Last year, Rob Thomas rolled solo alongside Counting Crows. This time around, he's bringing his Matchbox Twenty bandmates with him.
Last year, Rob Thomas rolled solo alongside Counting Crows. This time around, he's bringing his Matchbox Twenty bandmates with him.
Photo by Francisco Montes

Matchbox Twenty Is Not a Punchline

Nostalgia for '90s pop-rock is in full bloom. Bands of yesteryear like Third Eye Blind and Everclear blew through here this summer for well-attended shows that marked the 20th anniversary of landmark releases for both bands. Sublime (with Rome, but still) and The Offspring just played in The Woodlands. And now, Matchbox Twenty and Counting Crows are teaming up for the Brief History of Everything Tour, perhaps the most '90s pop-rock tour of them all, which hits Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion on Saturday night.

Now, I’ve spent a good portion of the past few months defending and speaking up for pop-rock that dominated the airwaves some 20-plus years ago, back when airwave dominance was a thing. Third Eye Blind was far more than a one-album wonder. Everclear rocked far harder than it was given credit for. Sure, the Offspring dabbled (unfortunately) with comedy-rock, but they found their way back with Rise and Fall, Rage and Grace.

And, perhaps most importantly, Matchbox Twenty is not some candy-ass pop-rock outfit with a few hit songs and a whole lotta filler. In fact, a band that was at one point overrated has somehow become underrated in hindsight.

This isn’t to assert that Matchbox Twenty is a legendary, classic-rock outfit in the vein of Led Zeppelin or Nirvana. Hell, they aren’t even the Eagles. Rather, they are – like many bands of their era – an inoffensive outfit that made quality, catchy tracks, many of which hold up to this day. Certain '90s-era music – Hootie, Alanis Morissette, all things ska – sound very much of their time. And this is where Matchbox Twenty – and Counting Crows, for that matter – are different.

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In discussing Matchbox Twenty, one must start at the beginning, primarily because the band’s best material is found there. Yourself or Someone Like You, released 21 years ago next month, was an absolute master class in bridging the gap between rock and pop. In the '90s, back when album sales and radio play were actual things, this was how bands and record labels got rich. And, boy, Matchbox Twenty and its label (Atlantic) got really rich off this one.

Of the album’s 12 tracks, six were released to radio. Of those six tracks, five charted, another (“Back 2 Good”) was a relative hit, and three others were outright smashes. Hell, the best track on Yourself or Someone Like You was the album-closing “Hang,” which was somehow NOT released to radio. With hits for days and a major label marketing machine at its back, Matchbox Twenty’s debut album went Platinum more than 10 times over, making it not only one of the best-selling albums in America in the 90s, but of all time.

Of course, to associate success with quality isn’t entirely fair. After all, Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do” was the biggest thing going for a while, and it’s awful. And God knows the '90s were littered with bands that sold a ton of records but didn’t exactly capture anything soulful or meaningful; Limp Bizkit and Creed come to mind.

But this is where Matchbox Twenty differed. The band’s music was not only catchy and well-received, it was also quite good. The band’s debut album is a given; tracks like “Push” and “Long Day” are commercial pop-rock at its finest, and “3 A.M.” is one of the defining mainstream songs of the '90s. And even non-singles like the aforementioned “Hang” and “Kody” still hold up. But it’s the band’s subsequent catalog that deserves revisiting.

Matchbox Twenty, like Third Eye Blind, is a band mostly remembered for its first album, understandable considering both bands’ first records are their most successful. However, like Stephan Jenkins and his 3EB bandmates, Rob Thomas and Matchbox Twenty haven’t released a ton of material over the years, but have made the most of what they did.

The band’s second album, Mad Season, was released nearly four years after Matchbox Twenty’s debut. Following up such an era-defining album was no easy feat, and in hindsight, Mad Season never really had a chance. That said, the album more than holds its own, and singles like “If You’re Gone” and “Bent” actually outpaced their predecessors on the radio charts. And More Than You Think You Are, released two years later, featured more quality hits like “Unwell” and “Bright Lights.”

Matchbox Twenty basically went silent for the better part of the next decade as the inevitable fatigue set in and Thomas pursued a solo career that’s been a success in its own right. The band hasn’t released a studio album since North in 2012, an odd record, if only because it was the band’s least successful from a sales perspective, but nevertheless is the only Matchbox Twenty album to reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200.

Matchbox Twenty and Counting Crows will play the Woodlands on Saturday night, and the place will absolutely be packed. Some of these fans will understandably come for a little '90s nostalgia, which is all the rage this year. Others may want to hear “Mr. Jones,” which is also understandable, since “Mr. Jones” is damn near a perfect song. Either way, Matchbox Twenty will play a set chock-full of quality hits before a legion of adoring fans. They were, after all, one of the biggest bands of the '90s. Turns out, they were one of the best as well.

Matchbox Twenty and Counting Crows, with special guests Rivers and Rust, perform Saturday, September 30 at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, 2005 Lake Robbins Drive, The Woodlands. Gates open at 5:45 p.m.

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