The double bill was just too good to pass up. Chicago’s northern suburbs play host to a park/concert venue named Ravinia which, either by good luck or good management, has become something of a cultural icon in the city. Basically, the setup consists of a stage set inside a pavilion with seats which can be purchased for ordinary concert-going prices. Beyond the pavilion is a sprawling park which provides for myriad ‘lawn tickets’ with obstructed or non-existent views of the stage but the ability to self-cater food and drinks. I despised the idea from the outset. I can’t stand when people go to a show and talk through it. Worse still, when they face away from the stage as though the sonic experience alone were enough to sate their live performance needs. Ravinia, it seemed, was setup to cater to these very individuals, in numbers. Arriving at the park shortly after gates opened, I was stunned by the picnic blankets, cheese/wine/olive combos and lawn chairs as far as the eye could see. People were deliberately sitting in rough circles, facing each other and not the stage. The hum of conversation and crackers, gulping and guffawing was nebulous but constant enough to remember that this was not an ordinary concert. But then again, Matchbox Twenty and the Goo Goo Dolls were playing.
The lineup made sense for Ravinia, a venue that seems to be more about the experience of concertgoing than the actual concert itself. The annual program is generally light on groundbreaking contemporary artists but stacked with artists boasting severe nostalgic appeal. Last night was no different. The brilliance of the Ravinia idea is that when it comes to these bands, the mere sound of their tracks being performed, direct line of sight aside, is enough to evoke the desired effect. Goo Goo Dolls certainly fit into this category, vaguely attempting to play new tracks but ultimately defaulting to standards like ‘Slide’ and ‘Iris‘ when that, inevitably, failed to spark much enthusiasm. Matchbox Twenty, perhaps a slightly more currently relevant choice, understood their roles better still with perennial charmer and frontman Rob Thomas assuring the crowd, ‘We just want to be a part of your party! Treat us as your house band for the night.’ Saying that near the outset, I was pretty certain that the four-piece from Orlando, Florida would coast through their set, as nonplussed about seriously impressing their audience as that audience was about really seeing them live. Wrong. Wrong on so many levels.
While the Goo Goo Dolls might be slightly bitter about the fact that their best days are firmly behind them, Matchbox Twenty released their fourth studio album in 16 years last year and still remain firmly in the zeitgeist – this despite the Goo Goo Dolls having released four albums since the turn of the century. What, then, was the difference between the two bands, both which dominated the 90s pop rock scene for long stretches of time? One thing was the sheer wealth of familiar material that the Matchbox boys produced. Over and over again, I experienced a strange phenomenon whereby I would know every word to a song but not have heard it for years or know what it was called. As well as this track and ‘3 A.M.‘, ‘Unwell’, ‘Bright Lights‘ and ‘Disease’ shone in a jam-packed set of highlights. More than their discography, though, it was Matchbox Twenty’s approach to the evening that made theirs stand apart from the Goo Goo Dolls set. As much as Rob Thomas leapfrogged the band’s fame for a minute with his solo career, his ego was certainly in check. Moreover, the band played with the gusto of a group playing big shows for the first time and not like the 41-year-old veterans playing the same songs for the three thousand and second times that they are. ‘Push’ is just one example, from a back catalogue littered with them, of the anthemic but understated tracks that have cemented Matchbox Twenty’s place in the canon of modern rock bands. Mainstream but exciting, old school but evocative, Matchbox Twenty can rock my picnic anytime.
Matchbox Twenty – Push