I’m breaking new ground here on The Jam, as today marks my first concert review. This past Saturday, I flew back to my native state to see Matchbox Twenty and the Goo Goo Dolls in concert at the Jiffy Lube Live in Bristow, a town near Manassas in Northern Virginia. As rap and electronica have seeped their way into mainstream music, bands like these show that the rock-influenced pop of the late 80s and 90s is still alive and well, if not quite as popular. Lots of people showed up to the show, filling the lawn section of the amphitheater and nearly filling the covered section. It was an interesting range of ages, from a few twentysomethings like me to middle-aged people that probably got into Matchbox and the Goo Goo Dolls from hearing their biggest hits on the radio during their twenties.
The Goo Goo Dolls were first to take the stage, and they started with a bang with “Last Hot Night,” from Magnetic. They had a decent mix between songs from their new album and their biggest hits from yesteryear, as well as a good mix of slower and higher-energy songs. My favorite new song that they played was “Come to Me,” which featured lead singer John Rzeznik on acoustic guitar with little accompaniment. I always like it when bands do that… it makes the show feel more personal and intimate, even when it’s in a massive amphitheater. One song I was hoping to hear and did was the reflective “Here is Gone,” which is an example of Rzeznik’s great songwriting skills. Other highlights included “Slide,” “Broadway,” “Better Days” and “Iris,” which is one of my nominees for the Great American Song.
However, the Dolls are ten years older than Matchbox Twenty, and it showed at some points. It was most noticeable on the songs “January Friend,” and “Another Second Time Around,” when bassist Robby Takac sang. It is apparent that he didn’t receive much vocal training over the years, and largely sings from his throat rather than his diaphragm, which has really sucked the power out of his voice over the years. There were times when he was even unable to make himself heard over the instruments. The effects of age could also be heard a little with Rzeznik. Although his vocal technique is much better, he backed off when a few high notes came around rather than hitting and sustaining the notes, such as the “Round heeeeeeeeerrrrrrrrreeeeeeeee,” on “Broadway.” My guess is that he probably still can hit those notes, but it would cause undue strain on his vocal chords to hit them night after night on tour now. Overall, the Goo Goo Dolls’ set was a little more subdued than Matchbox’s.
On the other hand, Matchbox Twenty brought plenty of energy to the stage. Lead singer Rob Thomas was much more of a frontman, talking to the audience and urging them to their feet. Matchbox only played five songs from their new album, instead opting to focus on their biggest hits, such as “3 AM,” “If You’re Gone,” “Unwell,” “Back 2 Good,” and “How Far We’ve Come.” I especially enjoyed their performances of “Bent,” “Disease,” and show closer “Push,” in which they went completely balls-to-the-wall in terms of light effects and performing style. They slowed the set down with new song “I Will” and “Bright Lights,” which featured Thomas on the piano with the rest of the band joining in later, sort of like the Dolls’ aforementioned performance of “Come to Me.” They also played a solid cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” Thomas has a long history with Stones’ frontman Mick Jagger, having co-penned “Disease” with him in 2002.
Matchbox’s set also contrasted with the Goo Goo Dolls’ in that the rest of the band deferred to Thomas frequently, and sort of let him drive the concert himself. The Goo Goo Dolls’ set felt like much more of a team effort, with Takac pitching in on singing duties and their touring instrumentalist Korel Tunador being featured on keyboard and sax. I’m not saying one style is better than the other, just noting the differences. Overall, it was a very fun night for my dad and me enjoying two bands that I grew up with.