by Brian Q. Newcomb Special To The Post-Dispatch
After postponing the European leg of its tour, matchbox twenty brought its live show - supporting "More Than You Think You Are," the group's third disc - to St. Louis' Savvis Center Sunday night. Playing to a responsive crowd, which filled the lower half of the arena, MB20 was still working a few kinks out of its set, but the band brought a refreshing energy to the music that was a real plus.
In just six years, matchbox twenty has amassed an impressive number of successful radio singles. Rob Thomas' vocals drip with accessibility in service of the band's formulaic pop-rock songs, often with hooks big enough to drive a truck through them. Thomas & Co. have created an often imitated, but rarely duplicated, path to commercial success, bridging classic rock with a singer-songwriter sensibility.
Given that track record, MB20 came to the stage confidently, launching "Cold" with crisp, bright chords from guitarist Kyle Cook. "Real World" led into "All I Need," followed by "Soul," as moving panels brought st reams of color and effective hanging panels lit the sparse stage, heightening the impact of the music.
The band's pattern soon emerged - slow verses followed by expansive sing-along choruses. "Disease," in the vein of Thomas' Grammy-winning song with Carlos Santana, "Smooth," brought the energy level back up.
The piano ballad "Could I Be You" opened the door for mid-tempo hits such as "3 A.M." and "Mad Season." Then the more aggressive rocker "Feel," from the new disc, allowed the band to build momentum.
"Hand Me Down" brought drummer and songwriter Paul Doucette to the piano. "If You're Gone" stripped back the song to just Thomas' voice and Cook's guitar, slowing down the melody. Thomas went to the piano for the pop-rock of "Bright Lights." Again, a rocker, "Bent," restored the pace.
After "something borrowed," a solid cover of David Bowie's "Changes," Thomas offered up "something old" in the rocker "Busted," which was followed by two back-to-back hits, "Unwell" and "Back 2 Good." The only "blue" came in the band's tendency toward excessive melancholy in it lyrics, despite the up-tempo pop-song confections that contain them.
The set ended with two perfunctory rockers, "Downfall" and "You're So Real," proving that there's a fine line between reliability and predictability. Sunday night, matchbox delivered what was expected, including a quick encore set - "So Sad So Lonely," "Long Day" and "Push" - and only as they reached the 90-minute mark did the band's strength of producing radio-ready pop-rock threaten to become a weakness.
Openers Sugar Ray followed a quick but impressive set from young newcomers Maroon 5. Blond pretty boy Mark McGrath did his cheerleading best to stir the crowd, leading his southern California quintet through a set of hip-hop-inflected pop. The band inches toward its old rock roots occasionally, but never too far from its mellower hits: "When It's Over," "Every Morning," "Falls Apart" and "Fly."