Matchbox keeps the spark alive

Tribune Chronicle

CUYAHOGA FALLS ­­ Good ol' guitar-driven rock 'n' roll hasn't disappeared; it just isn't as fashionable as it once was.

That didn't stop more than 15,000 folks from converging on Blossom Music Center Saturday for a lineup featuring Matchbox Twenty, Train and Old 97s.

As Matchbox Twenty played one radio hit after another Saturday, the band reminded me of Huey Lewis & the News. The band churns out songs that are well-crafted and undeniably catchy without leaving a lasting impression. It'll never be the voice of a generation, but it could turn out to be its soundtrack.

Twenty years from now, if we have all-'00s weekends just like the popular all-'80s weekends on radio stations now, expect to hear a lot of Matchbox Twenty (I think I'll trademark "Heroes of the Zeroes" in anticipation of the format).

The amazing thing is that for a group that has only two albums, more than half the set Saturday would be familiar to anyone with a car radio.

The band ­­ Rob Thomas, lead vocals; Kyle Cook, lead guitar and backing vocals; Adam Gaynor, rhythm guitar and backing vocals; Brian Yale, bass; and Paul Doucette, drums ­­ was joined by a three-piece horn section, a keyboard player and an additional guitarist as it ran through the hits and a couple of surprising covers (a credible version of the Black Crowes' "Remedy" and a faithful rendition of John Lennon's "Watching the Wheels" as the first encore).

Not surprisingly, Thomas was the focal point of the live show, occasionally dancing but more often than not just pacing from one side of the stage to the other to bask in the adulation of the crowd.

Tunes like "Real World," "3 A.M.," "Back to Good," "Mad Season" and "If You’re Gone" were played in straightforward fashion, augmented by one of the better light shows on the road this summer.

Train's 40-minute set didn’t have as much visual flash, (and lead singer Pat Monahan still seems to be developing a stage presence large enough to connect with a crowd that size) but its songs resonate more deeply than Matchbox Twenty's. And based on the response Saturday, don't be surprised if Train is headlining venues this size by next summer.

Monahan joked about the band's relatively anonymous status. After playing ‘‘Meet Virginia," the long-running radio hit from Train's debut album, Monahan said 75 percent of the crowd was now saying to themselves, "Oh, those guys."

Monahan grew up in Erie, Pa., and said he regularly came to concerts at Blossom. He hooked up with the rest of the guys in San Francisco, and Train at times sounds like a less angst-filled version of another 'frisco band, Counting Crows.

With two fine guitar players, Rob Hotchkiss and Jimmy Stafford, and its ability to expand beyond guitar-bass-drums rock 'n' roll with the use of mandolin, harmonica and saxophone, Train's music also has that timeless quality of groups like The Band. Monahan also does a mean Robert Plant impression, and its cover of Led Zeppelin's ‘"Ramble On" was a highlight.

The high point, though, was a soaring set-closing performance of "Drops of Jupiter (Tell Me)" that received one of the loudest ovations I've heard for an opening act in recent memory.