Rob Thomas (left), who leads superstar rock band matchbox twenty, isn’t considered edgy because he’s been married for ten years, doesn’t get into the tabloids, is a sober, eminently likeable, dedicated musician and gifted songwriter. He hasn’t sniffed up a relative’s ashes, or fallen out of a tree, or run off with a girl half his age. What can you do?
Still, Thomas hit the Beacon Theater in New York for the first of three sold out shows, and the result was pop and rock craftmanship of the highest order. To be edgy, he added the virtuoso pedal steel guitarist Robert Randolph‘(below right) on two numbers, and notched up the pop sensibilities of his tight band to sizzling Hendrix level wah wah. I hope a clip of them attacking Jimi H’s “Voodoo Child” winds up on YouTube soon.
Thomas’s new solo album, “Cradlesong,” was on display fully, with his gorgeously melodic “Someday” and rockers like “Fire on the Mountain” and “Give Me the Meltdown” designed to show that he’s not just another pretty face in pop.
But pop is what Thomas does best. His songs are three minute confections, they are complex and yet full of hooks that fall somewhere between Elvis Costello and Squeeze when he’s on the money. For an American songwriter, that’s saying a lot. He eschews bombast, and looks for wordplay and economy. When the songs are in your head, they’re not coming out so easily.
“Someday” is at once personal and public, an anthem and a secret promise. It follows a matchbox twenty song from last year that was not in last night’s show called “These Hard Times.” I fell in love with a song from the new album last night called “Getting Late” that’s so simple and effective you wonder why someone didn’t write it before. Another “CradleSong” track, “Still Ain’t Over You,” also surprised me ‘ it’s kind of hidden on an album full of hits. Back in the day, when you constantly said about an artist, “He sings that, too?” it was a good sign. Rob Thomas is like that, full of good signs. If you’re in New York this weekend, good luck trying to get tickets, but try ‘ these shows are the end of a tour before Thomas goes back to write some new matchbox songs.
Here’s a clip of Rob Thomas and Alicia Keys covering Bill Withers’ “Use Me” on an awards show.