Matchbox 20 locked into a solid musical groove early during its perf Friday at the Universal Amphitheater and stayed there while relentlessly roaring through its well-crafted material. Charismatic front man Rob Thomas also proved he has the vocal chops to be both a rock and pop star.
The band topped an evening of spirited, guitar-driven perfs offered by Soul Asylum and rising newcomers Semisonic, while also demonstrating why its bow, “Yourself of Someone Like You,” is one of the industry’s musical bright spots with its timely and well-crafted tunes.
Before Matchbox 20 hit the stage, David Bowie’s “Under Pressure” rang through the sold-out venue which, in addition to further firing-up the already overeager crowd, could have been the band’s theme song and may have explained why they worked so hard during a too-brief set.
After delivering to Lava/Atlantic Records a top-drawer record 18 months ago, Matchbox 20 remains an anomaly in this one-hit wonder era.
It’s bow has so far boasted three high-powered singles — with more to come — and the album is still residing in the upper reaches of the sales charts, having sold more than 7 million copies domestically.
Thomas’ blistering readings of each of the band’s nuggets was uncompromising as he actively traversed the stage with an evangelical fervor recalling perfs of Sammy Hagar or Axl Rose. The band was also exceptionally in sync, no doubt thanks to the hundreds of performances under their collective belt.
Whether it was “Real World” or “3 A.M.,” two of the band’s biggest tracks, Thomas gave each song a sense of urgency, as if conveying its message for the first time to an unfamiliar crowd, despite it being clear that the aud was wholly in tune to what he was saying.
On more sedate but still rocking tracks like “Back 2 Good,” Thomas was also in fine form. His vocals remained solid throughout the non-stop set.
But it wasn’t until he delivered a flawless reworking of “Nothing Compares 2 U,” the 1990 hit from Sinead O’Connor, that Thomas established his place among the ranks of pop stardom a la Billy Joel or Elton John.
Mid-set opener Soul Asylum served up a well-honed perf, drawing mostly from its recent Columbia Records disc “Candy From A Stranger,” peppered with some earlier works.
Guitarist/front man David Pirner aggressively delivered the new material, which boasted highlights such as “Blood Into Wine” and “Close,” while also possessing a musical maturity that demonstrated why the band has such longevity in a business that consistently eats its young.
Though its 1992 hit “Runaway Train” nabbed the set’s biggest response, Pirner and company’s perf should be required viewing for rock-Gods in training on how to make the most of a short set, while impressing a headliner-friendly audience.
Show opener Semisonic would be wise to take a page or two from both the Soul Asylum and Matchbox 20 playbooks, as the newcomer’s perf was an uneven mish-mash of rock-star posing and alternarock posturing that can frequently beset inexperienced touring bands.
While the set had some strong songs such as “Never You Mind” and “This Will Be My Year,” the band never truly got proper airings, as front man Dan Wilson preferred to use his short time on stage to chatter frequently rather than let the band’s music be his voice.
As a result, he never had the full attention of the early arrivals, many of whom were only familiar with the band’s calling-card tune and radio hit “Closing Time” off its MCA Records bow “Feeling Strangely Fine.”