Matchbox Twenty Pleases

By Leanne Potts, Albuquerque Journal (New Mexico)

Evening Filled With Standouts

No one ever went broke underestimating the public's taste for escapist pop.

Matchbox twenty knows this. Maybe it's because they hail from Orlando, Fla., the county seat of escapism.

"Everything going on in the world is so harsh," matchbox twenty singer Rob Thomas told about 7,000 people Monday night at Journal Pavilion. "So for the next few hours, we're just going to forget about it."

The band spent the next two hours making good on its promise, playing songs about love gone good and love gone bad. They opened with a rousing version of "Cold," the first of a dozen songs from their latest release "More Than You Think You Are."

To assure the crowd the hits were on the evening's set list, too, the band sailed straight into "Real World." The crowd jumped to its feet and sang along.

Matchbox twenty has evolved from the days when critics blasted it for being too vanilla, too melodramatic. Guitarist Kyle Cook played with hard rock muscle, and Thomas has deepened into a hungry, soulful singer, making good on the promise he showed on his uber-popular Santana collaboration "Smooth."

Other standouts included the aptly titled "Soul," "Disease," big hit "3 a.m., " "Mad Season," a gorgeously pared down "If You're Gone" and the mournful, twang-tinged "Hand-Me Down."

Sugar Ray played a bouncy hourlong set in a misting rain. The California quintet played songs from its new release "In The Pursuit of Leisure," but it also played crowd-pleasing older hits "When It's Over," "Falls Apart," "Every Morning," "Someday" and "Fly" (during which lead singer Mark MacGrath went out into the crowd and got a child to sing along with him.)

In between songs, McGrath thanked more people than an Oscar winner, from the servicemen at Kirtland Air Force Base (for defending his freedom) to the staff at the Hawthorne Inn and Suites (for being nice to him.) He dedicated "Chasing You Around," a new song one of the band members wrote about his 2-year-old child, to "the mothers out there."

Later McGrath appealed to another, more testosterone-laden demographic, playing "Blitzkrieg Bop" in tribute to the Ramones.

The stage decoration consisted of a bar staffed by a sombrero-clad bartender, a visual tie-in to the current hip-hop flavored single "Mr. Bartender." Chile pepper lights, serapes and tapestries with Day of The Dead skeletons completed the Mexican beach party vibe, reminding everyone that Sugar Ray just wants to have fun.