Rock and Roll is Dead?

Matchbox 20
with Cool for August
The Plaza of Nations
Vancouver, B.C.
Monday, May 4, 1998

Review by Michael O'Donahue
Photography by Todd Duncan

[ed. Photographs are on their way... ]

I didn't know jack squat about Matchbox 20 before this show, except that they had a big hit with a song about which I remember nothing except its "Sweet Jane" riff. I had heard, though, that they were the first Big New American Rock and Roll Band in some time. I was encouraged. A Rock and Roll band popular with today's youth? Cool. I figured I could at least expect a fun and raucous performance by a real live rock band. Maybe that single was just the power ballad or something.

No such luck. What I got was a bastard hybrid of U2, Bush and Pearl Jam playing mid-tempo high school dance band slop -- uncompelling, unoriginal and painfully earnest. Plus an opening act that was a bastard hybrid of U2, Bush and Pearl Jam playing mid-tempo dance band slop, with a nod and wink in place of the earnest thing of the headliners.

Matchbox 20 -- featuring the Edge on lead guitar, Eddie Vedder on vocals and a rhythm section straight out of the music program -- play one of the most boring brands of commercial radio rock I've heard in a good long time. Ultra-standard riffs and chord structures right out of the aforementioned "Sweet Jane," as well as some "Running to Stand Still" style U2-isms, and even some "Love Hurts" (NAZARETH?!? Yep.) in the slow-dance numbers, with a blandly over-emoting lead singer fronting the whole thing.

Remember in Rattle and Hum during the song "Silver and Gold," when Bono says " Okay, Edge -- play the blues!" and the Edge does that standard Edge ringy-ringy-ringy octaved guitar thing? Well, Matchbox 20 have mastered it, too. And they're so SERIOUS about it. What am I missing here?

There was a spiffy little video presentation about halfway through, while the band geared up for the more acoustic part of the set. The point of the video seemed to be a message concerning Freedom of Speech or possibly Freedom of Artistic Expression or something equally important. Anyway, it got a big hand from the crowd and any worries about it killing the momentum of the set were assuaged by the fact that there wasn't any momentum to kill.

Cool for August -- although equally as bland and forgettable -- had a slightly different vibe. Same Modern Rock reference points, but with a singer more inclined to ironic Mick Jagger-isms than to self-important Bono Vedder earnestness. Slightly more glam in presentation, but still with the same riffs and rhythms.

There seem to be two opposing trends in culture nowadays: the deeply overwrought, cathartic, emotional, intense stylings of Matchbox 20, Pearl Jam, Bush, old-style U2; and the ironically detached, campy and frivolous sounds of Cool for August, Lounge Culture, Spice Girls and the new-style U2. Neither of these two disparate, but equally flimsy and superficial, bents matters, either. Earnest or Ironic, it's two sides of the same poseur coin in mass culture these days.

What does matter? How about a Good Time at a Reasonable Price? Naaww, gimme more $30-60 retread phonies. The same old thing in a new shirt -- that's what we want, what we really, really want.

First published in Drop-D Magazine on June 16, 1998

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