Matchbox Madness: Band Lives Up To Promise It Was 'Here to have fun'

Whether it had anything to do with the season, matchbox twenty drove 'em mad at the arena last night. The Florida-based quintet delivered a steady stream of straight-ahead modern rock tunes to about 5,850 mostly female fans who screamed their approval every time vocalist Rob Thomas looked their way. "You gotta shake your ass and shake your ass some more," Thomas told the crowd, who were more than happy to oblige. "We here to have fun for a couple of hours."

From the moment the huge disco ball in the center of the arena lit up, fans were on their feet singing along to the radio friendly tunes beginning with Crutch from the band's latest album, Mad Season. And the group wasn't stingy with the hits, playing two of their most popular songs -- Bent and 3 a.m. -- within the first 20 minutes.

Lacking the sort of eye candy and special effects which worked so well at Saturday's AC/DC show (for example, there was no 10-metre high, smoke-spewing statue of Thomas) the band played on a sparse stage with only a white screen behind them showing seemingly random images of what at times looked like worms, high school yearbook photos and babies. The only special effects the band relied on was an impressive light show which featured a bank of lights behind it, strobes all over the stage and 11 lighting rigs shaped like chandeliers which rose up and down over the stage.

The group -- Thomas, lead guitarist Kyle Cook, rhythm guitarist Adam Gaynor, bassist Brian Yale and drummer Paul Doucette -- preferred to let their music take center stage. On their two albums, matchbox twenty's sound comes across as overproduced rock-lite, but during a live performance the guitars have a little bit of crunch and Cook is allowed to make a little noise and prove he can play. Thomas also proved he isn't just another pretty face, picking up a guitar for Angry and playing a grand piano on Rest Stop. A keyboardist and, at times, a horn section filled out the band's sound. At press time, the band still had a few more singles to pull out of their collective sleeves including Real World and Push from 1996's multi-platinum Yourself or Someone Like You.

Opening act Lifehouse was the perfect compliment to matchbox twenty's smooth pop rock. The Los Angeles band, lead by future Teen People pretty boy pin-up Jason Wade, delivered a 45-minute no-frills set of average post-grunge rock songs and ballads from their debut album No Name Face. The band managed to get people out of their seats and kick-start the scream machine which was to follow, with the biggest cheers reserved for their final song, the top 40 hit Hanging by a Moment.

ROB WILLIAMS -- Winnipeg Sun