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Concert Review: Matchbox Twenty Exile in America Tour At Sovereign Arena, Reading PA

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Well, they are back with a vengeance, and I couldn’t be happier.

I got to attend my sixth Matchbox Twenty concert last night at the Sovereign Arena in Reading PA. There are two things I will say about the groups’ performance Tuesday night.

The first is – damn good to have them back! And second, kudos to them for the subtle changes they’ve make in the interim that have improved them in all the right places.

If someone had told me a few years ago I’d be saying this, I would have guffawed. Because, in my opinion, they were already just about as close to perfection as they were going to get. Yes of course, the bias of a fan speaking, but minor tweaking has led to more than a few minor changes and overall, to a more professional sound for the band.

First is the addition of drummer Ryan McMillan setting a really rock-solid bottom line. Switching Paul Doucette to rhythm guitar from drums worked very well.

Also the lighting for this show was designed to focus us on lead singer Rob Thomas. Whether this came as a surprise to new fans, or upset long time ones, I don’t know. But recurrence of a thematic lighting scheme persisted throughout the concert, and it was done superbly. In all twenty five songs of their set, the spotlight — or spotlights — constantly shone brightest on Rob. In fact, there were moments where a sheer black curtain was dropped from the rafters, dividing him from the rest of the band members and they were only silhouetted behind him. A rather impressive visual as Rob himself held the multi-kilowatt beam to himself.

Having said that, I don’t believe for a moment that this was any kind of prima donna predisposition on the part of Rob, but more a case of a lighting dynamic designed to give the backing members an air of mystique, which it achieved beautifully. Having followed the band since the days when they were known as Tabitha’s Secret, I feel this was a spotlight technique used as a visual tool to preserve Rob's status, not just as the voice, but the face of Matchbox Twenty.

The evening opened with a new group, Mute Math – an electro-rock quartet out of New Orleans. They spent a half hour trying to dazzle with loud sounds and blinding strobes, giving some in the audience a chance to refresh their drinks before settling down again. In their favor, they had some uniqueness. But I was glad I was only subjected to a half hour of it.

After a short break we were treated to Alanis Morrisette. I've never been a huge fan of hers. I'm not saying she's bad, just not my type of music. Alanis played an hour-long set that included almost all of her breathy, exasperated vocal-driven songs — minus "Head Over Feet" — plus her haunting, yet amusing spoof of the Black Eyed Peas' "My Humps." And of course "Jagged Little Pill."

One thing's for sure: her songs of a woman's relationship discontent resonated soundly with the disproportionately female audience. I think it admirable that MB20 invited her to join their tour, but she didn't appeal to their audience. She had a following there though, sitting down front so she sang primarily to them.

Then finally MB20 came out to a resounding welcome from the audience. And we weren’t to be disappointed! The band is touring in support of their new album, Exile on Mainstream. In fact, they opened their show with a rousing rendition of "Let's See How Far We've Come," their latest hit single from that album.

From there, the concert moved into a shuffle of hit songs and new album cuts. Since the album is basically a greatest hits album with six new songs added, most of the concert gave fans what they wanted to hear — their favorites re-worked but remaining pretty much as they were the first time around.  In between filler material, people perpetually yelled out for staples like "3 a.m.," "Unwell," or "Push" (the last song of the evening.) And, to no one's surprise, as always the band didn't disappoint.

Highlights of the concert included the last song before the encore. "Bright Lights," opened with a solo blues riff from guitarist Kyle Cook, which moved into a momentous rock version of the hit song. But before they wrapped up, the band broke into the first couple of verses of the Beatles' "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window" before circling back into the closing notes of "Bright Lights."

Another highlight was Rob taking a video camera from a woman in the front row & videoing the band for her, turning the camera on himself at one point and singing to it/her. Something I’m sure we will see on YouTube before long.

Finally, the most important thing to note is the band has kept everything they’ve always had going for them, like their rapport with their audience and their ability to do their songs from years back and never make them sound tired. But now, they’ve added a sweet glossing of professionalism that caps them off. I recommend to anyone, if you haven’t already, buy tickets and don’t miss this one.

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  • kate

    I had the pleasure of seeing MB20 for the first time at the Broomfield Event Center in Colorado and I was thoroughly impressed! However, I had a few grievances: there was frequently too much time between songs and the crowd nearly gave up on an encore when it took them more than a few minutes to re-take the stage. Having just seen the Bill Joel concert not a week earlier, I was privileged to see how someone who has been in the biz for more than 30 years times their concert and it was amazing. They were great, they just need better timing and perhaps that will come with more touring?(!)

  • Kate – Isn’t that strange? That was definitely not a problem in Reading. I’m wondering if they were having an off night in Broomfield? They had great segues into each of their songs when I saw them here & they didn’t waste much time at all, except for the very last encore which I think was done on purpose.

    This is my sixth MB20 concert, having seen them in Pittsburgh twice, Philadelphia, Washington, Vegas all once, & in fact saw Rob Thomas solo at The Joint in the Hard Rock Hotel too during his Something To Be tour & honestly they’ve never been anything else but professional.

    I don’t think we can fairly compare many bands with performers like Billy Joel & Elton John for example, who I also saw performing together. They are just so on another level because they have been doing this for so long! As an example, Joel’s Piano Man came out the year Rob Thomas was born and Elton Johns Rocket Man came out the year before he was born – he’s got a little catching up to do. =)
    I’m glad you liked them though…

  • dani

    hey girl –
    i was also at the reading so and it was also my 6th MB20 concert!
    it was tops for me because my b/f got us front row, center. it was AWESOME!
    i put up some (really bad) videos of the show on youtue under user name luvsmb20 in case your interested 🙂