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POP MUSIC REVIEW

Matchbox Twenty a crowd-pleaser

June 16, 2003|Steve Baltin | Special to The Times

Matchbox Twenty lead singer Rob Thomas laid out the pop-rock band's intentions early in its two-hour set Saturday at Staples Center. Essentially, it was, "We're going to shut out the outside world."

That stated goal is not as easy as it might seem -- nor is it as ignominious as many critics, who have dismissed the band's earnestness and straight-ahead sound as bland, would have you believe.

Matchbox Twenty's members are unapologetic rockers who strive for the same rock anthem sensibility as Bob Seger and John Mellencamp. If not yet at that level, Thomas has a knack for anthems that have propelled his band to arena headliner status -- and the fans were on their feet throughout the show, singing along.

Early on, there was disturbingly little difference between the live and studio versions of the six-piece group, but the band hit its musical stride a quarter of the way in. "If You're Gone" was turned into a stripped-down, almost doo-wop, number by just Thomas and guitarist Kyle Cook.

Opening the show was Sugar Ray, which proved to be an audience favorite, thanks to frontman Mark McGrath's mix of charisma and humility.

At the end of the night, Thomas asked the audience whether it had had a good time. "That's our whole purpose," he said, responding to the cheers. That aspiration might not change the rock landscape, but it seemed a worthy endeavor Saturday.

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