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Few acts dominated adult contemporary radio from the mid-‘90s through the mid-2000s like Matchbox Twenty and the Goo Goo Dolls, so it’s no surprise that July 17’s Gibson Amphitheatre show pairing the two bands felt like a Gen Xer’s dream radio station come to life.
Add the fact that both the Goo Goo Dolls’ Johnny Rzeznik and Matchbox Twenty’s Rob Thomas still possess strong, clear, potent voices — no need for any technical enhancement here — surrounded by sturdy, often stellar musicianship and the result was a solid three hours of crowd-pleasing entertainment high on hits and low on flash.
Though billed as co-headliners, the Goo Goo Dolls took the stage first, after a short set by Kate Earl, and Rzeznik laid down the manifesto early on: “Tonight is all about leaving the bulls — outside these four walls. I’m your pal. I’m here to help you.”
And help he did, as he and co-founder/bassist Robby Takac, long-time drummer Mike Malinin — perched atop a riser constructed of LED screens — and supplemental guitarist Brad Fernquist and keyboardist/saxophonist/vocalist Korel Tunador segued from one cascading melody to the next during their 70-minute set. Rzeznik, the trio’s main songwriter, has always cut a bit of a Byronic character: dashing but brooding, with romantic lyrics that show the cloud in every silver lining. But true happiness seems to have caught up with him at last as current AC hit, “Rebel Beat” and swoon-worthy “Come To Me,” from new album Magnetic, displayed an unabashed upbeat spirit — and seemed almost as familiar to fans as such tunes as 1995’s breakthrough hit “Name,” “Black Balloon,” Supertramp cover “Give A Little Bit,” “Broadway,” and, of course, the band’s 18-week chart topper, “Iris,” from “City Of Angels,” which Billboard recently named the top tune in the 20-year history of its Pop Songs chart.
As they continuously crisscrossed the stage, seemingly determined to hit every square inch, a cool hand Rzeznik and bouncy, enthusiastic Takac displayed a no-nonsense appeal held over from their days as a Buffalo garage band that was refreshingly unpretentious, given that their working-class days are long past them. Takac certainly deserves his moment to shine, but the show’s pacing might be better served by slicing one of his three lead vocal turns to make room for another hit.
Similarly to the Goo Goo Dolls, Matchbox Twenty immediately and smartly set the tone that the evening was all about the fans, who may have been high school and college students when they were initially introduced to MB20 in the ‘90s, but now likely have jobs, mortgages, and babysitters waiting to be relieved back home.
“We are here for you,” declared Thomas, “We’re the house band for your good time.”
The band, bolstered by keyboardist Matt Beck and new power house drummer Stacy Jones (formerly of Boston pop-punk band American Hi-Fi) packed a wallop as a cohesive, integrated unit, giving Kyle Cook room to frequently and masterfully soar on guitar and drummer-turned-guitarist Paul Doucette grounding to animatedly bash the drums and play guitar often all within the same song.
While Rzeznik had a guitar to hide behind, Thomas had no such buffer, relying on has his voice and his sometimes adorkable dance steps (yes, there were even some Billy Squier-type kicks in there) as he roamed the three-tiered stage with his endearingly sexy geek moves.
The 90-minute, 19-song set relied heavily on hits, but also featured four songs from the group’s first studio album of new material in a decade, “North,” the best of which were easily the jangly, power pop first single, “She’s So Mean,” delivered with a breezy verve, and “I Will,” which showcased Thomas’s vocal prowess as he performed the uncynical, lilting ballad with the sparest of accompaniment.
Though never a critical darling, Matchbox Twenty is having the last laugh as many of its hits have aged beautifully, none more so than the still potent “3 A.M.,” from the band’s debut album, “Yourself or Someone Like You,” enhanced live with a muscularity not evident on the radio version.
Speaking of radio, by and large, Matchbox Twenty stayed fairly close to the studio renditions of such hits as “Bent,” “Disease, a driving, raucous “How Far We’ve Come,” and “Real World.” However, toward the end of the show the sextet veered into a triptych of album tracks — “Radio,” “So Sad So Lonely” and “English Town” — that allowed the band to stretch out, especially on the non-structured “So Sad So Lonely,” and show off their chops. Just as they may have been testing the more casual fans, they launched into a stunning version of “Bright Lights” that started with Thomas alone at the grand piano and then blossomed and swelled into a full-bodied, full band version to bring the main set to a climactic close that no doubt left many musing: over too soon?
Matchbox Twenty Set List:
She’s So Mean
How Far We’ve Come
If You’re Gone
So Sad So Lonely
Back To Good
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