Matchbox Twenty rocks Manchester

By Katharine McQuaid, The Union Leader (Manchester NH)

Talk about a bang for your buck.

Three bands played for more than three and a half hours at the Verizon Wireless Arena last night. And by the time headliner Matchbox Twenty came on, openers Maroon5 and Sugar Ray had the crowd nearly danced out.

But Matchbox Twenty lead vocalist Rob Thomas let the crowd know the show had just begun when his band took the stage just before 9 p.m. as he encouraged the not-quite sold out crowd to forget their problems for a while.

"For the next couple of hours, we're just going to hang out here in Manchester and celebrate life together," he said in his most soothing voice.

Then the rock 'n' roll began, and you didn't need to see the ear-to-ear grins, swinging hips or multiple air guitars being played to know that Matchbox Twenty's appeal is simple -- they just play good music.

The band's mainstream status was evident last night with people of all ages attending the show, with most of them in their 20s and 30s. Tickets cost between $30.50 and $50.50.

Kelley LeBlanc, 31, said she's been listening to the band ever since they were called Tabitha's Secret.

"Probably because they've aged at the same time as I have," she said. "When I was 20-something they played 20-something music, and when I turned 30-something they were playing 30-something music."

The five-member band played a good mix of songs from all three of their albums, including "3 A.M.," "Mad Season," and one of their newest songs "Unwell."

The mostly all-out rock show turned into a campfire sing-along when Thomas and lead guitarist Kyle Cook stood alone under a spotlight to perform the band's break-up anthem "When You're Gone."

"His eyes sparkle," said 46-year-old Denise Biron of Manchester, who brought binoculars to get a good look at Thomas' piercing eyes and signature wavy hair up close.

She likes the band because she can understand what they're saying.

Her friend Sue Schunemann, 40, of Manchester, agreed.

"They actually say words that I can understand," said Schunemann who brought her 15-year-old daughter, Sarah, to the show. "And they're not vulgar."

Indeed, the Manchester arena was wired for sound last night with sound from all the bands coming across clean and crisp.

No one was more excited, or at least as scared, than 11-year-old Anthony D'Amato during Sugar Ray's set. When lead singer Mark McGrath took off into the crowd during "Fly" he chose the Newmarket resident to help him sing.

"You're not supposed to be better than me dude," McGrath said to D'Amato.

Sugar Ray, which overlays its brand of pop and rock with turntable beats from D.J. Homicide, had their set decorated with a Mexican theme, complete with a bartender wearing a Mexican sombrero.

"We brought our own bartender just in case," McGrath said to the crowd.

Matchbox Twenty's Thomas and drummer Paul Doucette even came out to get a drink from the V.I.P. bar during Sugar Ray's set.

In addition to all their chart toppers like "Every Morning," and "Someday," the band blew out everyone's ear drums with its version of the Ramone's "Blitzkrieg Bop."

Maroon5, which played first at 7 p.m. sharp, rocked out its recent radio success "Harder to Breathe," and a special cover of Prince's "Darling Nikki," which they played at the request of Matchbox Twenty.