On a scale of 1 to 10, Matchbox Twenty’s performance last night at Gund Arena rated a solid 8.
The multiplatinum quintet from Orlando, Fla., had its arena- rock moves down pat, delivering a catchy, 90-minute hit parade along with a mothership-hailing light show. It made for a color-by- numbers concert, pleasant if predictable.
As a disco ball created the illusion of fireflies swarming inside the packed arena, flamboyant singer Rob Thomas and his low- key bandmates, joined by a touring keyboardist, opened with the one-two power-pop punch of Crutch and Bent.
"We only have one purpose here," Thomas said. "We’ll play music; you guys listen."
Fair enough. But it was difficult sitting through the overexposed likes of 3 A.M. and Real World for the umpteenth time. Blame it on the sorry state of commercial radio.
Easier to endure was a hefty sampling of fresh material from the band’s latest album, Mad Season by Matchbox Twenty. Last Beautiful Girl was an especially sweet treat, with guitarists Kyle Cook and Adam Gaynor supplying two-part harmonies as the yearning song’s shifty tempo raced like a heart in love.
"I actually had nothing in mind when I wrote it," Thomas admitted by way of introducing the latter tune. He cited a romantic road trip and "raging" hormones as the inspiration behind another new humdinger, Rest Stop.
Thomas was a fidgety frontman, pounding his hands against his shrewdly exposed chest. He parked himself behind a baby grand piano and tickled the ivories like a lounge lizard during You Won’t Be Mine, a ballad with backing by musicians on trombone, trumpet and flute.
After the Barry Manilow-style interlude, Thomas & Co. resumed raising the roof with Mad Season, a surging rocker with a hint of New Orleans in its jazzy verses. Encores included Black and White People and Push.
Everclear, the second act on this triple bill, gave the headliners a run for their money. The post-grunge power trio of singer- guitarist Art Alexakis, bassist Craig Montoya and drummer Greg Eklund got a boost from three hired guns on guitar, keyboards and percussion.
The extra manpower came in handy for pumped-up renditions of AM Radio and the self- explanatory Rock Star.
By the time Alexakis had the audience caterwauling along on Wonderful and Santa Monica, it was apparent Matchbox Twenty had a tough act to follow.
Up first was Lifehouse. The inspirationally challenged
quartet made it clear the music industry needs a
moratorium on groups that sound like Bush, Creed or - in
Lifehouse’s case - both.
By John Soeder
PLAIN DEALER POP MUSIC CRITIC