By Josh Wilson, the Birmingham News

Many bands can attribute at least some of their success to the support of Birmingham fans and radio, a la Train and Vertical Horizon.

Bands like Matchbox 20 should pledge allegiance to the Alabama flag.

From the moment it hit the airwaves in 1996, it's no secret that Birmingham has shown tremendous, if not the strongest, support for the Florida-based band. Friday night, at Oak Mountain Amphitheater -the site of several Matchbox 20 shows-singer Rob Thomas openly acknowledged the band's Birmingham boost, describing the city as "where it all started for us."

The band did a surprisingly noble job of incorporating much of its latest album, "More Than You Think You Are," into the evening's set list. For such a widely popular mainstream act, it is normal to expect hits and only hits, with the occasional new song thrown in. "Cold," "All I Need" and "Disease" provided a balance between more melodic and textured numbers like "Soul" and the piano-based standout, "Could I Be You?"

Not to imply, however, that Matchbox 20 neglected its hits. Imagine Lynyrd Skynyrd coming to Oak Mountain and not playing . . . well, you know. It would've been an awkward night had the band not brought out hard-core favorites like "Real World," "3 A.M." or "Long Day"-all off the debut album "Yourself or Someone Like You." Of course, the 1997 mega-hit "Push" was reserved for the fi nale. Both "Bent" and "If You're Gone" from the album "Mad Season" made their way into the set as well. The nearly full capacity crowd took every chance to sing along. For the Birmingham fans, staying seated was clearly not an option.

But mainstream hits and popularity aside, Matchbox 20 is essentially a collaboration of talented musicians. Though it may never veer outside its mainstream radio-rock sound [and image], this aspect of the band is what may continue to keep audiences such as Friday night's drawn to the music.

Well, either that, or Rob Thomas will just bat those eyes of his.

At 7:00, as bodies were still pouring into the amphitheater, American Hi-Fi took the stage to set the evening in motion. Proving to be the one actual rock band on the bill, the band offered a worthy 20-minute performance, performing songs from both its self-titled debut and the recent "Art of Losing." The band's pop/rock sensibility, matched with its penchant for loud guitars, made for an enjoyable live show. Unfortunately, despite the catchiness of "Another Perfect Day" and the frantic, driving closer "Happy," it seemed as if audience members really only recognized one song of American Hi-Fi's: its debut single and hit, "Flavor of the Weak."

Shortly following American Hi-Fi's set, stagehands began unveiling a stage decorated with sombreros, tamale-shaped lights, and-low and behold-a tequila bar, complete with its own bartender. This, sadly, was none other than Sugar Ray's stage setup.

Maybe it is its intention, but Sugar Ray cannot be taken seriously. Singer Mark McGrath's ridiculous booty-shaking on platforms, a bartender actually mixing drinks for the band on stage - it's too much to handle.

Playing hit songs like "When It's Over," "Someday" and "Every Morning," the band created a definite summertime-fun-vibe that prompted many crowd members to dance along.

But summertime fun is about all that Sugar Ray's got. Its attempt at the Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop" was both weak and unimpressive. Since abandoning its earlier music [a much heavier, hard core-style rock], it has evolved into a hip-hop/pop outfit with nothing much to offer than catchy hooks for cellular phone and soft drink commercials. It's the band you hire to play your prom.

*** MATCHBOX TWENTY With Sugar Ray Oak Mountain Amphitheatre Friday night