LIVE REVIEW: The Matches’ ‘E. Von Dahl Killed The Locals’ 10th Anniversary Tour in Adelaide, Australia (1/10/15)

While shamelessly promoting my own band back in the MySpace era of 2004, I was alerted by similar covert activities being undertaken by Epitaph Records to the existence of a quirky pop-punk act from Oakland, California named The Matches.

Immediately capturing my attention with the bratty yet rather witty ode to unrequited love, “Dog-Eared Page,” The Matches presented as something decidedly different to the post-hardcore/screamo sounds that were dominating the scene, so I invested in a copy of the Epitaph re-release of their debut full-length E. Von Dahl Killed the Locals and it quickly became the soundtrack to my final year of high school, taking pride of place in the CD player of my very first car.

As my friends and I drove aimlessly around the outer suburbs of Melbourne, the likes of “Borderline Creep,” “The Jack Slap Cheer,” “Say 18” and “Sick Little Suicide” provided the perfect accompaniment to the reckless activities that boredom births. As we waited impatiently for our chance to make our mark on the world we thought to ourselves, “this band is destined be huge.” For whatever reason (and arguably through no fault of their own, as their followup output was excellent), The Matches, much like us, never quite followed through on our early promise, eventually running out of puff and going on ‘hiatus’ in 2009, with frontman Shawn Harris confirming his departure from the band in 2010.

Thankfully for fans, nostalgia is a powerful phenomenon and The Matches reformed for what was intended to be a one-off show in the Bay Area to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the Epitaph release of E. Von Dahl Killed the Locals. Predictably the show sold out and the band responded to demand for more shows to be added throughout the US and abroad. To my delight, that demand led to The Matches bringing the tour down under, so with a scheduling clash with Every Time I Die preventing me from attending their Melbourne show, I pressed play on E. Von Dahl Killed the Locals and made the 450-mile trip to Adelaide to relive some of the joy of misspent youth.

Taking the stage to rapturous applause, The Matches wasted no time getting the party started, opening with an impassioned rendition of “Dog-Eared Page,” with Shawn Harris leading from the front with his trademark hyperactive antics. The band had the crowd dancing and singing at the top of their voices within seconds, creating a festive atmosphere that remained for the rest of the evening. Playing through E. Von Dahl Killed The Locals in sequential order, before briefly exiting the stage before returning for a ‘greatest hits’ segment, the band took us all on a glorious 90-minute trip back in time to our teenage years, creating a vibe akin to the greatest house show never held.

With guitarist Jon Devoto slaying on guitar (the man can seriously wield an axe) and the rhythm section of Justin San Souci and Matt Whalen providing the groove-laden backdrop on which the band’s signature sound rests, The Matches powered through inspired renditions of fan favourites “Chain Me Free,” “Borderline Creep” and “More Than Local Boys.” The boys then kicked things into overdrive with an excitable version of “Say 18” (appropriately renamed “Say 27” given the circumstances), with Shawn making his way into the crowd on a number of occasions (both with and without his guitar), and Jon and Justin absolutely owning the stage. Ultimately, the band appeared as happy and as in sync with one another as ever and as they closed out this segment of the set with truly brilliant live arrangements of “Sick Little Suicide” and “Scratched Out” the crowd cheered wildly in appreciation.

After a very brief disappearing act, Shawn and Jon returned to the stage and began to perform a haunting rendition of “Darkness Rising” off of 2008’s experimental A Band in Hope, with both men nailing their rather challenging vocal parts. It was a great lead into the second part of the set, and when Justin and Matt returned to hammer home the closing moments, the room exploded back into all-out party mode, a mood which remained for the remainder of the set. If the first half of the show served to celebrate E. Von Dahl Killed The Locals, the second served to celebrate the overall diversity and originality of the band’s back catalogue. As they played through stellar renditions of “Point Me Toward The Morning,” “What Katie Said” and “Yankee In The Chip Shop,” many a face in the crowd could be seen in a state of awe at the diversity of sonic delights being offered.

All extremely talented musicians in their own right, it is the collective of seemingly disparate elements working together in complete harmony that make The Matches unique in a pop-punk context. And perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in their moderate radio hit “Papercut Skin,” with Justin and Matt providing a killer rhythm (that bass line is still as dance-inducing as it ever was) upon which Jon and Shawn lay down some tasty licks and pitch-perfect harmonies. The song is a damn near perfect pop-rock track that is built around an infectious melody, and on this night they absolutely nailed it. Closing out the show with a frantic version of early fan favourite “Superman,” it became evident that grasp on songcraft has been there since the beginning, and as we all shouted ourselves hoarse to the chorus one final time, and the band made their exit from stage, I was left wondering why this band never quite broke through in the way they deserved to.

Genuinely appreciative of their fans (the band mingled among the crowd for an hour or so after the show, taking photos and sharing stories without so much as a hint of annoyance), and seemingly possessive of all the elements necessary to make it on a global scale, The Matches remain one of the best kept secrets in punk rock, and during their stop in Adelaide they provided us all with a rare chance to experience a little bit of the magic they can shine on our lives, and in the process provided me with a glorious trip back in time to some of the best days of my life. Fingers crossed this becomes a full-time reunion.

Review written by Brenton Harris (follow him on Twitter)

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