Matchbox Twenty and Counting Crows keep the faith at Rogers Arena

Matchbox Twenty and Counting Crows @ Rogers Arena 16/8/17

Photo by Ryan Johnson
Photo by Ryan Johnson

Celebrating twenty years of making music as one of the eminent acts of the mid-nineties and 2000s is something not a lot of bands can do, let alone to a crowded arena instead of a smoky dive bar. This is the circumstance of both the Counting Crows and Matchbox Twenty on their A Brief History of Everything tour, which showed on July 16th at Rogers Arena.

Opening act Rivers and Rust, featuring MB20 guitarist Kyle Cook and Nashville Star veteran Sheila Marshall, warmed the crowd with an easy, steel-guitar swagger invoking a honky-tonk Pat Benatar/Neil Giraldo vibe in terms of chemistry.

After a backdrop lighting rig resembling a colorblind Bay-Area bridge shone. The Counting Crows took the stage, launching into an effortless performance of the 2002 title track to Hard Candy. Fan-favourite “Omaha” and upbeat “Dislocation” gave the light-show space to dazzle in rainbow hues and electric strobes.

Singer Adam Duritz and keyboardist Charlie Gillingham were lit by the spotlight as the opening notes of “Colorblind” provided a somber counter to an explosive audience reaction, before stepping seamlessly into the Joni Mitchell-penned Crows staple “Big Yellow Taxi. Duritz danced about like a loose-string marionette while the guitarists wove and stomp-hopped the length of the stage.

The Crows played the funkiest imagining of “Hanginaround” ever conceived after their breakout hit “Mr. Jones” , during which Duritz ad-libbed from, “We all wanna be big, big stars yeah, but we got different reasons for that”…to a prescient, “… Honestly, we get kinda fucked up about it”, reflecting on the kind of double-edged success one can only examine critically with twenty years in the rear-view.

The encore, “Palisades Park” and a take on “Rain King” that plays like Duritz’s internal monologue, wasn’t the most powerful conclusion, but still felt like a let-out sigh after the bright melancholy of the last hour and change.

Matchbox Twenty strode onstage like gladiators to the hungry applause of an animated crowd. The distinctive salvo of drum beats and guitar notes opening “Real World” ignited an all-standing audience.

Frontman Rob Thomas held them entranced with a leisurely charisma while guitarist Paul Doucette moved about the stage like arc-lightning. By the faithful go at Mad Season’s “Bent”, the band was in command of the arena, riffing off each other with cohesion and confidence.

“Now, here’s the funny thing about tonight,” Thomas said, “we all had a last night, and we’ll all have a tomorrow night, but this is our only tonight”. Where Duritz’s style is that of a man content to sing from his heart to an empty room, Thomas sings to the heart of everyone present, metabolizing the audience’s frenzied spirit into a kinetic presentation of “How Far We’ve Come”. The lights kindle; MB20 is playing for the end of the world, and the audience was all too happy to dance in the flames.

The lead-in to “I’ll Believe You When” features the charming singer warning men against long fights with partners since, “…let’s face it guys, she’s usually right”, eliciting a chorus of agreement from the wives and girlfriends in attendance.

The frenetic, coiled-spring energy of the set lit up again with the whole crowd joining in for “Unwell”. The lighting platform sank low during “Back 2 Good”, somehow giving the show the same intimacy as if it were being held at your community hall, then pulled back out for their last main-set song, “Push”. Thomas let the crowd sing the more emotionally charged bars.

The band left the stage, returning for a three-song encore. “3 a.m.” and “Long Day” brought the crowd back to their feet, and while many people begin filtering out at the conclusion of the latter, the fans stuck around for a pop-punk inspired rendition of “Bright Lights”.

“God help me, Vancouver, I believe in this”, Thomas preaches. And if the exultant vibe post-show can be taken as an indicator, Vancouver believes in it too.