Crowds are lined up on this Wednesday, July 16, 2019 evening at BergenPAC in Englewood, NJ for a live concert appearance by singer/songwriter Rob Thomas. Best known as the singer of Matchbox Twenty, Thomas is also a leading solo artist who won three Grammy Awards for writing and singing on Santana’s 1999 smash, “Smooth.”
In the lobby, we chat with a family of four Rob Thomas fans from Little Falls.
Says Mom Adriana, “We first saw Rob Thomas perform with Matchbox Twenty. I love him and his music! I’ve never really been a hard rock fan, but his music with Matchbox Twenty is a little edgy which I really enjoy, and I love his solo work, too.”
Continuing, “He has a great voice — and he’s cute,” Adriana recounts, “I play his music all the time at home and in the car, so my girls know it. They’re real concertgoers. We see a lot of different kinds of music, and we really love coming to this theater.”
Dad Harold agrees adding, “I’m actually a metalhead, but I like Rob Thomas,” noting, “As a family, we see a lot of live music, and we especially like coming to BergenPAC — we’ve always been able to get good seats to shows here.”
Whereas daughter Emilia, 16, tells us she likes all different Rob Thomas songs, Gabriella, 8, says she prefers his “slower songs,” acknowledging her hope that Thomas performs Matchbox Twenty’s hit, “Unwell,” tonight.
Inside the beautiful BergenPAC auditorium we chat with two friends, here tonight to share an evening of Rob Thomas’ music.
Declares Alison from Paramus, “I’m Rob Thomas’ #1 fan! I like him because he’s a down-to-earth person. I’ve seen all of his videos, and tonight will be my first time seeing him in person.”
Continuing, “I’ve been listening to him for nearly 25 years now — since Matchbox Twenty formed in the early ’90s, when I was a teenager in high school,” Alison recalls, “Initially, I was attracted to his music because I liked his lyrics — he writes really great songs,” before exclaiming, “and he’s good looking, too!”
Alison’s friend, Tricia from Dumont, agrees adding, “I listened to Matchbox Twenty starting in the late-‘90s, and I also loved ‘Smooth,’ the song he did back in 1999 with Santana.”
Declaring, “Rob Thomas was the ‘everyday girl crush’ back then,” Tricia notes, “I’m really looking forward to seeing him here at BergenPAC. It’s a great venue, and I really like the fact that it’s a small intimate room.”
Lastly, we chat with a couple from Pennsylvania whom we find seated near the front of the house.
Exclaims Victoria from Fallsington, who is wearing a Rob Thomas T-shirt, “I’m a huge fan of Rob Thomas! I’ve been to five concerts already this year and, in ten days, I’ll be seeing him again.”
Explaining, “I have a 20-year-old son who is a fan, and I’m taking him to see Rob Thomas for the very first time at the Borgata in Atlantic City,” Victoria reveals, “For that show, I only have one meet-and-greet ticket and I’m going to give it to my son so he can meet Rob after the show.”
Victoria recalls that she initially became a fan of Thomas “when my little brother was 14, and I was driving him around and a Matchbox Twenty song came on the radio. He knew all the words to the song and that’s what got my interest — it was then that Rob Thomas’ music became our special bond.”
Continuing, “Rob Thomas has a great voice and he is a great songwriter, but it’s his lyrics that really get to me,” Victoria asserts, “I’m a very devoted fan,” and to prove it, she not only points out her Rob Thomas T-shirt and holds up a hoodie to match, but additionally extends her right arm to reveal the number “20” in a circle tattooed on it explaining, “It’s the exact tattoo that Rob has.”
Notes Victoria’s companion, Mike from Croyton, “Thanks to Victoria, I’m now a fan of Rob Thomas’ too.” Recalling, “Victoria took me to a Rob Thomas concert in Bethlehem, PA six years ago where we ended up standing for the entire four-hour concert,” Mike jokes, “I asked her if we actually had seats before I decided to join her here at BergenPAC this evening!”
The auditorium lights dim and the first of tonight’s two opening acts, Chris Tapper, takes the stage announcing, “I’m the warm-up artist for the warm-up artist!”
Opening with his original composition, “Keg in My Coffin” — a number which Rob Thomas sometimes includes in his live performances — Tapper strums his acoustic guitar and sings before he’s joined on stage by Rob Thomas who surprises the crowd by coming out and singing harmony with Tapper.
