Photos: Clayton Taylor Photography
Here’s a little thing that’s going to sound crazy: Without ever reaching No. 1 on the Billboard sales chart, Matchbox Twenty managed to sell about 12 million copies of their debut album, “Yourself or Someone Like You.”
That makes the album, released in 1996, one of the top 100 best-selling albums of all time in this country. The Orlando band’s followup record, 2000’s “Mad Season,” failed to sell as well, but how many records could have? About four million copies of that record were sold.
Next at the Walmart Arkansas Music Pavilion
Who: Brad Paisley
When: 7 p.m. Sept. 1
Where: Arkansas Music Pavilion, Rogers
Cost: Starting at $35 plus fees
Tickets: 479-443-5600 or visit arkansasmusicpavilion.com for information.
The point: About 20 years ago, Matchbox Twenty was one of the biggest bands in the world, trading radio hits with the likes of pop rock contemporaries such as Alanis Morrisette, No Doubt and the Counting Crows (more on them later).
Many of their contemporaries are no longer on the touring circuit, or have faded into lesser environments. But Matchbox Twenty came to the Walmart Arkansas Music Pavilion on Monday (Aug. 7) as conquering heroes, filling the venue to the brim. And they did that on the strength of the past. Matchbox Twenty, still largely with their original lineup, released an album, “North,” in 2012. During a 20-song, 100-minute performance, they would play two of the songs from that most recent studio effort. By contrast, they played seven from their debut, and another seven from the well-received 2002 album “More Than You Think You Are.”
If you wanted to hear contemporary Matchbox Twenty, Monday was not your night.
The band started with the radio hit “Real World” and chugged through a list of many of their other hits, including “Push,” “Mad Season” and “3 AM,” the song they used to kick off the three-song encore. The crowd bought into it all night. With “Real World,” Matchbox 20 may have written a concise motto for their mostly millennial audience, with its chorus of “I wish the real world would just stop hassling me.”
Matchbox Twenty sounded very much like … Matchbox Twenty. Which means a bit like an American version of Coldplay, minus some of the whirling keyboards and falsetto vocals. They offered songs about isolation and relationships and infidelity, among other standard fare. Frontman Rob Thomas looks very much like he did in 1996, and he moves around onstage like someone 20 years his younger might.
Other than a large bank of lights that moved up and down and pivoted to cloak the band with different angles of light, their headlining set was a pretty spartan affair. They stuck to the script, both in terms of presenting their songs as originally recorded and in following a standard set list for this tour, called “A Brief History of Everything.” The Matchbox Twenty show is lean, choreographed and polished.
Photos: Clayton Taylor Photography
Which takes us to the matter of their current tour mates, Counting Crows. Though billed as a co-headliner, the Crows were presented as the lower-tiered option. They were given 80 minutes of stage time, enough for 14 songs including the encore.
Where Matchbox Twenty was slick and produced, Counting Crows were the exact opposite. Frontman Adam Duritz started with what could best be described as lethargy. He sang part of a song with his hand in his front pocket, and I apologize to him if his crew woke him up from a pre-show nap before coming out to perform. About halfway through the band’s set, something clicked, and the poetic sing-speaking and superfluous lyrical bantering that helped distinguished Duritz and company showed up with force. If you had closed your eyes for the show, you might have believed there were two distinct bands on stage during the Counting Crows, and the second one, the one with the more excitable lead singer, was the better of the two.
Duritz moved the band at his pace, with the lead guitarist often eyeing him for the cue on when to move forward. Good bands can do that. And far from Matchbox Twenty’s pre-ordained set list, the Crows not only mixed it up from the previous few concerts but also changed on the fly. Importantly, they nixed the now rarely performed mega-hit “Mr. Jones,” which was listed on the printed set list taped to the stage, in favor of the song “Round Here.” Like Matchbox Twenty, they too had a major release in 1996 – “Recovering the Satellites,” which unlike the Matchbox Twenty album from the same year, hit No. 1 on the album sales charts. They only played on song from “Recovering the Satellites,” the sad, slow piano ballad “A Long December.” They stretched it out, and it served as a highlight of their set. They still had several hits left in the bag at the conclusion of their set, and they were just as content to play new material (three from their newest album) as they were from their oldest (also three). That’s not to fault them, but it’s important to note the difference. A band built on radio hits didn’t play one of their biggest radio hits.
One band took an artistic approach. One band embraced nostalgia with open arms and hits from 1996. Monday night’s crowd, and 20 years on music store shelves, made it clear which of the two approaches sells better.
About the opener: I wondered why Rivers and Rust were on the bill for this show, as their Americana/country vibe didn’t seem like a perfect fit. Then I realized Kyle Cook, the lead guitarist for Matchbox Twenty, is also the lead guitarist for Rivers and Rust. He pulled double duty on Monday, singing and playing with both bands. Rivers and Rust sound like fairly standard neo-country act to me, although I must admit I liked their song “Dead and Done.”
Rivers and Rust