Matchbox Twenty strips down to Top 40 basics


By Young Chang
Seattle Times staff reporter

Matchbox Twenty with Sugar Ray, 7 p.m. Monday, KeyArena, Seattle; $29.50-$47.50 (206-628-0888).

It's pretty convincing when Matchbox Twenty frontman Rob Thomas wails about being "unwell."

But with the quick rise of its newest single "Unwell" to No. 1 and a packed tour schedule for its newest album "More Than You Think You Are," the five-man band is anything but not well.

The song has once again put the Top 40 favorites back on top, proving that the quadruple-platinum success of 2000's "Mad Season" was not a fluke.

They're headed to Seattle's KeyArena on Monday as part of a nationwide tour. The quintet consists of Rob Thomas, vocals; Kyle Cook, lead guitar and background vocals; Adam Gaynor, rhythm guitar and background vocals; Brian Yale, bass; and Paul Doucette, drums.

Sugar Ray, with a new album, "The Pursuit of Leisure," due out June 3, opens the show.

Matchbox Twenty's formula for rock success is based on Thomas' soulful, wailing voice and his way with a catchy hook. His lyrics often emphasize his own vulnerability and inability to deal with his circumstances, as showcased in "Unwell": "I'm not crazy I'm just a little unwell, I know right now you can't tell, but stay awhile and maybe then you'll see ... a different side of me."

"More Than You Think You Are" is the product of recording sessions held in a secluded location, Bearsville Studios in New York, and a focus on getting back to the elements, musically. Reading the bandmates' reports on the sessions on their Web site, www.matchbox20.com, conjures up images of flannel shirts and unshaven chins mountain men with electric guitars.

While "Mad Season" was the result of something like a cool-things-you-can-do-in-a-studio fest (enormous orchestras, melodies atop countermelodies atop countermelodies), the band has said "More Than You Think You Are" is less about fancy arrangements.

The band stripped away much of their musical decorativeness and pared their style to the fabric of their voices and instruments.

They finished recording in a New York City studio, injecting modern-day sounds and touches to what they'd come up with in the woods. Critics have raved about the album, released last December, with the track "Disease" receiving some of the highest praise.

Most of the members of Matchbox Twenty (spelled Matchbox 20 until their second album, "Mad Season") first joined forces in a Florida band known as Tabitha's Secret. Thomas, Doucette and Yale stuck together through different bands. They started a new group with the addition of rhythm guitarist Gaynor and lead guitarist Cook.

They signed with producer Matt Serletic and soon with Lava/Atlantic. The group's debut album "Yourself or Someone Like You" was released in 1996, and sold 12 million copies.

In 1997, they were named "Best New Band" by a readers poll in Rolling Stone. Their biggest hit singles include "Push," "If You're Gone," "Mad Season" and "Bent."

Along the way, Thomas has garnered three Grammy Awards one for his co-writing and singing collaboration on "Smooth," the monster hit that propelled Thomas to a new level of popularity and revitalized Carlos Santana's career.

Some questioned whether Thomas and Matchbox Twenty could build on that momentum, but the success of "More Than You Think You Are" is clearly proving those questions moot.