Rob Thomas and Third Eye Blind don't seem like obvious choices to headline a year-end radio concert.
Sure, both released albums in 2015 – The Great Unknown and Dopamine, respectively – but neither exactly set the music industry on fire in an Adele-like way.
Still, Mix 100.7's motto is "Variety from the '90s to now." And anytime '90s nostalgia is involved, you can throw all sales figures out the window.
That's how the adult variety station settled on a playlist of Matchbox Twenty and Third Eye Blind for its second annual Mix 100.7 Mistletoe Show, Monday at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater, nearly 20 years after those bands rose to fame.
Thomas was an eager headliner, wide-eyed and working himself into a sweat all night on songs from his three solo albums, including the raucous Real World '09, big piano pound-along Someday and up-with-people rock 'n' soul jam Streetcorner Symphony. For the bouncy Hold On Forever, he sat at the stage, literally face to face with fans leaning in for selfies; and even strummed out his acoustic 9/11-inspired holiday tune A New York Christmas.
"I'm the most Christmas person ever," he said. "I go Christmas geek straight from Thanksgiving up to New Year's."
While he did cover David Bowie's Let's Dance, Thomas didn't dip much into his hits from "the greatest pop rock band in the world," saying, "Matchbox is still very much a band, and we're gonna be out in the future." But he did offer twists on two old hits: A gentle, piano-driven Unwell and a dusty, folksy, lap-steel-assisted 3 A.M. that suggested Thomas might someday pull a Hootie and drop a country album on us all.
But of course he played his inescapable Santana collaboration Smooth, and closed the show with a roaring rendition of This Is How a Heart Breaks that saw him racing into the crowd and meandering through Row O of Ruth Eckerd, smiling and snapping more selfies along the way.
"I have to try extra hard," he reminded everyone. "For Santa."
Preceding Thomas with a way-too-short 30-minute set was Third Eye Blind, who've spun a few unlikely radio hits into a lengthy and fruitful career as band backed by fiercely devoted lifers.
There were signs Clearwater might be in for a little of grinless frontman Stephan Jenkins' notoriously cantankerous behavior when he came out to Dopamine's Everything Is Easy, hanging back in the shadows with a toboggan pulled low over his eyes. Maybe it had something to do with the changing of the seasons.
"We were really surprised to be asked to play a Christmas show," Jenkins said. "We're probably the least Christmassy band in the history of Christmas." He followed that with what he called Third Eye Blind's version of a Christmas song: A rumbling cover of the early Bon Iver wrist-slitter Blood Bank. Not exactly Joy to the World, that one.
But all dour vibes went out the window when Third Eye Blind dipped into their monster '90s hitbag for the elastic and buoyant Never Let You Go and ovation-rousing Jumper. Fans who'd memorized every word to their 1997 self-titled debut, including all 500-plus of jubilant show closer Semi-Charmed Life, were by the end cheering for an encore. After only six songs, they'll have to hope and pray for another Florida stop in 2016.
The Mistletoe Show wasn't all about the '90s. Singer-songwriter Rachel Platten was on board to belt out one of 2015's biggest hits, the uber-empowering Fight Song.
Platten previewed songs from her forthcoming album Wildfire, such as the sweetly chipper ode to devotion Stand By You. She also spliced in a brief cover of Florence and the Machine's Dog Days Are Over.
But it was Fight Song, the single that launched a million YouTube #UglyCries, that brought the entire crowd to their feet. She sang it the only way one can: pumping her fists, beaming with joy, skipping across the stage in a victory lap for her long, slow climb to fame.
"Don't give up on yourself!" she said. "It is never too late to make something happen!"
English singer-songwriter Jamie Lawson, a protégé of Ed Sheeran, opened the show with a plaintive set of buskerly acoustic folk. His easy, humble charm was evident, and his songs, like Cold In Ohio and the gentle downhill lovesong Wasn't Expecting That, were warm and winning.
If any artist on the Mistletoe Show's bill could be said to represent the future, it's Lawson. And a little more of the future might not be a bad thing in Mistletoe Shows to come – a crowd of a little more than than 1,100 turned out for Monday's show, barely half Ruth Eckerd Hall's capacity.
But among those who turned out, the nostalgia factor had to be high. After all, what good is a year-end show if you can't spend some time looking back?
-- Jay Cridlin