Music Market - What's Hot? Rob Thomas of Matchbox Twenty
Written by Diana Yampolsky
One of the great ironies of my life is that my career as a Vocal Coach/Consultant keeps me so extremely busy that I do not have very much time to listen to new artists who are not amongst my clientele. In many cases, it is my teenaged daughter who introduces me to a lot of new singers. Recently, she has become a huge fan of Matchbox Twenty. (She likes the band so much that she bought both of their albums.) Through the process of having my daughter play both albums to me over and over again in my car, I also became a big fan of the band and, in particular, their singer, Rob Thomas. I especially love their song 'You Won't Be Mine' because the piano playing is beautiful and his singing is very sincere and authentic.
Coincidentally enough, just as I had become a huge Matchbox Twenty fan, we discovered they were scheduled to play in Toronto. My daughter convinced me to buy her tickets for the concert while refusing to take me along. (Afterall, she could not be seen at the concert with her mother!) When she came home after the concert, she was extremely excited and amazed by the performance. She said that she could not express with words how great it was and exclaimed that she had to see them again and now agreed that I had to see them in concert as well. I asked her where they were playing next and she informed me that Matchbox Twenty would be playing in San Diego in a couple of weeks. I said, "Yeah, right!"
That evening I thought about my conversation with my daughter some more. I was due for a vacation and San Diego actually possesses an attraction that I had always wanted to see. Any of my friends will tell you that my daughter and I are big fans of Panda Bears and the San Diego Zoo is one of the few zoos in North America that possesses these incredible animals. Neither the Panda Bears, nor Matchbox Twenty or the need for a vacation would on their own have been enough to convince me to go to San Diego in the middle of an extremely busy month for my school But all three in conjunction meant that my daughter and I actually were going to see Matchbox Twenty at the next stop on their tour.
On Thursday, October 19th, 2000, our plane took off for San Diego. On the Friday and Saturday we thoroughly enjoyed seeing the panda bears but the whole time were anticipating the concert on Sunday evening.
Sunday finally arrived and we were not disappointed. As far as I am concerned, Rob Thomas of Matchbox Twenty is one of the most talented singers in the current rock/alternative scene. I truly enjoy his singing and will talk later about some of the things that I think make him better than many of the current crop of rock singers. That said, he is not perfect, but nobody is. On a scale of 1 to 10, I would rate him a 9.5. Why you ask? Because HE ACTUALLY SANG! You could hear every note and syllable and you could tell that he genuinely meant what he was singing. Sure he was out of tune a few times, but he actually gave his utmost and worked for the money that people spent to see his concert. (I do not regret a penny that I spent on the concert, flight and trip in general.)
One of the biggest trends in music these days is the unplugged set. This is when an artist does a stripped down or acoustic performance. (This is quite a satisfying experience when the singer is great but almost painful when a performer does not have the technique to duplicate or improve upon their recorded performances.) Rob Thomas gave a different kind of unplugged performance. First of all he was singing with his fully electric and amplified band yet he was still cutting through like it was an acoustic performance. Secondly, his nose was "unplugged" and thus he did not sound the least bit nasal, like quite a few of today's singers. Thirdly, he was as close to unplugged as a singer who is singing in a stadium can be. He was not hooked up to any machines, including the ear monitors that seem to be so popular today; he sang through a simple Shure 58 microphone and had excellent microphone technique. Furthermore, he did not need to jump around excessively or do anything to distract the audience from his singing and music. In fact, the whole show kept the special effects to a minimum and emphasized the songs and musical performance only. What an original concept? It may sound old-fashioned but this concert brought back memories of my favourite singers from the 70's and 80's who relied on vocals and musical chops instead of lasers and lip-synching.
This performance also reminded me that music is actually a healing tool and it literally acted like a balsam for my soul. Unfortunately, too often the opposite is true. I vividly remember a concert by a very prominent singer whose identity I will not reveal. He was the opposite of Rob Thomas; he was screaming instead of singing and his "performance" was actually putting me into a state of depression. His expectant wife was there and for the life of me I don't know how she didn't deliver that evening because I almost did and I wasn't even pregnant! He actually added stress and fatigue to my already fragile emotional state.
Again, I would like to remind you that Rob Thomas was not always perfect in terms of pitch, but he was at least SINGING! He sounded off on the odd occasion but it didn't really matter because of the authentic nature of his performance. In fact, a trained ear could tell that while he was born with extraordinary talent he does not really have a strong grounding in vocal technique. If he had the proper technical training in addition to his natural talent it is scary to think how good he could be. I will talk more about this talent-technique dichotomy in my next article, Born Free! Playing it by Ear - Vocally Yours Without Structure? Until then remember that technology should never overwhelm your vocal performance or attempt to substitute it.