Matchbox thrills happy couples

Vit Wagner

Matchbox Twenty, in addition to being this moment's Hootie and the Blowfish, is the pop equivalent of the date movie, the When Harry Met Sally of the MOR music scene.

The big-selling Florida band's packed Sunday show at the Molson Amphitheatre was noticeably a couples' affair. The bulk of the audience appeared to comprise romantically entwined men and women, the majority aged 25 to 35. And, since we're generalizing here, one couldn't escape the impression the female half of the equation was the more enthusiastic - certainly the more vocal - of the two.

The women in the audience sang along to most of the songs, culled more or less equally from the group's two blandly generic albums: the mega-selling 1996 debut, Yourself Or Someone Like You, and last year's follow-up, Mad Season. The anthemic "3 A.M.," one of the hits from the debut, the swooning "Last Beautiful Girl," from the current CD, and pretty much everything else the group played was greeted with the same enthusiastic reception.

The cheering turned to shrieking whenever Matchbox Twenty frontman Rob Thomas, heavily medicated to ward off the symptoms of a cold, acknowledged the audience's undying devotion.

"It does my friggin' heart good to know that people in Canada go 'Wooooo!'" he said at one point.

While Thomas kept the distaff contingent in thrall, guitarists Kyle Cook and Adam Gaynor, bassist Brian Yale and drummer Paul Doucette, augmented on this night by a third guitarist, a keyboard player and a three-member horn section, which was introduced during "Black & White People," rocked loudly enough to keep the fist-pumping guys in the house contented. After all, sensitivity and over-wrought emotionalism gets you only so far.

Train, the second act on the bill, was proof enough of that. The San Francisco-based quintet set the table with a cosmetically soulful set that included the title track from its current album, Drops Of Jupiter, which left many in the audience unaccountably enraptured.

Vocalist Pat Monahan, a self-imagined multi-instrumentalist who sings about as persuasively as he plays the sax and the muted trumpet, effectively bled the life out of the mid-set cover of "Ramble On," after having his demonstrably moody way with the group's own "Mississippi."

By contrast, the Texas quartet Old 97's launched the night with a short but blissful set of hard-driving, straight-ahead rock and roll that featured blistering renditions of "King Of All Of The World" and "Up The Devil's Pay" from this year's Satellite Rides disc.

Singer Rhett Miller expressed the band's gratitude for being asked to open the show. But on a bill with Matchbox Twenty and Train, the Old 97's looked like renegades showing up for the prom in jeans and a T-shirt. And bless them for that.

The Toronto Star