When you are the lead vocalist, primary songwriter and frontman for an alternative-rock band, you have to bring it every night.
Fortunately for fans of Matchbox Twenty and Counting Crows, that’s mostly what happened on a sweaty summer evening in Charlotte Sunday at the PNC Music Pavilion.
Matchbox Twenty’s Rob Thomas and the Counting Crows’ Adam Duritz provide the signature sound of their bands, and both of their voices were in fine form Sunday. That is something not to be taken for granted, given this was the sixth performance in nine nights for the two bands in a tour they call “A Brief History of Everything.”
A tour like this should and did lean heavily on the oldies – and by oldies in this case, we are talking about the 1990s and 2000s. That’s probably why most of the crowd looked like it had first started listening to these two groups at their college dorm in 1996 and now had to occasionally stop applauding in order to text the babysitter.
Matchbox Twenty’s last album came out five years ago. Counting Crows hasn’t put out a new one in three. On the minus side, that makes both bands slightly less relevant. On the plus side, that meant there were no “Now we’re going to do three songs you’ve never heard of from the new album!” moments in this concert. (The tour makes its next stop in Raleigh on Tuesday).
Thomas told Rolling Stone before this tour began in July that the show would be something of a “victory lap,” and that’s certainly what fans got from Matchbox Twenty.
Before a nearly full arena – and the place holds nearly 19,000 – the band blasted through a string of its hits over the past 20 years. “Real World,” “Unwell,” “Push” and “Back 2 Good” were among the soaring highlights.
Thomas tried to engage the crowd much more often than Duritz and generally succeeded, working both edges of the stage like the Carolina Panthers’ Christian McCaffrey works a sideline. At one point, Thomas said he was doing something on-stage out of “self-indulgence.”
“In all honesty, though,” Thomas said, “this whole job is self-indulgent.”
No argument here about that one, but Matchbox Twenty also indulges its audience by playing everything you would want to hear and little that you don’t.
Songs like “3 AM” (written by Thomas and inspired by the time he spent as an adolescent caring for his cancer-stricken mother), “Push” and “Long Day” sent Thomas sprinting around the stage in a sweat-soaked black T-shirt and jeans.
Thomas, 45, also played the doting father late in the show, bringing out his 19-year-old son Maison to bashfully but impressively jam with his own guitar onstage with the band. (Maison did the same thing a year ago with Thomas in Charlotte, but his father was doing his solo act then).
Duritz, 53, is a similarly gifted musician and gorgeously introspective songwriter. But he has a far more laidback approach to his delivery. Occasionally Duritz would sit down during other band members’ guitar solos or while singing himself, and in football terms he mostly stayed between the 40-yard lines on the stage. (To be fair, Thomas also sang much of one song sitting down. “Because I’m old,” he explained).
It’s doubtful that Duritz would ever take a fan’s smartphone and film much of one song directly into it while hamming it up all over the stage, as Thomas did.
Wearing his hair in his signature dreadlocks and jeans with holes the size of grapefruits in the knees, Duritz delivered a few of his achingly powerful vocals with both hands stuffed into his pockets. I haven’t seen that from too many lead vocalists this side of Art Garfunkel.
Counting Crows also varies what songs it plays from city to city more than Matchbox Twenty, judging by set-list reports from other tour stops.
Almost everywhere -- and in Charlotte -- it appears that “Accidentally in Love” is not-at-all-accidentally left out. Sorry, Shrek.
More significantly, on Sunday night that meant that my favorite Counting Crows song – “Round Here” – never got played. That hurt. At other stops, it has meant that “Mr. Jones” – another huge hit from the early 1990s – didn’t make the cut.
In Charlotte, “Mr. Jones” was a show-stopper in the middle of a stellar three-song grouping that featured “A Long December” and “Hanginaround” on each side of it. Duritz’s nicely interpreted cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” was also a winner.
By the end, after nearly four hours of live music – an opening act called “Rivers and Rust” also performed -- most of the fans in the crowd seemed happy and satiated.
“We’re all sharing this moment together!” Thomas declared at one point during the evening.
And for every place except “Round Here,” that was more than enough.