From the outside, it seemed an evening of mainstream, inoffensive, nice-guy — and gal — radio-ready rock. Which it was. But the nearly four hours of music also proved to be a surprisingly intimate and sometimes emotional event as all three acts captivated the crowd with unique moments. There were visits into the audience (Sugar Ray singer Mark McGrath), surprise cover songs (matchbox twenty’s tight version of Tom Petty’s “Don’t Do Me Like That”) and special guests (Lisa Loeb, joined by guitarist Dweezil Zappa), suffused with a genuine humble likability from all three acts.
In two hours and with more than 20 songs, matchbox twenty ran the gamut from perfect pop gems like “3 a.m.” to the edgy, guitar-propulsive “Mad Season” to “Soul,” with appropriately soulful solos from tasteful and versatile guitarist Kyle Cook. Strong-voiced everyman Rob Thomas at a grand piano invited the crowd to “celebrate life” and moved easily from powered “You’re So Real” to a solid cover of Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”; it’s easy to see how this unprepossessing if slick lineup has sold more than 20 million albums.
Sugar Ray, fronted by ultra-charismatic teen dream McGrath, is all about pure summertime fun and frolic, and McGrath’s ultra-energetic, amusing personality. The lilting love-lost song “When It’s Over,” the nostalgic “Someday” and breakthrough hit “Every Morning” are sweet rap-rock gems, though Sugar Ray showed its roots with the metallic “Mean Machine” and a blistering version of the Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop.”
Bespectacled Loeb was as sweet as the Hello Kitty on the cover of her new album suggests; at ease chatting with the arena crowd while she tuned her acoustic guitar, Loeb took requests for her hit “Stay” and shone on “Underdog,” her bell-clear voice cute but never cloying.