"We're gonna be like Tina Turner; take it nice ... and easy!" Seated at the grand piano, cigarette in full blaze, it was about the smoothest introduction Matchbox Twenty lead singer Rob Thomas came up with last night as he launched into You Won't Be Mine, bringing the massive Corel Centre confines down to club size. No easy feat for the Florida fivesome who -- special occasions notwithstanding -- have long since graduated from the club days when so few came out to catch them at Barrymore's eons ago.
Now, with the massive success of Matchbox Twenty's 1996 debut Yourself Or Someone Like You and last year's Mad Season by Matchbox Twenty (from which You Won't Be Mine appears), it was inevitable that Thomas, guitarists Kyle Cook and Adam Gaynor, bassist Brian Yale and drummer Paul Doucette would be catapulted to playing before arena-size crowds. (The band's last Ottawa gig was in 1998 at the Congress Centre.)
And what does a Matchbox Twenty arena show entail these days? Oh, some strong strobe lights, a disco ball and some fancy video collages, notably on Last Beautiful Girl. (Though the beautiful girls gave way to something dark with shots of a bespectacled Queen Elizabeth II and lots of American money floating by. Bizarre.) Of similar strangeness was the jungle-boogie intro to Angry, which sounded like a suitable substitute for the Survivor sequel theme song, or could've been a subtle slag against the whole damn reality TV series. Who knows? Save for a classy rendition of Charlie Rich's Lonely Weekend (which the boys contributed to a recent Sun Records tribute) and Thomas and Cook's acoustic reworking of Cyndi Lauper's 1983 classic Time After Time, what hasn't changed are Matchbox Twenty's safe, middle-of-the-road melodies -- easy to sing along with, easy to absorb lyrically.
Their nice 'n' easy stage demeanour translated to Cook, Gaynor and Yale roaming from one end of the stage to the other, shaking their fannies to the likes of Girl Like That and Black and White People, the latter accompanied by a punchy horn section tooting what sounded like -- of all things -- a cover of the Rolling Stones' '71 ditty Bitch. Meanwhile, Thomas paraded around smiling and waving throughout the night as he doled out fan faves Bent, 3 A.M., Push and Real World, even offering his safe and warm Southern hospitality. "Forget about everything outside these doors," Thomas told the 7,400 strong last night. "Take a couple of hours out of your life ... to have fun."
For a bunch of regular guys playing regular music, blurring that blah line between the Goo Goo Dolls and Collective Soul, Matchbox Twenty's idea of fun lacked any edge and oomph. In other words, it was -- here it comes again! -- "nice ... and easy." Even more less-than-lively was opening act Lifehouse. "Stand up if you want to, we're not gonna bite. This ain't no opera," lead singer/guitarist Jason Wade encouraged the crowd after knowingly lulling them into a staid, middle-of-the-road state in the first place. Maybe the band's banner hanging overhead should have just posted their album title, No Name Face. Or changed to Lifeless.