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Alt-Rock Showdown

Two '90s radio favorites hit the Arena; we explore their respective merits

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Counting Crows (left) and Matchbox Twenty want you to party like it's 1995 during their co-headlining show at the Arena.
  • Counting Crows (left) and Matchbox Twenty want you to party like it's 1995 during their co-headlining show at the Arena.

Who's better: Counting Crows or Matchbox Twenty?

A ridiculous subject for debate, to be sure, but it's one that came up in the Inlander offices upon the announcement that both bands would be co-headlining a tour heading to the Arena.

Dan Nailen and I decided we'd each go to bat for one of the two '90s stalwarts, both of whom burned especially bright two decades ago, defending the merits of a couple of bands that aren't everyone's definition of cool.

— NATHAN WEINBENDER

Team Counting Crows

There was a moment in the mid-'90s when Counting Crows eclipsed Nirvana as the hottest band on the planet. Granted, it was right around when Kurt Cobain eclipsed himself, so we'll never know how things might have been different. What we do know is that after the flush of Seattle bands got hugely popular in Nirvana's wake, America's next favorite thing was this band of San Francisco coffeehouse poets and roots-loving folk rockers.

The '90s were weird like that.

Adam Duritz, Counting Crows' primary songwriter, has a genuine knack for crafting sing-along pop hits that always seem a little deeper — a little more poetic — than the bands that arrived around the same time as the Crows' debut, 1993's August and Everything After.

The first time I saw them, opening for Cracker at a bar, it was just as that album arrived in September. By December, MTV had the single "Mr. Jones" in heavy rotation. The album went platinum (1 million albums sold) by January '94, double platinum a month later, triple platinum by midsummer and five times platinum by December of that year. By the end they were arena headliners and opening stadiums for the Rolling Stones.

The band hasn't been as commercially successful in the intervening years, but they've released six more studio albums, and still play to adoring crowds of Gen Xers. I've seen them several times, and they put on a winning show, full of excellent musicianship and a whole lotta hits that were inescapable for about five years of my life. (DAN NAILEN)

Team Matchbox Twenty

Up to a certain point in your life, your musical taste is defined almost exclusively by what your parents, grandparents or older siblings listen to — in my case, a lot of late-'50s doo-wop and mid-'80s hard rock. But Matchbox Twenty was one of the first bands I liked on my own terms, and my casual fandom represented that intangible moment where you began to cultivate your own personal taste.

In retrospect, that's sort of embarrassing. I wasn't a die-hard, by any means: I didn't own any of their records beyond their 1996 debut Yourself or Someone Like You (the one with the sad, shirtless guy in what looks like an aviator's cap on the cover). I didn't download their newest singles on Napster. I never saw them live. By the time their next batch of songs dropped, I'd moved onto more sonically adventurous stuff.

But relistening to that first album today, I was transported back to that specific, not-too-long-ago era of popular music when alt-rock was getting less and less "alt-" and someone like Rob Thomas could become a genuine heartthrob (before he warbled his way onto that inescapably awful Santana track "Smooth," that is). The six singles on Yourself, four of which charted, still hold up as reliably catchy pop tunes; don't pretend like you can't belt out the words to "3 AM" from memory.

Look, I'm not trying to argue that Matchbox Twenty is an important band. Their music doesn't really take any chances, stylistically or otherwise, and Thomas' vowel-straining vocal stylings have been rightfully goofed on. But it's not necessarily a bad thing for artists to stay in the lane where they're most comfortable, especially when it gets them headlining arena tours.

I recommend that you dive back into the Top 40-friendly pleasures of Yourself or Someone Like You: Used copies are available for just a penny on Amazon. (NW) ♦

Matchbox Twenty and Counting Crows with Rivers and Rust • Wed, July 12 at 6:45 pm • $35-$85 • Spokane Arena • 720 W. Mallon • spokanearena.com • 279-7000

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