Matchbox 20 Simply Heats the Night

By Jane Scott, Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio)

The fourth time was the charm.

Matchbox 20 from Orlando, Fla., had played three Cleveland dates before, but its Agora Theatre concert Friday night lit up the night.

The 1,800-seat theatre sold out three days in advance, a rarity these days.

In a way, the group's success is something of a surprise. No pyrotechnics. No wild backdrop images. Not even any leaps into the mosh pit. Yet this isn't an old-timey band, just a sextet with 15 modern pop/rock songs, well-sung and well-played. Straightforward. You can even hear all the words, and feel the intensity, and that's refreshing.

This is a song-oriented outfit, and singer Rob Thomas, 25, writes most all of them. He can hold attention by just standing there, without too much moving about.

A tall, fairly husky man with short wavy blond hair and a tiny hoop earring in each ear, he came on stage with green lights behind him, singing "Busted" ( "Don't wear my heart on your sleeve like a high school letter.")

The only out-of-synch touch was his heavy looking jacket with a caracul fur collar. But then it was 46 degrees, and the band had just bussed in from Minneapolis. Thomas doffed the jacket before the third song, a raucous "Girl Like That."

Matchbox 20 is matched with power players Kyle Cook on lead guitar and Adam Gaynor on rhythm. Thomas stood silent during the first encore when Cook played and sang his sweet, strong "Happy?" piece. All, including bassist Brian Yale, drummer Paul Doucette and keyboard player Matt Serletic, stepped up the pace earlier on "Damn," a song about trying to get a relationship going, Thomas said. That was followed by an equally vivid one, "Back 2 Good," about getting one with a wrong person.

Thomas hauled out his acoustic guitar, inscribed with the word "Elvis," for a softer song, "Hang." Naturally the set-closer was "Push," the song that helped propel the group's album to a three-million seller. That's the one that a feminist group has criticized for such words as "I wanna push you around. I will. I will." The band has denied that it has anything to do with abuse. No protest from the roaring crowd, jumping up and down in the mosh pit in front of the stage. Matchbox 20 will open for the Rolling Stones in Dallas. This may be one of the few groups where the producer, Matt Serletic in this case, comes on stage and plays keyboards.

This show may be one of the few where young fans body surfed (were tossed in the air over the crowd) to a violin. The opening act, a 20-something, petite Lili Haydn of Los Angeles, did an amazing job of mixing rock into her music, swinging and swaying back and forth with her band during her eight-song set. She has had philharmonic experience. The most touching piece was "Take Somebody Home," a cry from a little girl with love in her eyes, wondering why her family can't take home a suffering child on the street. At times Haydn was a little too dramatic, screeching and slipping down to her knees, but she has power and talent.