Matchbox Twenty plays safe, with no sparkMusic
Sydney Entertainment Centre, October 30
You have to hand it to Matchbox Twenty. The Florida four-piece know that, despite their extraordinary popularity, they're far from the most credible band in the world. They even had the wit to name their 2007 greatest-hits compilation Exile on Mainstream.
Yet they carry on regardless, secure in the knowledge that their many loyal fans worldwide will send any album they make to the top of the charts, and pay top-dollar to see them play.
But in Sydney at least, that might not be true any more. On the night in question, many unsold seats were hidden behind curtains on the upper tiers. Perhaps some fans are finally beginning to realise that Matchbox Twenty's songs are too often unforgivably bland.
It's not that the band can't perform (they're skilled and efficient, if somewhat soulless) or don't put in the effort. In a similar address to the one he made to this venue in 2003, frontman Rob Thomas announced he would do everything he could to entertain us for the next two hours. But the songs follow such a similar pattern – big, promising opening guitar riffs lead to anthemic-but-generic soft-rock choruses, with Thomas's over-emoted vocals on top – that the set soon gets tiresome.
When the band deviates from the formula, there's a flicker of hope, but even experiments such as the disco-tinged Put Your Hands Up, from current album North, or the curious rap-like vocals of oldie You're So Real , don't quite work.
The evening was opened by INXS, fronted by yet another able, uninhibited singer, Irishman Ciaran Gribbin, who nobly attempted to fill the band's unfillable, Michael Hutchence-shaped hole.
He had at least been given ample time to play their hits in a long support set. Having played the evening's best tunes — a jubilant New Sensation and the still-flawless Don't Change — it made sense for Matchbox Twenty to bring them back on stage for a final romp through the Easybeats' Good Times.
Most in the room probably did "have a good time tonight". But that big finish was scant reward for those of us who just want better music throughout a headlining set.