Matchbox 20Thirsty Merc proved a more than worthy support for Matchbox 20, at Wollongong’s tinny EntCent, last Saturday evening, doing the headliner the favour of really priming the crowd, with a no-nonsense delivery of a very tight set of their popular and appealing songs; their musicianship and slick professionalism way beyond reproach. It makes it exceedingly easy to see how and why they’ve enjoyed such a meteoric, radio-driven rise, over the last 5 or so years.

Arch Merc, Rai Thistlethwayte, whose old car lent it’s unenviable reputation in naming the band, has made his penchant for intense emotion and melody well-known and both are integral to the band. It’s a tight ship, they know how to woo a crowd that didn’t come to see them and they deserve every success, which, with their second album already doing gangbusters, they already seem to be enjoying.

For mine, they pass the not taking themselves too seriously test with flying colours, as evidenced, for example, in their song I Wish Someone Would Build a Bridge (So I Could Get Over Myself). A couple of the members grew up, I believe, in Dubbo. I think it’s no idle boast to assert they’re the best thing to come out of Dubbo since the Western Plains Zoo. Let’s face it, they’re about the only thing to come out of Dubbo.

Would-be covers band (more, later) M20 are made of similar stuff to ‘the Merc’, giving their all, generously & unreservedly, for, to my calculation, around two-and-a-half solid hours.

As with our recent foray into the scary world of Urban fandom, neither my companion or I could justly or credibly claim to be so very au fait with the Matchbox canon, which made their task, in putting it across, to us, doubly hard (even then, with the best will in the world, they were playing to two pathologically cynical punters). It is testimony to their powers that they succeeded; save for one curious and worrying moment, when Thomas wrapped himself, literally, in the Aussie flag (perhaps in well-meaning, if overly reverential deference to the pseudo-religious, proximate holiday in honour of the ANZACs).

I’ll wager both bands, on the strength of their live performances, on this tour, have, very deservedly, won fans.

The atmosphere, to resort to a hackneyed cliché, was electric from the moment former drummer Paul Doucette, along with the new recruit, pounded out the intro to their latest and, arguably, greatest hit, How Far We’ve Come: ‘I’m waking up, at the start, of the end, of the world’ pretty much puts us in our place and the rest of the lyric would make Al Gore weep, since it’s what he’s been trying to tell us for years. This shows what the band are capable of, alongside their penchant, highly compatible with Thirsty Merc’s, for a certain self-mocking humility. I mean, you wouldn’t see U2, I don’t think, proclaiming the momentous nature of their reverence for INXS, notwithstanding Bono’s intimacy with Hutchence. And the title of the tour and their latest album, Exile on Mainstream, confesses self-awareness of their place in the world of contemporary music.

I could take you through the string of numbers (as they used to be called) the Boxsters thumped and pumped out, but that would be pointless: if you’re an avid fan, you already know ‘em; if not, you probably wouldn’t recognise them by title, even if you almost surely would, by melody and, quite possibly, lyrics. Suffice to say, apart from the aforementioned opener, my probably fave was All Your Reasons, also from the new album; a good omen, since both I’ve singled out, as among the greatest, are among the latest. ‘Why don’t you just go away?’, it implores, from the get-go: a pitch-perfect ‘piss off’ song, which has applications, I should think, for many of us, much of the time.

Rob Thomas doesn’t have the swagger of Jagger, but he does have his own charisma and he worked it, to good effect. He proved himself to be a very competent pianist, too. Doucette, however, is a Duracell dynamo, cavorting all over the stage, relishing every moment, never pausing for breath; a study in rock antics on his rhythm acoustic and electric guitars.

The band has swelled to a 6-piece, showing some signs of (dare I say?) excess, since, perhaps, not all are fully exploited, all the time.

Purists will scoff, but, quite apart from their music, the lights and graphics were downright stunning; genuinely exciting. I don’t know what the budget was, or is, for such an explosive visual experience, but it must, surely, rival the kings of such: the Stones and U2. Indeed, some might view it as ‘Me2’, but one had a certain sense the band had opted for input. Either way, it served as a more-than-adequate substitute for psychedelic or other drugs. (And Urban’s crew would be well-served to take a few lighting lessons.) Sound, too, was practically as good, clean and clear as it gets, especially in a glorified shearing-shed.

Ok. I know you’re dying to know: what’s with the covers band slur? Well, it might otherwise be a slur, but M20’s homage to Crowded House and INXS’ finest was impressive indeed. Their professed reverence for the latter, particularly, was given credence by the white-gloved rock star, Jon Farris’, surprise emergence, to take the drum stool for a couple of deeply nostalgic blasts from the XSive past. A surprising, somewhat brand-demeaning twist, but an enjoyable one. Only trouble, for mine, was it tended to highlight how much more memorable and enduring the Aussie songs are. Oh, no: now I’m wrapping myself in the flag!

All-in-all (to use a currently favoured term), a cracking concert, bristling with energy and a commitment rarely seen at the tail end of a tour. Precious little inane chitchat; just a couple of hours replete with a comprehensive catalogue of strong songs. And if the ‘box should ever tire of themselves, as they almost did, a while back, they can always get a gig as a convincing covers band.

Matchbox 20


April 10, 2008 Rod Laver Arena Melbourne, VIC
April 11, 2008 Rod Laver Arena Melbourne, VIC
April 13, 2008 Entertainment Centre Adelaide, SA
April 15, 2008 Burswood Dome Perth, WA
April 17, 2008 Entertainment Centre Sydney, NSW
April 18, 2008 Entertainment Centre Sydney, NSW
April 19, 2008 Tempus II Winery Hunter Valley, NSW
April 21, 2008 Entertainment Centre Brisbane, QLD
April 22, 2008 Entertainment Centre Brisbane, QLD
April 24, 2008 Rod Laver Arena Melbourne, VIC
April 25, 2008 AIS Indoor Stadium Canberra, ACT
April 26, 2008 WIN Entertainment Centre, NSW


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