matchboxtwenty's secret: Melody, melody, melody

By Jay N. Miller, Chattanooga Times Free Press (Tennessee)

Nobody likes matchbox twenty except the people, and better than 9,000 fans got 110 minutes of the quintet's alternative guitar rock last night at the Tweeter Center in Mansfield. This was the first show we can recall all season at the Mansfield shed at which the beefy security men stationed at intervals along the edge of the stage were actually bopping their heads, swaying, generally grooving to the music and having a good time. Most concerts find the front-of-the-stage security force enduring punishing volume and looking as if they're being tortured by the Taliban. Which leads to the second item of note: matchbox twenty seemingly used half the amplifiers of any other band that played at Tweeter, yet the sound was superb. matchbox twenty (they of the e.e. cummings-style spelling) has never exactly been a darling of most critics, even though their debut, 1996's "Yourself or Someone Like You," ended up going platinum 12 times over. The harder-edged sophomore CD, "Mad Season" went quadruple platinum. Music fans in the 1997 Rolling Stone Readers Poll voted matchbox twenty the Best New Band. But since the band specializes in buoyant, melodic mainstream rock, it'll never be considered hip in some quarters. There may not be abrasive edges or the anger of frustrated youth in matchbox twenty's music, but there is an undeniable gift for melody, lyrics that examine the frustrations of mature relationships and, of course, the earnest soulfulness of lead singer Rob Thomas. Their guitar-dominated sound evokes some R.E.M. moods, some alternative rock dynamic shifts and classic rock songwriting. Or, as New Blue Revue singer Bob Romano of Weymouth, a first-time matchbox twenty listener, put it, "Talk about a Beatles influence!" Last night's 22-song set included most of the band's new album, "More Than You Think You Are," and a bevy of their previous hits. The quintet, enhanced by keyboardist Matt Serletic, has also been doing some interesting covers on this tour, ranging from David Bowie to U2. But last night's surprises were a wonderfully jangly, layered-guitars take on R.E.M.'s "Turn You Inside Out" and an encore rendition of Neil Young's "Heart of Gold." On that folksy gem, Thomas simply played harmonica while guitarist Kyle Cook sang the lead. The show hit the pandemonium meter with the second song, a robust gallop through "Real World," one of the hits from their first album. Thomas, wearing a black leather jacket over a sleeveless shirt, and black pants with gray pinstripes, strode the edge of the stage, sending countless female fans into paroxysms of joy. Before the fourth song, Thomas invited the crowd to "celebrate life tonight," and there was a kind of glow all night, even on the more lovelorn tunes. Adam Gaynor provided some squalling accents on his silver-sparkled guitar to give "Disease" some added wallop. "3 A.M." got a sweetly poignant acoustic start before morphing into the rousing anthem it became. Thomas and Cook performed "If You're Gone" as a duo, in a starkly moving interpretation. The pulsating acceleration of "Bent" was flavored with gritty guitar contrasts, amid one of Thomas' most passionate vocals. "Unwell" and "Downfall" were two more prime examples of dramatic dynamics and melodic grace. The bonus track from the new CD, "So Sad, So Lonely," was given a brisk, punky rendition during the encore. The smoothly swinging, cathartic "Push" was a fine lead-in for the triumphant finale of "Long Day."