Matchbox Twenty Debut Tunes After Barbecue

Pop-rockers emphasize the rock in previewing songs from mad season by matchbox twenty.

BUELLTON, Calif. — Pop-rock band Matchbox Twenty treated a small group of music-industry friends to a barbecue and horse show Friday and then debuted a set of short, radio-friendly, rock 'n' roll songs from their upcoming second album.

"I figured that with the length of time we've been gone, it'd be a good way to get people excited about the new record and let all the promotion people know that we're aware of what goes on and what makes it happen," singer Rob Thomas said, sitting on a sofa behind the Zaca Creek Restaurant, after the show.

"It gave us a chance to meet a lot of people ... [and] to say 'OK, we're a team, let's go!' "

The band, which will release mad season by matchbox twenty on May 23, also said it will do a club tour in May and June to promote the album.

Atlantic Records invited friends and industry insiders from around the country, and as far away as Japan and New Zealand, to wine and dine in style, and to see Matchbox Twenty play their new tunes in a barnlike hall.

The band's 1996 debut album, Yourself or Someone Like You, is certified Diamond, for shipment of more than 10 million copies. Thomas catapulted back into the spotlight last year as the singer of the Santana hit "Smooth" (RealAudio excerpt), for which the Matchbox Twenty singer won three Grammys in February.

Mix Of New And Old

After the barbecue and horse show at the group's manager's ranch, the small crowd of about 150 was served cocktails and then dinner at the Zaca Creek Restaurant, on a dark freeway service road in this rural town. Longtime Elton John lyricist Bernie Taupin introduced the band, which was augmented by new keyboardist Ben Styvars and a five-piece horn section.

Matchbox Twenty worked through a set of new songs and older tunes from Yourself or Someone Like You. The band also tackled an acoustic cover of 1980s pop singer Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time."

The new songs were more rock 'n' roll than the band's earlier material. Thomas politely thanked the crowd at regular intervals.

Lead guitarist Kyle Cook played sitarlike raga sounds to lead into "Angry." Cook and rhythm guitarist Adam Gaynor sang backup for Thomas — who also played acoustic guitar — on the chorus.

Cook switched to acoustic guitar for the slow "3 am" (RealAudio excerpt), a hit from the band's debut album.

"I hope that season comes around/ You figured me out, but I'm lost and I'm hopeless/ I feel ugly, but I know I turn you on," Thomas sang from the new disc's title track, "Mad Season." Cook played a melodic hook, giving the song a soulful riff-rock flavor.

A five-piece horn section (alto, tenor and baritone saxophones, trombone and trumpet), introduced jokingly as "the Paul Doucette Quintet" — for the band's drummer — blew subtly on the new "Black & White People." "One last round of petty conversation/ You hold on 'cause you won't go down/ Just one sweet sound's enough to clear my head," Thomas sang, with eyes wide and vocal intensity.

The horns stayed on for the slow ballad "If You're Gone," on which Thomas crooned, "Maybe it's time to come home/ There's an awful lot of breathing room/ But I can hardly move."

'Now We're Like A Band'

A few songs on mad season ... display an edgier, rock side of the band. Thomas said the album mixes upbeat, rock-type tunes with slower ballads, even featuring a 68-piece orchestra.

"We've been out, the whole five of us, for like three and a half years straight, touring every night, and it's like now we're a band," Thomas said. "So, this record, to us, was the sound of five guys at one time, making the same noise. For us, this is what would be the first Matchbox Twenty record."

"Crutch" opened with heavy guitar riffs, and Brian Yale played a dark bassline. Thomas rapped rapid-fire, then sang "I don't wanna be a crutch/ Yeah yeah/ One step away from down."

The band also played "Bent" — the album's first single, with a heavy drumbeat and chunky guitar riffs — and the ballad "Last Beautiful Girl," along with the older songs "Real World," "Long Day," "Back 2 Good" and "Push." Thomas sang and played acoustic guitar, backed up by Cook's vocals on the chorus, on Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time."

"I thought the crowd was pretty intense," said Ryan T. Stevens, 24, who served drinks at the event. "They were scrutinous. They were almost evaluating what he was doing up onstage, and he was really giving them a show."

The band seemed to enjoy playing the new material for the first time onstage.

"It feels like [there] would be pressure, except all the success has been so freakish that no one could expect you to duplicate that," Thomas said. "It doesn't have to be 10 million people buying our records, but as long as enough are buying them that we can make another one each time, then we're just putting new links in the chain every time we go."

Matchbox Twenty kick off a nationwide club tour May 19 in Atlanta. Venues were unavailable Monday from an Atlantic Records spokesperson, but bassist Yale said the tour will wrap up at the Fillmore in San Francisco.

Matchbox Twenty tour dates:

May 19; Atlanta, Ga.

May 20; Washington, D.C.

May 21; Philadelphia, Pa.

May 24; New York, N.Y.

May 25; Boston, Mass.

May 27; Detroit, Mich.

May 28; Toronto, Ontario

May 30; Chicago, Ill.

May 31; St. Louis, Mo.

June 2; Houston, Texas

June 3; Dallas, Texas

June 6; Los Angeles, Calif.

June 7; San Francisco, Calif.; Fillmore