Matchbox Twenty ignites Xcel fans

Posted on Thu, May. 01, 2003

BY JOHN NEMO Special to the Pioneer Press


Whatever the "it" is that makes rock stars rock stars, Rob Thomas has it. How else do you explain 10,158 people inside the Xcel Energy Center going wild Wednesday at the mere sight of the Matchbox Twenty singer?

From the time he walked on stage to a thunderous roar to the time he left 90 minutes later, Thomas had the crowd in love with him. The singer-songwriter, who in six short years already has won a trio of Grammys and helped Matchbox Twenty go from just another Florida rock band to a megagroup that has sold more than 20 million albums, admitted he wasn't feeling his best.

"I woke up this morning, just not feeling right, and my voice was all scratchy," he told the audience between songs. "But hey, when I heard 10,000 people were waiting here in the Twin Cities to see us, I knew we had to come and play. So I'm going to need some extra love from you all tonight!"

No problem, Rob. The 20-something crowd was all too eager to swill beer and scream their approval as Matchbox Twenty reeled off one hit song after another, drawing from the catalog of radio smashes they've compiled over the past few years. Thomas wasn't overly active in his delivery, a far cry from the maniacal Mark McGrath of Sugar Ray, which helped open the evening with a 45-minute set.

But Thomas didn't need any of McGrath's antics to win over the crowd. In fact, on a version of "If You're Gone" that featured only Thomas and guitarist Adam Gaynor playing softly, the crowd actually drowned out Thomas on every word, making his job even easier.

Thomas, wearing jeans, a T-shirt and a green button-down short sleeve shirt, alternated between sitting at a grand piano and strutting around stage like Mick Jagger in slow motion, careful not to burn himself out.

Speaking of burning out, Sugar Ray, which came out of California in the late 1990s with reggae and rap-tinged pop smashes like "Fly" and "Every Morning," has lasted far longer than anyone thought possible. In fact, the group is releasing "In the Pursuit of Leisure," its first new album since 2001, later this summer.

With a cartoonish stage show complete with giant red chili peppers and a full bar that featured a bartender wearing a sombrero and McGrath skipping along and bopping about like a male go-go dancer, Sugar Ray demanded the audience not take anything seriously but instead enjoy the utter silliness of the band's songs.

And the blond-haired McGrath was the ringleader, making up for his lack of vocal prowess by refusing to do anything but have fun while onstage. At one point he jumped down into the audience and ran around the entire length of the lower level, slapping hands and letting fans sing along to "Fly."

Thomas and Matchbox Twenty ignored any such gimmicks, instead cranking through a set that ranged from hard rocking numbers to the contemplative, piano-driven ballads that had women screaming "I love you!" and tossing their bras up on stage toward Thomas. Whatever it is, Rob, you've got it.

John Nemo can be reached at