The crowd cheers and Tapper continues with “Look What the Wind Blew In,” a soft vocal number which features Tapper’s quick circular picking, the bending of strings, and, at times, even shaking his guitar as he plays it. Then, he performs a song about Paris, France which, he says, is often played on Sirius XM radio because “it’s only one minute and 45 seconds long.”
Tapper concludes his set with an original composition entitled “This Time,” which was featured in the film August Rush. With powerful strumming on his open-tuned guitar, Tapper sings, “Tonight the sky above/Reminds me how to love,” ending his set with a strong performance that elicits audience cheers and applause.
Following a short intermission, tonight’s second warm-up act — country singer Abby Anderson — takes the stage with her band.
Saying, “It’s my job to get you all warmed up for Mr. Rob Thomas,” Anderson performs a set filled with country tunes including “Dance Away My Broken Heart,” a country pop confection set to a danceable beat.
Announcing, “This one goes out to anyone who has a special someone with them tonight,” Anderson sings her catchy rocker, “Guy Like You,” and follows up by playing keyboard on her rock ballad, “Make Him Wait,” while lights rain down on the stage.
The crowd cheers before Anderson launches into “Just One Night,” an upbeat country-rocker. Getting the audience to clap along as the song builds, the number features an energetic guitar solo.
Recalling, “I grew up listening to all kinds of music — pop, rock, and lots of country,” Anderson notes, “My dad would play this song and that’s when I knew I wanted to be a singer.”
Here, she performs a cover version of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams,” and follows up with a cover rendition of Extreme’s “More Than Words.”
A highlight of Anderson’s set is her performance of her ultra-catchy country hit, “Good Lord.” Singing, “I bet the good Lord took His sweet time/On your dark hair and your brown eyes/Must have had me on His mind/When He made your Georgia smile,” Anderson joyfully dances around as her guitarist takes a solo.
Ending by exclaiming, “You’ve been an incredible audience!” Anderson concludes with her upbeat country-rocker, “Naked Truth,” to avid audience cheers and applause.
During a second short intermission — while the stage is readied for Rob Thomas’ performance — we chat with Renee from Irvington, NY who says, “Abby Anderson was great. She has such good stage presence and is so talented, too,” before adding,” This is our first time here at BergenPAC. I bought tickets to tonight’s show as a Father’s Day gift for my husband. We are both huge fans of Rob Thomas — ever since Matchbox Twenty. His body of work has been quite impressive, so we’re really looking forward to hearing him perform this evening.”
The lights dim and instrumentalists Korel Tunador on guitar and saxophone, Al Carty on bass, Frank Romano on guitar, Abe Fogle on drums, and keyboardist and musical director Matt Beck — along with Ayo Awosika and Meloney Burns on background vocals — take their places as audience members rise to their feet.
When the lights come up, Rob Thomas is standing center stage with a single spotlight shining on him. He opens tonight’s show with the bluesy rocker, “I Love It.” Sounding soulful and funky as lights flash to the song’s infectious beat, Thomas sings, “Bring on that mountain, bring on that climb/I’m in the moment, you heard it right.” Then, he dances to the music while backup singers Ayo Awosika and Meloney Burns add to the tune’s funky vibe with their sultry vocals and rhythmic percussion playing.
The sold-out crowd cheers and Thomas launches into “Mockingbird.” Fog streams through the lights illuminating the stage filled with jamming musicians. The audience continues to stand as Thomas plays guitar on this upbeat rocker before announcing, “Hey, New Jersey! How we doing? Let’s get together to celebrate life. Tell me, ‘Yeah!’”
After the crowd responds with an emphatic “Yeah!” Thomas asks, “You feel this love? Inside is nothing but love!” before acknowledging how special tonight’s show at BergenPAC is when he reveals, “This is the smallest place we’ll play on our tour.”
Here, Thomas performs his 2010 Top Ten hit, “Lonely No More.” Abe Fogel’s drums keep the rhythm moving forward as the crowd sings along on the famous “I don’t wanna be lonely no more/I don’t wanna have to pay for this” chorus. Still on their feet, the audience moves to the infectious groove coming from the stage. While lights flash, Thomas’ warm voice envelops the crowd and inspires them to respond with enthusiastic cheers and applause.
