Someone Like Them Mixes It Up Surprisingly

Two signs that Matchbox 20 might be today's REO Speedwagon: vocalist Rob Thomas refers to the other band members as "Mister" and it has a "song about perseverance" on its new album "More Than You Think You Are."

That song was actually the first ballad performed in the band's nearly two-hour set at Gund Arena last night. It kicked off the show at full rock velocity with the big, slashing "Cold," also off its latest album, and followed that with one of its more energetic hits, "Real World."

Matchbox 20 made its debut in 1996 with "Yourself or Someone Like You," establishing itself as king of the earnest arena crescendo anthem, those midtempo rockers that start with a soft verse and explode into maximum density on the chorus. It did a fair share of those tunes last night, tunes like "Mad Season," the title tune from its 2000 sophomore album and its recent hit "Disease."

But what was interesting was how often it deviated from the formula and mixed things up with a surprise - or three or four. "Feel" from its new album is the heaviest thing it has ever done, with a metal throb. At the other extreme, Thomas and guitarist Kyle Cook performed its hit "If You're Gone" as a duet with Cook strumming sparse electric guitar and singing harmonies to Thomas' vocal. And it cranked out a rendition of Paul McCartney's "Jet."

In addition to the basic instrumentation of Cook and Adam Gaynor on guitars (the latter providing the acoustic flavor for much of the show), Brian Vale on bass and Paul Doucette on drums, the band was augmented by keyboardist Mac Beck. And several times during the show, a grand piano was wheeled out for Thomas or, on "Hand Me Down," for Doucette, who was replaced at the drums by drum tech Tony Adams.

Thomas, who is clearly something of a heartthrob to the band's mostly female audience, is getting more comfortable on stage. Still (and this is a good thing), he avoids rock star prancing and prodding, in favor of mostly strolling back and forth along the stage apron.

Maroon 5 played a 25-minute opening set of mildly soulful soft rockers reminiscent of British white soul groups like Simply Red. It was followed by Sugar Ray, whose nine-song set leaned heavily on its hits such as "Fly," "Answer the Phone," "Some Day" and "Every Morning." It also included a punkish rocker "Mean Machine" dedicated to Joey and Dee Ramone. And despite its opening status, the band concocted the best stage set of the night. The Mexican-themed set featured a bar lit with strings of chile lights, day of the dead figures drawn on the speaker screens and pinatas, sombreros and serapes strewn around stage.

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Pantsios is a free-lance writer from Cleveland Heights.
Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio)