— by Ashley Cox. Photos by Ryan Ledesma.
It was a night of pleasant surprises at Stifel Theater in Downtown Saint Louis, Sunday September 1st as fans came to see Matchbox 20 lead singer, Rob Thomas on his solo “Chip Tooth” tour featuring openers Chris Trapper and Max Frost. The crowd trended a little older than the Matchbox 20 show last year but that may be due to the venue (Stifel vs Hollywood Amphitheatre) and ticket price (see previous parentheses). The line at the merch stand was substantial even 45 minutes before the show. Maybe due to the limited edition CDs of the night’s live recording with proceeds going to charity.
The night’s first opener, Chris Trapper, took to the stage in a shiny silver suit coat reminiscent of old time band leaders. He described himself as “the fresh bread” before the “appetizer” Max Frost and “entree” Rob Thomas. Simple set dressing of the stage and single guitar really emphasized the intimacy of his performance. His voice frequently took on the soft gravel quality that reminded me of Blue October lead singer, Justin Furstenfeld. “Into the Bright Lights,” which he sang at his son’s graduation, and “Skin,” a song not about falling in love but staying in love, were the highlights.
Billed as a special guest, Max Frost, was a complete surprise to me as I was unfamiliar with his music but will be keeping a close eye on him. The stage was set with multiple guitars, a keyboard, drums, and set piece that I will call the Music Robot. I thought for sure he had a band. Nope. Just him. Using devices to loop beats, utilizing the robot, or just wearing two guitars, Max showcased his considerable skillset. His songs could be split into two main feels: rap infused dance or classic Elvis vibe rock and roll. His stripped down “Die Young” made me expect some 1950’s school girls to swoon and faint while his slicked back hair was lit by a single light. I was genuinely sad for his set to end. I would love to see him at the Pageant or similar venue so concert goers could sway and dance along like his music deserved. Stifel stayed solidly in their seats until Rob took the stage.
Whether as front man for Matchbox 20 or during his solo work, Thomas is a bonafide rockstar performer. His vocals are warmed up and on point. He respects that his fans spent their time and money to see him and he does not disappoint. It is refreshing to hear him start the show with a talk about how this concert will only happen once and that he and his band (which has been with him on solo tours since 2005) appreciate just as much as the crowd. I have spent a lot of time at shows in the last few years and it is not a common work ethic.
Fans received multiple surprises during the set. “Man That Holds the Water” was specially requested for this tour spot. It deals with Thomas’s growth from young man to a husband and father to his now 21 year old son. Fans in the lower level, including myself, got up close and personal as Thomas mounted a chair in the audience to sing “Street Corner Symphony.” (Can I make an aside to note that we locked eyes for maybe half a second but Rob Thomas was aware of existence for a short moment?)
But what really got the crowd going, more than any rockstar, was when Rob stopped the show to say he had a once-in-a-lifetime announcement and he brought out Saint Louis Blues player, Robert Thomas, with the STANLEY EFFING CUP! Which Robert Thomas received more applause? I cannot tell you. It was thunderous and I may have momentarily blacked, blued?, out with excitement.
Hit after hit was played on the stage, some in their full rock glory such as “This Is How A Heart Breaks” while others were subdued to maximize their emotional hit and back story such as “If You’re Gone” written 22 years ago for his wife when she was debating whether she could handle the musician lifestyle. The singer also celebrated the 20 year anniversary of his collaboration with Carlos Santana, playing “Smooth” which showcased the talents of his very impressive band. I was especially impressed by his drummer who flipped his sticks probably eight feet in the air with some regularity and never dropped one.
Rob Thomas’s fourth solo album “Chip Tooth Smile” was released in April and you can see him again next year on tour with Matchbox 20.