Next up is the rhythmic rocker, “Her Diamonds.” Audience members join in singing along on this story song as lights twinkle and flash like diamonds behind Thomas who stands center stage. Backup singers Ayo Awosika and Meloney Burns sing up, down, and around Thomas’ lead vocal, and Thomas leads the standing audience in singing and clapping along to the beat.
Thomas says, “This is a simple tune — boy meets perfect girl. It’s like a cover, except I wrote it,” before acknowledging, “When I’m not doing this, I’m the lead singer of the greatest rock band in the world” — Matchbox Twenty — “maybe you’ll see us next summer!”
Here, he and the group launch into the Matchbox Twenty power ballad, “If You’re Gone.” The audience sings along with Thomas’ emotional and compelling vocal which captures audience members’ hearts with his dynamic interpretation of the song’s captivating lyrics.
Following enthusiastic applause, Thomas says, “This song just came out on the radio today.” Here, he and the band perform a number from his newest recording, 2019's Chip Tooth Smile, entitled “Can’t Help Me Now.”
Featuring a rhythmic hip-hop beat, this slow rocker builds in intensity to an instrumental coda which brings the audience to cheers.
With the audience still standing, Thomas and Co. launch into “Hold On Forever,” a number with a unique country/island feel. The crowd claps along as Thomas impresses with his falsetto voice.
One of the highlight numbers of Thomas’ set is his live rendition of the bluesy hip-hop rocker, “Street Corner Symphony.”
The standing crowd can’t help but dance on this swinging number which features a funky Al Carty bass line, a hot and tasty Frank Romano electric guitar solo, and the audience singing along on the uber-catchy, “Come on over/Down to the corner/My sisters and my brothers of every different color” refrain.
During the number, Thomas exclaims, “How you feel right now?” before introducing the members of his band and, then, following a rhythmic break, segueing back into this modern funk classic.
The crowd cheers and Thomas performs another number from Chip Tooth Smile — a song which he introduces as “the first single from the new album” — “One Less Day (Dying Young).”
As flashing rays of light descend upon the musicians, Fogel’s rolling drums keep the rhythm going as Thomas travels about the stage twirling his mic stand while performing this anthemic rocker. As Thomas sings “I’m not afraid of getting older/I‘m one less day from dying young,” guitarist Romano and bassist Carty rock out together.
Taking a seat at the piano, Thomas begins to talk and — for the first time tonight — audience members take their seats.
While suggesting, “There’s something to be said for fretting over your mistakes or worrying about your next move,” Thomas notes, “You only control right now,” explaining, “you can only control motive, intentions, and purpose.”
Sparkling lights shine as Thomas sings and plays piano on “Little Wonders,” a song he wrote for the Disney film, Meet the Robinsons. Accompanied by Romano’s bell-like guitar sound, Thomas sings, “Our lives are made/In these small hours/These little wonders/These twists and turns of fate,” to the crowd’s delight.
Cymbals roll as Thomas takes center stage again, twirling his mic stand as the drums intensify to a tribal feel on “Fire On the Mountain.” Jumping around as he sings on this power rocker, pinwheels of light flash behind him, adding to the power and drama of his fiery performance. Fogle impressively spins and flips his drumsticks as he plays and Romano performs a swirling guitar solo while Thomas dances in circles for audience members who are all up and on their feet again.
Addressing the crowd, Thomas reveals, “I’m from New York. It’s Jersey adjacent. It’s like two brothers. We can talk sh*t about each other, but if someone else talks about us, then watch out!”
After adding, “New Jersey has a rich music history, and part of what I’ve learned in the 20 years I’ve been coming to Jersey is that you guys love to dance,” Thomas launches into another highlight number of tonight’s concert — a sensual and funky rendition of David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance.”
As Korel Tunador’s tenor sax honks, Thomas stands on the piano while singing before jumping off to continue singing center stage.
Exclaiming, “Check out my band!” Thomas briefly leaves the stage to allow his top-notch musicians — notably Frank Romano on guitar and Korel Tunador on sax — to shine as they play at lightning speed, trading solos as the song builds in intensity and the crowd dances at their seats.
When Thomas returns, he straps on an acoustic guitar to perform a solo unplugged rendition of “Bent.” His voice ringing out as he sings from his soul on this heartfelt ballad, the crowd takes a seat to join him as he croons, “Can you help me I’m bent/I’m so scared that I’ll never/Get put back together.”
