21. Matchbox Twenty – NEC Arena, Birmingham – 05/09/2003

Previously on Sweating with Strangers: a lovely evening out in Bristol is sullied by a ‘fan’ doing a Tigger impression.

Sorry for the delay folks, I’ve been massively distracted by Brexit – true story. Luckily I saw dear old Roger Daltrey say it won’t make a bit of difference, and as a live music blog that has to be good enough for me, so I’m back.

Side note, fortunately for me I’ve never been a fan of The Who. I think that most of their good songs sound better when someone else covers them, which is a strong insult coming from someone who heavily dislikes both covers and Liam Gallagher. I am however going to ‘A Night of Music and Chat with Francis Rossi’ next week, which includes a Q&A session from the audience. I’m terrified that someone will pipe up with ‘What about Brexit?’ and I have to run, fingers in ears and ‘LALALA’ing to the bathroom before Rossi gives me one less hero to worship.

But while the millionaire Roger Daltrey might not think that Brexit will have any effect on bands of any size touring Europe, one major event that certainly DID affect it was the start of the Iraq War in 2003.

Seamless segue, I’m sure you’ll agree.

While it may seem everyday, run-of-the-mill background noise nowadays that America and it’s allies are fighting wars in foreign places and that people are pissed off about it, in 2003 both Matchbox Twenty and Lifehouse both felt that the threat of reprisals against Americans was real enough that they should postpone their respective European tours until everyone had calmed down a bit. And I’m sure they will, any decade now.

Just kidding, they simply moved their Easter tours to late summer tours, which worked nicely for me as it meant I would be home for the summer and could still go to both, and it brought another tedious summer of stacking fruit and veg to an exciting, rock and roll finish.

Two years before this, I had experienced a minor heart-attack when I thought Matchbox Twenty had booked a stadium tour of the UK, only for it to turn out to be a Bon Jovi support slot they were passing off as their own tour. I was only slightly less shocked to see them book an actual arena tour in 2003, as the intervening 24 months seemed to have produced about 3 UK radio plays and 17 spins of their videos on The Box, all of which were requested by me. I get that they were huge in America (and Australia, I believe), and that planning an arena sized show for two markets and a theatre show for another would be a logistical issue, but there was zero chance they were going to fill these shows, even with an extra 5 months to do so.

So it proved when we turned up to the NEC Arena and found the Giant Black Curtain of Doom draped half way across the standing area. Having seen it all before, I had been fully expecting it, but I’m sure my companions found it a little odd at first.

Incidentally, my companions that night were my uni friend Watto – who had the fine taste to like some of the less manly bands I was into and Status Quo, and so would become a very useful gig going friend/bad money spending influence – and my most excellent friend Big Poppa, who will feature more often than anyone else in this blog from now on, mostly standing still and wearing a big coat, but still there man, and proud to be top of the list.

Up first were a band with even less UK exposure than Matchbox Twenty, a little-known band of misfits known as Maroon 5, who I thought were great! Yes, that’s right, I was into Maroon 5 before it was cool, then not cool, then cool again, then really very not cool to be into Maroon 5.

But subsequent feelings aside, on that night they easily managed to fire up half an arena with tracks from their rockier-than-you-remember first album. Watto liked the one that sounds like Stevie Wonder, and I liked the ones where Adam Levine hates his ex-girlfriend. Also Levine was still playing guitar on most songs back then, which somehow makes them a better band in my mind than when they’re just a backing group for a handsome singer. I can’t explain that, don’t ask me to.

They also used to end their shows with a cover, which is definitely musical cheating, but always a good idea when you’re a support act no one has heard of, as it crosses the line between using the support slot to flog your own talents and using it to actually hype up the crowd.

I’m about 78% sure the cover on that day was ‘Highway to Hell’, but it’s 16 years later and I could be imagining it, so please correct me if I’m wrong. Either way, as they left the stage I was very pumped for the rest of the show, and pretty sure we would never hear of those five young men ever again.

Image result for maroon 5 superbowl
Yep, they disappeared without trace.

Matchbox Twenty started, predictably enough, with ‘Feel’, the opening track on their latest album More Than You Think You Are, which set the tone for the show, as they played 11 of the album’s 12 songs AND the hidden track ‘So Sad So Lonely’! Quite what album closer ‘The Difference’ had done to upset them I don’t know, but it was the only one that didn’t make the cut.


It was no surprise that they did this though, as the album had been specifically produced to better reflect the band’s live sound. I personally love their second album Mad Season, but it’s hard to argue it’s not over-produced, with most songs coming with a side order of trumpets, orchestra, synth, cowbells, anything they could find in the studio that day. MTYTYA is much more stripped back, and so it’s no shock that they would want to play those songs live, with the obvious bonus side-effect being that they got to promote the album.

Further evidence of this being a smart move was that the only song I felt fell a little flat was ‘Downfall’, which is one of my favourites from the album but does feature a full gospel choir in the breakdown, and of course they weren’t present on the tour.

All the other tracks off the new album were lifted up to grandeur in the large live setting, none more so than ‘Bright Lights’, which was one of the less outstanding songs on the record for me, but blew the roof off the place live:

See. Maybe it’s easier to take a simple song and blow it up, than to translate a complex song in a simple setting. That’s your deep thought for the day.

In between the new stuff they sprinkled their older hits, which all went down a storm of course, but my personal highlight was probably ‘Hang’, which is a definite favourite and was not one I was expecting to hear.

Finally, I’m f***ing pleased to report that f***ing Rob f***ing Thomas was still the f***ing sweariest man in f***ing rock, punctuating every f***ing speech to the f***ing crowd with enough f***ing f-bombs to still f***ing shock Watto, despite Poppa and me having risked f***ing spoiling the f***ing surprise by over-f***ing-selling it in the f***ing build up.

I f***ing love that guy.

Setlist thoughts:

Matchbox Twenty Setlist NEC Arena, Birmingham, England 2003, More Than You Think You Are

I didn’t need the Cindy Lauper cover.

That’s all I have to say about that.

Please share this post around. Go on, I dare you. And pop back soon, for some more American Radio Rock, but in a more suitable venue.

2 thoughts on “21. Matchbox Twenty – NEC Arena, Birmingham – 05/09/2003

  1. You are completely right about, The Who, I have some live Thunder CDs with great renditions of their tracks, while The Scorpions cover of Can’t Explain is stonking. The original versions, well they are quite meh …
    Ask Francis, if he really wasn’t keen on the Frantic Four because it was nostalgia, why does his current version of Quo hardly play any songs post 1986 …


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