By ALAN K. STOUT
SCRANTON - Matchbox Twenty lit up the Coors Light Amphitheater at Montage Mountain on Sunday. It was - with 11,000 in attendance - one of the biggest shows of the concert season. And with hot opening act Train sharing the bill, it also was one of the most anticipated.
By night's end, it proved one of the best.
Train was excellent. The San Francisco-based quintet is musically solid, extremely polished and offered a highly enjoyable set of melodic and thoughtful roots-rock. "Meet Virginia," the band's initial breakthrough single, inspired a sing-along from the audience, and the band tore through a gritty and zesty rendition of Led Zeppelin's "Ramble On."
The band's set ended with a terrific performance of its current hit, "Drops of Jupiter."
Matchbox Twenty was equally strong.
The talented modern-rock group - which has now sold nearly 15 million albums - opened its set with the new "Crutch" and followed with one of its biggest hits, 1997's "Real World." "Girl Like That" also was well-received, and the band displayed its penchant for writing songs about tormented hearts with a softer performance of "Leave."
Like Train, Matchbox also was musically on target. Four years of touring has made the band a very tight unit, and an added keyboardist and horn section bolstered the group's sound. (Give the band lots of credit here: Many of the keyboard and horn sounds easily could have been sampled or preprogrammed, but MB-20 - unlike many touring acts today - chooses to offer its fans the real deal.) Rob Thomas' vocals were clear and authoritative, and his grounded sensibility and sincere appreciation of the audience was apparent throughout the evening.
The rhythmic "Last Beautiful Girl" was another early highlight, and "3 a.m." was met with another thunderous roar. Thomas thanked the crowd and introduced the band during an extended rendition of "Black & White People" and later played piano during a performance of "You Won't Be Mine." Tribal-jungle sounds introduced "Angry," and the band surprised the crowd with a pounding and soulful cover of The Black Crows' "Remedy."
The set ended with a moody performance of "Back 2 Good" and a fiery rendition of "Mad Season" during which a huge illuminated "20" appeared from behind the stage.
There were also, of course, encores.
The band - in a salute to the Dallas-based Old 97s, who opened the show - offered a true-country performance of "Mama Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys." It then breezed through an excellent cover of John Lennox's "Watching The Wheels" and ended the show with performances of "If You're Gone," "Stop" and "Push."
At one point during the evening, Thomas joked with the crowd about how the band received the "Key To The City of Scranton" from Mayor Jimmy Connors upon one of its earlier visits to the area and kidded that it probably wouldn't do them much good trying to get a free meal anywhere.
Judging from this concert - and the reaction of the 11,000 on hand - they'd be more than welcome at many tables.