Matchbox Twenty At the Vic

Ma Thomas, the piano lessons paid off. Singer Rob Thomas of matchbox twenty proved as much Tuesday night at the Vic, taking a turn behind the keyboard during the band's encore before a capacity crowd.

The guitar lessons, however, are another story. Judging by his half-hearted strumming that lasted all of a song and a half, young Rob didn't take too well to the axe. But let's be realistic: Thomas' musicianship (or lack thereof) isn't the reason that matchbox twenty's debut album, "Yourself or Someone Like You" (1996), sold more than 10 million copies. Thomas and his bandmates can thank their lucky stars that neither will their skill dictate the success of the just-released followup disc, "Mad Season."

In the world of pop superstardom, nothing much matters but hooks and looks.

In matchbox twenty's case, the band could be anybody, as long as they keep it simple; the secret is Thomas, the carefully rumpled golden boy, with those pouty eyes and high cheekbones.

It doesn't hurt that Thomas was featured prominently on last year's biggest album, Santana's "Supernatural." In case you somehow avoided the song, that was Thomas singing lead on Santana's hit single "Smooth" (which he co-wrote). "Smooth," of course, earned enough Grammy hardware this year to fill one of the band's three tour buses parked outside the Vic.

Matchbox twenty certainly doesn't need a bus to transport the band's repertoire of original songs -- in fact, a handbag would do nicely. Like a bar band plodding toward closing time with one eye on the clock, matchbox twenty padded Tuesday's set with covers. They included an impromptu take on the Bee Gees' "Stayin' Alive," the Who's "Eminence Front," Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger" and a butchered snippet of Waylon Jennings' "Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys."

The most surprising cover was a fleeting verse and chorus of Soul Coughing's "Is Chicago, Is Not Chicago." But it served no purpose other than to pander to a crowd that roared at any mention of the Windy City. (Typical stage patter: "Chicago, baby!" Crowd: Wild applause.)

That said, a band of matchbox twenty's stature could get away with worse: a larger venue, higher ticket prices, a shorter set. But it clearly cares about its fans, and gave them what they wanted: vapid, boy-loses-girl melodrama in alt-lite syrup.

In fact, the show started strong, with matchbox twenty briefly joined by a five-piece horn section that added a hint of Philly soul to their few songs. Material from the new disc showed some slight progression -- the title track bounced along nicely, and "Crutch" hit hard. By Anders Smith-Lindall