Tuesday’s show at Starlight Theatre wasn’t billed as a co-headlining show, but it might as well have been.
By the time Rob Thomas started his opening set a few minutes before 7:30 p.m., most of the crowd of more than 5,000 was already in place, and most of them gave him a headliner’s welcome.
Thomas is the frontman for Matchbox Twenty, an adult-pop/alt-rock band that emerged in the mid-1990s and now seems to be suspended in either a long hiatus or a slow, prolonged dissolution. Apart from the band that made him famous, Thomas has forged a successful solo career. During Tuesday’s 75-minute set, he paid tribute to both careers.
Backed by a seven-piece band that included three backup singers, one of whom also played guitar, he opened with the title track to his debut solo album, “Something to Be,” now 11 years old. For “Mockingbird,” he strummed a guitar and was joined by the evening’s opener, K Phillips; then came “Her Diamonds,” a slow-moving pop-soul number about a romance sliding into ruins.
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Thomas is a kinetic live performer. His dance moves aren’t exactly slick or rehearsed, but his enthusiasm can be contagious. He appeared to change T-shirts at least once, a sign that all that movement was producing visible consequences. He prefaced a few songs with stories about how and where they were written, like “Sunday Morning New York Blue,” a song about relishing the afterglow of a memorable Saturday night in the big city.
He indulged Matchbox Twenty fans twice: with a stripped-down soulful version of “3 a.m.” that was embroidered with some slide guitar, then “Bent,” the band’s only No. 1 hit, now 16 years old.
He also reprised “Smooth,” his Grammy-winning collaboration with Santana that topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart for nearly three months in 1999-2000. The set ended with a frenetic version of “This Is How a Heart Breaks,” another track from “Something to Be.”
The Counting Crows are also a ’90s band, one that had already issued a blockbuster debut album — “August and Everything After” — by the time Matchbox Twenty broke on to the scene. They opened with one of its tracks, “Sullivan Street,” a melancholic folk-rock ballad. As they would all night, lead singer Adam Duritz and the band fussed with its tempo and arrangement, applying enough twists to make it different from the studio version.
They followed that with “Daylight Fading,” a single from the “Recovering the Satellites” album, the follow-up to “August.”
The Crows have been a band for 25 years, and five of its seven members have been with the band since 1994. The years have been kind to all. Duritz’s voice has lost little if any luster, and the band behind him is as tight and polished as any.
The rest of the set list plumbed the band’s catalog, which now comprises seven albums — songs for diehards, like “Scarecrow,” “Good Time” and “Cover Up the Sun.”
They returned to “August” a few times. Thomas joined Duritz and the band for “Omaha” that stayed mostly true to the original. The Crows also obliged everyone by performing “Mr. Jones,” though Duritz, who altered its meter and phrasing, seemed less than enthusiastic about the exercise. More satisfying: the drawn-out version of “Goodnight Elisabeth,” which was infused with a few verses of the Velvet Underground’s “Pale Blue Eyes.”
They closed with a three-song encore that started with “Palisades Park,” an eight-minute folk-rock ballad that squelched some of the enthusiasm. They rekindled the mood with a true, rowdy rendition of “Rain King,” one of the better tunes off “August. The closer was another one for the diehards, “Holiday in Spain,” a song about getting away from life by flying off into the unknown and drinking your problems away.
It was a peculiar ending to a night that was about the complete opposite: Relishing the familiar — songs and memories that go back decades.