NEW YORK -- Despite his rock-star good looks, his band's multimillion-
selling debut album and his obvious sex appeal, Rob Thomas hit the stage
Friday night with something more to prove.
Because the singer and the rest of Matchbox 20 elicit such basic hormonal
responses from many of their youthful fans, it's in their interest to demonstrate
once and for all that they have the chops as a band in spite of all the superficial
appeal. After all, one can assume they're in this for the long haul.
And if Friday's show is any indication, they're well on their way.
"I hope you all came here today to relax and have a good time," Thomas,
strikingly dressed in all black, told the throng gathered at the Hammerstein
Ballroom before ripping through almost all of the tracks from Matchbox 20's
debut, Yourself or Someone Like You, as well as a few new songs such
as "Tired" and "U & I and I."
The Ballroom was sold out and bubbling with excitement even before Thomas
and company took the stage. There were cigarette girls and candy men onhand
to add some old-fashioned style to the venue. MTV cameras were at the ready
to record a "Live at the 10 Spot" segment.
Teen-agers and twentysomethings in leather jackets and jeans were inching
closer to the stage at the front of the large, standing-room-only general-
admission area. And then, at 10 p.m. exactly, the noise level grew to deafening
heights as the sizzling-hot quintet Matchbox 20 climbed onstage.
For this show, which will be the group's first nationally televised full-length
concert (to be aired on MTV this spring), the band played like a group of college
kids looking for a record deal. The idea was to show that its mega-platinum
debut album is no studio-manufactured fluke and that there is a real rock 'n' roll
band behind the flashy videos and radio-friendly singles.
Opening with Yourself's dark and angry "Busted," the band made its case
by presenting itself as a much harder rock outfit than the MTV darlings that
many of the teenyboppers had come expecting to see. This didn't stop the kids
in the crowd from singing along to every word and moshing -- literally throwing
each other up in the air, just for the hell of it.
Secondly, Thomas de-emphasized his sexy side in favor of a more artsy
performance. He illustrated most of his autobiographical lyrics with intense
snarls and grimaces and by shaking his hands at his sides and patting his chest
as if he were overflowing with feelings that he needed to vent. The only
interruptions came from the video presentations that offered such pithy
commentary as "Opinion: a personal view, attitude or appraisal."
Further trying to prove his musical depth, Thomas made several references to
classic artists in introducing his material. Before the lilting "Shame," he
announced, "This is a cheatin' song. I wrote it 'cause Willie Nelson, Waylon
Jennings and Hank Williams always had a cheatin' song. It's to the bitch who
gave all my stuff to Goodwill."
The rest of the set included new songs such as "Tired" and "U & I and I," as well
as covers such as the late Marvin Gaye's "Mercy Mercy Me." But it was the
(RealAudio excerpt) and "Push," that left the crowd apoplectic. Girls rushed the
stage and threw up stuffed animals and the like,
including a poster dedicated to lead guitarist Kyle Cook that read (alluding to
the lyrics of "Long Day"): "Kyle, I'd reach my hand in your pocket
Although it was a nice change of pace to hear '80s diva Cyndi Lauper's old hit
"Time After Time" performed acoustically by Thomas and Cook as an encore, it
was not the kind of material that helped to showcase the depth of the musicians
or the personality of the group.
All in all, though, it doesn't look like Matchbox 20 have much to worry
about. They have a way with a hook, play hard and loud, and, if worse came to
worse, Thomas has enough rock-star charisma to mount a solo career should
the band go the way of previous flavors of the month.
Still, it's going to be hard to shake that sex-symbol image. If you ask 18-year-
old Jeannine Samartano of Brooklyn why she would go to such lengths to
create a poster for her favorite band and pass it up onstage, she'll tell you
straight out: "They're great and Kyle is so hot."