The crowd cheers and leaps to its feet again for Thomas’ performance of his Matchbox Twenty country-rocker, “3 AM.” As musical director Matt Beck’s lap steel guitar cries out, Thomas has the crowd singing along, “And she says baby/It’s three A.M./I must be lonely,” on this story song which features backup singers Meloney Burns and Ayo Awosika supporting his lead with their vocal talents.
Following the slow rocker, “Ever the Same” — where Thomas sings with great emotion and feeling and Burns and Awosika add their beautiful harmonies — Thomas says, “The girls sing so nice! Let’s get some feel good!”
Here, Thomas, the backup singers, and the band perform “Someday,” a pop-rocker which has audience members swaying their hands back and forth to the rhythm of this powerful anthem of hope.
With the audience still standing, Thomas and Co. perform their final number for the evening, “Something to Be.” Opening with its spacey intro where Fogel’s cymbals roll, the sound swirls and grows as Thomas dances on this upbeat funk tune while he sings, “I’ve been looking for something/Something I’ve never seen/We’re all looking for something/Something to be.”
The audience explodes into hoots and hollers as Thomas and the band leave the stage but soon return for a series of encore numbers.
First up is “Pieces.” A single spotlight illuminates Thomas as he sings accompanied by Matt Beck on piano, who also sings harmony. The two build in dynamics on this lovely interpretation.
Announcing, “Let’s do a straight up Jersey sing along!” Thomas and Co. segue into Matchbox Twenty’s 2003 Top Five hit, “Unwell.” The sold-out crowd complies and sings along on the ubiquitous “I’m not crazy, I’m just a little unwell/I know right now you can’t tell” chorus as lights flash in rhythm to the driving drums on this classic pop tune.
The audience screams with enthusiasm as Thomas performs his rendition of Santana’s “Smooth.” Sounding smooth and sensual as the hot band plays, Al Carty and Frank Romano strut across the stage with their instruments. Wheels of light swirl, drums roll, and Thomas ad libs while the crowd goes crazy — cheering with their hands clapping over their heads.
For his final encore, Thomas performs his rhythmic R&B-influenced pop-rocker, “This is How a Heart Breaks.” Here, Thomas takes an audience member’s phone and sings directly into it as he dances around the stage. Holding the phone so as to capture Frank Romano’s guitar solo from up close, Thomas sings into it again before returning the phone to the fan in the front row.
Announcing, “Thank you! Give it up for the band. We love you!” Thomas exclaims, “Be good to each other!” before he and the musicians take a final bow together on stage.
As audience members make their way out of the BergenPAC auditorium, we chat with several who share their opinions of Rob Thomas’ performance with us.
Comments Lucia from Princeton, “I just love Rob Thomas! I loved him in Matchbox Twenty, and he’s just as good now as he was then. He doesn’t age — he has that perfect rock and roll voice — and I can’t wait to see his next tour.”
Remarks Steve from Englewood, “I thought this show was great. I was happy with the material — the songs — and Rob Thomas’ voice is great. The acoustics and sound have gotten so good here at BergenPAC, especially over the past two years, I’m looking forward to seeing more and more performances at this venue.”
Kirsten from Englewood agrees adding, “This really was a great show — it was fantastic. I loved Rob Thomas’ energy — he really got the crowd pumped.”
Next, we chat with a family of four from Northvale.
Says Dad Robert, “We first saw Rob Thomas 24 years ago. I won tickets to a Barenaked Ladies concert where Rob Thomas was the guest star, and we instantly became fans of Rob’s. We’ve seen him five or six times since, and now it’s a family thing for us to bring our boys to his concerts.”
Mom Jeanette concurs adding, “We’ve been bringing our sons to Rob’s shows since they were teenagers. They always want to join us for his concerts, and tonight was no different,” noting, “We loved this performance — we didn’t want it to end.”
Comments son Robby, “Rob Thomas’ music is phenomenal,” before adding, “and I loved all the lights, too!”
Brother Jason concludes by acknowledging, “Every time we’ve seen Rob Thomas he’s been great! I love how he wants you to have a good time at his shows — he’s always ‘up’!”
Kristy from Sussex calls Rob Thomas’ performance tonight “Awesome,” explaining, “The sound was great. The music is fabulous — as are his lyrics; every song meant something,” before declaring, “and his light show made our eyeballs pop!”
Lastly, we chat with Rick from Branchburg who asserts, “Rob Thomas was wonderful tonight — he reached my soul,” before concluding, “He was better than excellent!”