For an event that billed itself as MixFest and hung a giant banner with sponsoring radio station Mix 98.5's slogan - "Today's Best Variety" - at the back of the Agganis Arena stage on Saturday, this year's concert didn't offer much of a mix at all. Daughtry's loud, Mat Kearney thinks he can add rap to his coffeehouse rock, Colbie Caillat's a woman, and Matchbox Twenty is apparently unkillable, but it was hard to shake the impression that they were all basically the same band.
Perhaps that's why early acts Kearney, Caillat, and Blue October were dispensed with in sets so brief (around 20 minutes each) that it was hard to imagine why they'd bother. In Kearney's case, it was long enough to ape Coldplay in "Crashing Down," throw some ham-handed attempts at rapping into "Undeniable," and acknowledge the reason he's having his moment at all by introducing "Breathe In, Breathe Out" as "a song for doctors to make out to on television." One failed attempt at flinging his pick into the crowd following "Nothing Left to Lose" later and he was gone.
Four acts in, Daughtry broke the 20-minute barrier at last by Creed-ing things up to 10. By now, the "American Idol" also-ran-turned-sales-winner has surely seen a million faces, and he's probably done something not unlike rocking them all, whether they wanted to be rocked or not. None of those faces seemed to be his own, though, as his performance cashed in on the audience's familiarity with his songs instead of the energy of the actual moment. Bombastic power ballad "What About Now" - his "Idol" coronation song for a victory that never came - seemed to sum up the set.
Matchbox Twenty took the headlining slot, and singer Rob Thomas was a strong enough frontman - relaxed, confident, clearly at ease - that it was hard not to wish that he had a better voice, better material, and a better band to lead. He brought more animation, energy, and investment to songs like "3 A.M." and "Bent" than they actually merited. The same went for new drummer Ryan MacMillan, who played so unexpectedly hard on "Long Day," "Push," and others that his drum riser rocked and bounced as if they were prime fist-pumpers.
But those don't exist in Matchbox Twenty's world. Instead, midtempo song about relationship problems followed midtempo song about relationship problems, followed by another, and so on. Perhaps that's why "Back 2 Good" came as a bracing shock: a slower song (about relationship problems), it moved incrementally instead of arriving all at once and was more effective for not being forced. Along with the cut-time country of "I'll Believe You When," it had a spark that finally, just barely mixed things up.