By BILL WHITE, THE SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER
On KeyArena's large and empty stage, the musicians of matchbox twenty took their places as if being squeezed onto an early '60s television soundstage. Looking as nondescript as his name, singer Rob Thomas appeared on a tall riser behind the drums.
Launching into "Cold," the first of several songs to be performed from the current release "More Than You Think You Are," Thomas seemed more like an awkward college kid at a karaoke club than a rock star.
After a few songs, one forgot about his lack of stage presence. Like Van Morrison, here was a singer who put all his energy into his singing. Eschewing extraneous gesticulation, here was a singer willing to stand or fall on the strength of his voice and his songs.
During Monday night's 105-minute concert, matchbox twenty performed more than 20 songs from its past three albums. From the current smash, "Unwell," dedicated to "all the enlightened people who know it's all right to be a little screwed up," to early hits such as "Push" and "Real World," the songs were old-school rock of the hit variety.
The melodic verses, powerful hooks and memorable catch phrases were powered by the sincerity of Thomas' blue-eyed soul. He sang his heart out, recalling rock balladeers such as Manfred Mann's Paul Jones on songs such as "All I Need."
Some of the songs were derivative, such as "3 A.M.," which sounded like a Paul Simon rewrite of "Sweet Jane," and "Bright Lights," which segued impossibly from a 4 Non-Blondes riff into a John Lennon howl. The night's one cover song was a heartfelt rendition of Tears For Fears' "Everybody Wants To Rule the World," introduced as being "timely in light of current events."
Among the concert's highlights was a tender version of "If You're Gone" in which Thomas was accompanied by a lone electric guitar.
Early in the show, Thomas told the near-capacity that the band's philosophy was to "listen to music and celebrate life together." It was a polite and well-spoken promise that was fulfilled in spades.
Sugar Ray opened with "Mr. Bartender," the first single from its new release, "In the Pursuit of Leisure." The band's stage routine included a sombrero-topped bartender in front of jalapeno-shaped lights. After the singer's third reference to it being "Friday night in Seattle," one wondered if he was joking or truly disoriented. The 45-minute set included the summer groove ballad "Some Day," and Sugar Ray's first-ever hit, "Fly," which was dedicated to the men and women of the armed forces.
Bill White is a Seattle music writer. He can be reached at BWhi61@earthlink.net.
with Sugar Ray and Maroon5
WHEN: Monday night