Three songs into the launch of his “Chip Tooth Smile” tour, Rob Thomas took a moment to issue a disclaimer: that “f— ups” were possible on this first show of a six-week trek. It had been a minute since he last performed as a solo artist, and though the Jersey shore was a stone’s throw away, he had yet to settle into his sea legs.
But to a theater full of “like-minded people,” as Thomas described the crowd at the Hackensack Meridian Health Theatre at the Count Basie Center for the Arts in Red Bank, New Jersey, the singer’s solo bow exhibited no such cobwebs. In fact, you could say that the show, The show, which featured a balanced set list of new tracks, solo hits, two Matchbox Twenty selections and a cover of David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance,” was smooth sailing.
Taking the stage dressed in the same denim jacket he models on the album cover, the 47-year old singer set the mood right away with the latest single, “I Love It,” singing “I’ll just keep it real ’nuff, everybody, hold up,” then taking a long beat for dramatic affect as the room erupted in applause.
With that, Thomas treated the primarily female audience to back-to-back hits, including “Mockingbird” and “Lonely No More,” all the while engaging with his fans — and his taut band — with direction, eye contact, rhythm, and a little funkiness. At one point, Thomas and bass player Al Carty fully demonstrated the sexiness of the instrument, with Thomas cracking, “I think someone just got pregnant.”
A consummate performer, Thomas is so much fun to watch. It’s impossible to keep your eyes off of him as he works every inch of the stage, including two ramps leading up to the drum kit. Soaked in sweat, he only briefly exited the stage once, to give his band — keyboardist and leader Matt Beck, guitarist and saxophonist Korel Tunador, Carty, guitarist Frank Romano, drummer Abe Fogle, and background singers Ayo Awosika and Meloney Burns — room to jam.
But strutting aside, the quieter moments also captivated. Early in the show, Thomas gave a shout-out to his bandmates in Matchbox, relaying the news that keyboardist Paul Doucette sent a text to him earlier in the evening wishing him good luck on the tour’s kick-off performance. The band’s classic “If You’re Gone”and a stripped down “3 A.M.” made the setlist — he dedicated the latter to his mother, who passed away from cancer. In a tender moment, Thomas opened up about the complicated relationship he had with his mom, which he attributed to both being young, and promised to no longer refer to her as “crazy.”
Throughout the show, Thomas switched things up, strapping on a guitar to play an unreleased song, “Sunday Morning, New York Blue” — that Doucette felt should have made the album. Taking a seat at the piano, he delivered a sweet rendition of “Little Wonders,” a song written about his dog and featured on the soundtrack to the 2007 Disney film, “Meet the Robinsons.”
The new material, particularly the inspirational single “One Less Day (Dying Young),” worked well live, with Thomas twirling the mic and leading the crowd in a fist-pumping celebration of life. Crowd pleasers “Smooth” and “This is How a Heart Breaks” rounded out the encores, with Thomas visibly moved by the crowd’s reaction to the ballad “Pieces.”
And it must be noted that it takes a special performer to come out on the first night of his tour and announce the opening act, Abby Anderson. The 22-year-old was taken by surprise by the act considerate gesture, explaining to the audience that when she saw the singer approaching the stage, she thought “Mr. Rob” was coming to give her a pep talk. “I’m getting spoiled already on this tour,” the young country singer laughed.
Anderson brought Texas charm and youthful enthusiasm in a set that included smart covers of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” and the Rolling Stones’ “Miss You.” A simple ballad about “knowing your worth”, “Make Him Wait,” was lovely, and her new single, “Good Lord,” caught on quick with the crowd.
Last night’s performance, and the rest of the tour, will be recorded and documented as limited-edition double CD sets, which the audience can reserve the night of the show. Proceeds will benefit Sidewalk Angels, Thomas and his wife Marisol’s charity supporting no-kill animal shelters and animal rescues.