WANTAGH, NY—Matchbox Twenty and the Goo Goo Dolls hit the road together this year as co-headliners on the most anticipated tour of the summer.
The sold-out Aug. 17 show at New York’s outdoor waterside music haven, Nikon at Jones Beach Theater, held onto an emotional tone this year. The resistance of the Empire State after Superstorm Sandy was celebrated; the air of survival and support was palpable. Although two of radio’s best friends from the mid-1990s through the mid-2000s were finally on tour together, there was no difference between them and the near 15,000 other people inside the amphitheater.
I distinctly recall Rob Thomas pausing during their 90-minute set, eyes emotionally fixed on the night sky, muttering something along the lines of “God, I love this place.” It was evident as he addressed the crowd with a fitting sentiment during their set later on in the night.
“Thank you my fellow New Yorkers! It is a pleasure for us to be here at what is literally one of my top favorite venues on the face of the Earth. And like a lot of you, we saw the pictures and we cried when we saw it under water. It’s so nice to see it back and it’s so good to be back here and see it rejuvenated. So thank you guys for coming here to be a part of this.”
In a way, these bands have always balanced each other out, both equally outstanding yet each having something unique to offer that the other does not. Both quickly proved that even now in 2013, their music and class are the definition of longevity. Thomas and John Rzeznik carried out their catalogues of well-written hits in great voice and character with no need for pretension or antics to hold their sets together.
Both Goo Goo Dolls co-founders Rzeznik and bassist Robby Takac are New Yorkers themselves, born and raised upstate in Buffalo. As the first band on the double bill, it was their job to sense, set and keep the tone of the night flowing throughout their 70-minute set. The core members, alongside longtime drummer Mike Malinin (perched up high on a riser) and the very men who turn the original trio into a truly cohesive unit of five on stage—guitarist Brad Fernquist, who plays everything Rzeznik is “too lazy to learn,” and keyboardist/saxophonist/vocalist Korel Tunador, who mimics Rzeznik so well during their harmonies that he may as well be singing against himself—pumped out one powerhouse song after another, the majority in Rzeznik’s distinctive alternate guitar tuning.
Also distinctive is his attire. He ran around the stage in his signature khakis, v-neck and skate sneakers as Takac hopped, skipped and jumped in his usual bare feet as they played a famous selection of tunes from albums Dizzy Up The Girl, A Boy Named Goo, Gutterflower and Let Love In, including, but not limited to, “Slide,” “Naked,” “Here Is Gone,” “January Friend,” “Let Love In” and “Broadway,” which wasn’t without Fernquist’s stunning guitar solo and Tunador’s beautifully toned saxophone solo.
“Rebel Beat” and “Black Balloon” were performed back to back. The magic of Rzeznik’s writing is vivid in such instances. Even though the former song is a newly written single portraying a genuinely happy time in his life and the latter is a dark anthem about a woman’s heartbreaking addiction to heroin, they seem at home together. They have his complicated life in common, bookending an emotional roller coaster that he’s ridden throughout it thus far. Much in the same way, “Come To Me,” their second Magnetic single and “Name,” their 1995 breakout hit, had the same emotional effect. The artistry of their setlist does not go without thought and notice.
Before “Better Days,” a song whose melody and message could easily be likened to that of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” Rzeznik poignantly said all there was to say to the New York crowd. “This is for anyone who could use a little help; so this one’s for all of us.”
During “Iris,” the band’s biggest hit from City Of Angels and one of the best-written and well-respected songs of the past 20 years, thousands of different voices belted out every word along with Rzeznik in excitement, rivaling his volume.
Thomas made it clear that they “love and respect” their tourmates as they began to close out the night with a bang below a beautiful display of 3D LED screens. He also had a message for the energetic crowd:
“When you came in here, you had a lot of shit going on in your lives,” he began. “Who wants to celebrate life tonight with us in Jones Beach? Kate Earl-Goo Goo Dolls-Matchbox Twenty-good time-old-fashioned-feel-good-extravaganza-show!”
Matchbox may not leave you on edge waiting for a “Name” or “Iris,” but they have an extensive list of songs that have become second nature after hearing Yourself Or Someone Like You, Mad Season or More Than You Think You Are, just to begin. You hear the first note of “3am,” “Bent,” “Real World,” “Long Day,” “Disease,” “Look How Far We’ve Come” or any solid song they offer up and you’re unconsciously mouthing every word as flashbacks from the first moment you heard them enter your mind.
Each time I see this tight-knit band, they seemingly grow stronger and more cohesive as a unit, even with the recent changes and rearranges within the group. Lead guitarist Kyle Cook especially showed a noticeable jump in his talent and ability to run free around Thomas and his impeccable rhythm without getting lost. Perhaps the solid groove between bassist Brian Yale, former-drummer-turned-guitarist Paul Doucette, current drummer Stacy Jones and touring guitarist/keyboardist Matt Back are the biggest reason.
I expected and hoped for a duet during the encore, but they ended the night with a cover of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” by The Rolling Stones, followed by the solemnly beautiful “Back 2 Good” and one of my personal favorites, “Push” off of Yourself Or Someone Like You.
The massive undertaking of this production was obvious to anyone paying attention. It would exceed my word allotment to thank everyone involved, so I’ll leave it to one particular company I’ve worked with multiple times and whose CEO I’ve known since I was an ambitious teenager: The Browning Group. Thank you.