Rob Thomas | 11.09.15

He sings the way some people speak, with a lot of gestures. He reached out to the audience. He raised his hands to the heavens.


Rob Thomas brought his Great Unknown tour to the Paramount Theater in Denver on November 9. The show was rescheduled from a missed performance in June, when he had to cancel due to an allergy attack. He genuinely seemed to want to make up for one of only two shows he has ever had to cancel because he was unable to sing.

Thomas took the stage with the title track from his 2005 debut solo album, Something to Be. There is something very conversational about the way this man sings. You can hear it in his albums, and it makes sense once you see him perform live. He sings the way some people speak, with a lot of gestures. He reached out to the audience. He raised his hands to the heavens. He clutched his heart. It elicited the desired response: screaming, clapping, maybe even some swooning. It’s how he connects.

But by the second song, in a small way, every little thing started “Fallin’ to Pieces.” His performance turned acrobatic when he started twirling his microphone stand like a baton. It somehow took away from the intimacy of the conversational nature with which he began the show. But it wasn’t just the baton twirling; another thing was different, too. There was something of a manufactured energy that wasn’t present in his albums.

Thomas continued to warm up the crowd with other classics that launched his fame, including “Lonely No More” and “Welcome to the Real World” before introducing his newest album, The Great Unknown. He said it was a record about two things: getting older and making bad decisions.

He launched into “Heaven Help Me,” which had elements of the “Something to Be” Rob Thomas and the Matchbox Twenty Rob Thomas. It was familiar and fun and really grabby. Thomas connected with his audience once again with that conversational music mastery.

The night continued with a lot more songs from previous records, as well as some more schmoozing and baton twirling. There were even some questionably fun retro moments when Thomas hopped all around the stage to David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance,” and then followed up with “couples’ skate only” songs, reminiscing about how the ability to skate backwards in the ’80s was a “fucking valuable skill.”

Thomas said he loved this band that he had been playing with for the last 10 years. He said he wasn’t trying to be precious about being solo by not playing Matchbox Twenty songs on the tour, but that Matchbox Twenty was still very much a band and would be out again in the future. This elicited tremendous applause and cheers. He acknowledged that Matchbox Twenty’s music “just doesn’t feel the same” with this band.

When he launched into an acoustic version of “Bent,” he reminded the audience that it “shouldn’t be so complicated.” But then he turned the stage over to his band, and the sound they produced in his absence was complete discord. The stark difference between his acoustic performance and the cacophonous chaos that ensued afterward drove his lyrics home. It was too complicated.

So perhaps it isn’t Rob Thomas or his music that’s Bent; it’s the performance. The Great Unknown is a brilliant, storytelling album filled with beautiful, insightful lyrics and a really energetic melody. But its launch, the performance of his songs, old and new, lost an element of simplicity and clarity that is present on the record.

As Thomas said, The Great Unknown is about getting older and making bad decisions. “We get one shot to get it right,” he proclaimed. Really, though, he got two shots, packing the theater for this make-up performance. The question is…did he get it right? | Amanda Black

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