Show Proves Matchbox 20's Flame Is Strong

File this away as a sure bet: Matchbox 20 will headline arenas soon. The Florida band has sold out the Orpheum twice in the past five months and, based on the mania it generated Saturday night, is ready to climb to the next level.

For a relatively new band, Matchbox 20 has a deep trove of material - expressive pop-rock love songs cut with explosive guitar and the alternately cocky-and-vulnerable vocals of the star-is-born Rob Thomas, who had Saturday's mostly female crowd swooning and screaming. As if warming up for the arenas (and look for Matchbox 20 to play Great Woods this summer), the group added a top-of-the-line, computerized light show and fast-cut video segments that evoked U2's "Zoo TV," spliced with jagged voice bits from news broadcasts. "You must be a prince . . . that's the bottom line," went one exchange.

Thomas exuded swagger, telling the 2,800 fans that the show was a "good time and don't let anybody tell you differently." That seemed a little touchy (and maybe a reaction to a recent bad review somewhere else), but he also graciously thanked them for "trudging through the snow" to see the band.

It was worth the trudge. Matchbox 20 is polished and plays many songs just like they appear on its 5-million-selling debut disc, "Yourself or Someone Like You." But the band doesn't skimp on energy, and Thomas worked up a genuine dander on the hit "Real World" ("I want the real world to stop hassling me!" he shouted as the crowd sang along) and the late-night romantic puzzle of "3 a.m.," aided by guitarist Kyle Cook scatting over his guitar solo like George Benson.

The way Thomas opened his heart was reminiscent of a young Bono. Possessed of a similarly pleasing voice that could move from a purr to a bellow, Thomas's captivating confessionals included "Argue" ("We get along so we shouldn't argue," he sang, as female fans again shrieked in support) and "Back 2 Good," a song about loneliness, preceded by his admitting, "This is a song about screwing up."

Matchbox 20 also rocked hard, at times featuring a three-guitar wallop. And it added a tasty, change-of-pace treat in Marvin Gaye's ecology anthem, "Mercy Mercy Me," and another song, "Tired," which it recorded only on an Australian import. The general depth of material suggests that Matchbox 20 may have a long stay in arenas once it gets there.

Opening act David Garza also proved interesting. He was all over the place stylistically, apparently copping influences from the likes of Prince, Bruce Springsteen, Freddie Mercury, and even Jonathan Richman. Garza had an unusual, adenoidal voice, but he had some terrific songs and a swagger of his own. Not many people caught his set, unfortunately; they preferred instead to mill in the lobby. Garza may not make it to the arenas, but he was worth hearing.

By Steve Morse