The Matches reignite interest with reunion concerts
By Lou Fancher
You can no longer hear The Beatles play live in America or witness firsthand Jimi Hendrix's wizardry on guitar. Perhaps even the alt pop/indie/funk/punk bands you followed just 10 years ago have disappeared like stars into a sunrise. But if you're lucky, you can flip some vinyl onto a record player or plug yourself into an iPod and relive the moment that you stumbled on your favorite music.
If you're super lucky, a reunion is announced by a band or solo artist whose music defined you. Hearing familiar, well-loved tunes played live, you feel young, hip, hot, invincible -- unbelievably immortal.
Fans of Oakland-based band The Matches will ride that high for the second time, with the release of two new songs and appearances at two shows at The Fillmore in San Francisco. The Dec. 27 show sold out in minutes, but tickets for a hastily added second show Dec. 28 remain available.
Like many Bay Area bands in the 2000s, The Matches formed around friendships. Four kids growing up listening to classic rock -- Led Zeppelin, Nirvana, The Beatles, Springsteen among others -- and were inspired by local bands like Green Day and Rancid.
Shawn Harris (guitar/vocals), Jon Devoto (guitar/vocals) Justin San Souci (bass guitar/vocals), and Matt Whalen (drums) played in garages and at family barbecues. Soon enough, their shows at iMusicast, an all-ages live music venue in Oakland, attracted fans, especially after the release of their 2004 debut album, "E. Von Dahl Killed the Locals."
That led to Epitaph Records signing the band up for the Warped Tour traveling music festival, appearances with big-name acts, and albums "Decomposer" (2006) and "A Band in Hope" (2008).
But by 2009, they were worn out by the nearly 300 shows played on the road each year and a wildly ambitious (and effective) aesthetic that had them mixing heavy metal drop-ins, beat box intros, power bass lines, a raw acoustic groove and musically complex elements highlighting insightful lyrics that they honed to minimalist perfection.
"I was the first to leave," says Berkeley native Justin San Souci, 33. "It's a tough lifestyle -- playing hard, not taking care of yourself, it adds up. They carried on for another year, then disbanded, Everyone needed to go their separate ways."
Last year, band members celebrated the 10th anniversary of their 2004 premiere with sold-out reunion shows in California, New York and Australia, and a sold-out vinyl of their 2004 album.
"The rights to our first album reverted, which gave us the idea for the first reunion," says Harris, "Will we tour or press more records this time? It won't be a 280-days-a-year thing, but I'd love to keep playing The Fillmore."
Harris says that the "two-lane highway" the band traveled in the mid-2000s has become "a massive, eight-lane super-freeway where you can make on a laptop in your bedroom -- for $1,000 -- a record that will be heard worldwide that once required rising to the top of the music scene and cost $20,000."
San Souci agrees that the music world has warped in new directions. "No one is buying music," he says. "You have to adjust with the times. You have to sell merchandise, issue vinyl rereleases, play special events, use small crews for touring and yet play in bigger venues."
They're not complaining -- the comments simply reflect men in their 30s no longer satisfied with playing music they love and having little stability and barely enough money to feed themselves.
San Souci chooses to limit himself to reunion gigs and works creating digital paintings for a video game company. Harris lives and tours with his wife as a solo artist in a 1974 Airstream trailer named Wanda, successfully reincarnating most recently as "St. Ranger."
Whalen lives on the East Coast and is working on his master's degree in business.
Devoto, among other things, is a working musician and produced the newly released "Life of a Match" video.
In homage to bands that influenced them, a compilation of music videos has Blink-182, MXPX, Goldfinger, Reel Big Fish, Fallout Boy and other name-acts of the era mixed in with vintage and new Matches footage for the new song.
"It's like the first track off of our Decomposer album, 'Salty Eyes,' " says Harris, "That was a signal that we were busting through our definition. People came on that ride with us. That fan base didn't go way."
San Souci says the new songs -- the other is "Crucial Comeback" -- reflect who the band was, but also who they are as they reunite. "As musicians, we always try to move forward," he says. "Records can live for years, even decades. Music can represent a time unlike any other in your life that you can carry with you forever."