Crowd Sings Along with Matchbox Twenty

By Eric R. Danton, Hartford Courant (Connecticut)

It's all about the refrain for Matchbox Twenty.

Some of the band's many fans know the songs well enough to sing all the words along with frontman Rob Thomas, but everyone is able to join in on the hook-laden choruses that drive the tunes.

That's how it worked Tuesday night when Matchbox Twenty played to a packed house at the Mohegan Sun Arena. The crowd would start off strong on tunes like "Real World" or "Bent," falter a bit on the verses and come roaring back for the chorus.

Repetition will do that for you, and the band's songs are certainly repeated enough on the radio. In fact, Matchbox Twenty has an impressive number of familiar songs for a band that has released just three albums. The group's 90-minute regular set included selections from all three records, and just when the pace of the show started to flag a bit, the band would rev things up again with another in a seemingly inexhaustible supply of vanilla, radio-friendly pop-rock tunes.

Thomas and his cohorts are unfailingly earnest -- early on, he told the crowd, "For the next couple of hours, we're going to forget everything that's not in this room." Yet they are also entertaining, and have a collective sense of humor that best displayed itself on a cover of the Tears for Fears song "Everybody Wants To Rule the World."

Matchbox Twenty's own songs were the focal point, however, and the hits just kept on coming. "Mad Season" followed "3 A.M.," "Back 2 Good" followed "Unwell." The band also made sure to include plenty of other songs from the latest album, last year's "More Than You Think You Are," before closing the three-song encore with its first and biggest hit, "Push."

Where Matchbox Twenty was earnest, Sugar Ray was playful. The Orange County, Calif., band has nearly as many memorable songs as Matchbox, and the group's affable frat-rock went over just as well with the crowd.

Sugar Ray had an ornate stage set festooned with strands of chili-pepper lights and a guy in a sombrero tending a small bar that yielded a steady stream of drinks for the band (and for members of Matchbox Twenty, who showed up briefly to quaff margaritas and praise the bartender).

Singer Mark McGrath was engergetic, bouncing around the stage on "Someday" and "Every Morning" and urging the crowd to chant along when Sugar Ray slid into the Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop" at the end of the punked-up "Mean Machine." Sugar Ray ended its set with "Fly," the radio hit that many mistakenly thought represented the band's commercial peak.

Maroon 5 opened the show with its third Connecticut appearance since November.