals on MTV) as well as material not on the album.
"I really wanted to sleep with this girl," confided Thomas to the crowd while explaining his inspiration for one new song in particular, which featured churning guitars and sounded a bit like Alice in Chains on a good day. Later, Thomas pleased fans by busting out his Elvis guitar for a mellow go at "Hang," another album cut.
Matchbox 20 mostly played tunes from "Yourself," such as "Kody," "Damn," "3 A.M." and "Back 2 Good," described by Thomas as "one of those cheatin' songs." Some songs started to sound similar, but Matchbox 20 kept the crowd grooving and applauding throughout their hour-and-a-half set. Proving itself to be a formidable live band, Matchbox 20 should continue to create interesting music on and off the stage.
Los Angeles' own violin fiddlin' rocker Lili Haydn opened for Matchbox 20 in what she described as her "first time playing in L.A. off the Viper Room stage." Decked out in a getup that came straight from Elvira's closet, she exposed a lot of midriff. The funk-o-meter ran in the red, thanks to the drummer, as Haydn and her entourage effused 45 minutes of catchy violin-driven rock. Definitely a new sound, Haydn and her band played songs from the recently released album "Lili," such as "Stranger," "Someday" and "Take Somebody Home."
Haydn's angelic voice often lacked the power to keep up with her band. The vocals at times seemed unnecessary over the groovy instrumentals. She showed a great talent for songwriting, but the band's sound seemed to still be a work-in-progress, as is understandable for music this innovative.
To ruin things, some unruly concertgoers yelled out for Matchbox 20 to take the stage toward the end of her set. The crowd was obviously unfamiliar with Haydn, even though she has jammed with bands such as Porno For Pyros, Hootie & the Blowfish, Tracy Chapman and No Doubt in the past. That's a resume no other violinist, even Itzhak Perlman, can match.
Haydn, already a gifted violin-playing lead singer, will undoubtedly develop with her band into something groundbreaking. At the young age of 26, she has plenty of time to fine-tune.