Show Review:: The Matches 11/15

The Matches
10 Years of E. Von Dahl Killed the Locals
November 15th, 2014
Gramercy Theater; New York, New York.
with Mainland & Happy Body Slow Brain 

The Matches were the first band I ever saw. (Well, technically they were the fourth band I ever saw, because of openers, but whatever, specifics.)

I was twelve, and they were co-headlining a show with Action Action at a venue called The Red Square – a tiny club at the end of an alley in Albany with a max capacity of 250, if we’re being generous. My friend and I each paid four dollars and were two of the first people there. I had no frame of reference for what a concert should be – about how much energy a band should have, about how close the sound should resemble the album, etc. And that night, The Matches set my standards unfairly high. The band didn’t stop moving throughout their entire set, the three standing members cycling from microphone to microphone, screaming, waving their arms, and ended with Shawn Harris eventually hanging by his legs from an overhead pipe as he played the guitar solo during “Chain Me Free.”

But that was a decade ago, and I was a first-time concertgoer, and my juvenility was clouding my judgment. And this would surely be a one-time level of performance.

That following summer, I went to Warped Tour for the first time. I spent the day waiting at the stage they’d be playing on, and as I leant on the barrier watching them play, I figured that that was just how it felt to be at Warped Tour. Everyone probably sounded that great at Warped Tour.

On Saturday night, after a three-hour trip south into the depths of New York City rather than my typical three-hour trip east into the depths of Boston, I stood at the venue thinking how I would get answers to a couple of things that had been on my mind.

One: was the band really that great in-person? That was years ago. Was I just a kid at his first few shows?

And two: for these last five months, was I building up my hopes for what could just be an inevitable letdown? Or was there actually a possibility for years’ worth of awaited fulfillment?

But, before I could get these answers, there were two opening acts.

First was Happy Body Slow Brain, followed by Mainland. Both pleasant surprises, the two bands played short, high-energy sets. And while neither was fully similar to The Matches’ sound or genre, both were similar enough to be great fits.

Between sets, the venue lights dimmed and a projection screen lowered over the front of the stage. This setup, coupled with the off-Broadway location of the show and the showmanship that has always come with The Matches, helped to heighten the theatricality. As the band and crew prepped the stage, the crowd’s eagerness became more and more palpable. And the visible shuffling and scurrying of the musicians’ feet from behind the curtain didn’t help quell the anticipation.

As the intermission concluded, the applause was massive. With the cheers, there was a collective realization that we hadn’t just waited through the ten-minute gap between bands. It was the end of a six-year break. We were hearing the tunings and the first notes of the band coming back from the dead.

“Ohh man, I’ve missed this city,” Jon Devoto smiled, walking onstage wearing an oversized blonde afro wig. As the cheers slowed, Shawn Harris ripped the first chords and line to album opener “Dog-Eared Page” – “I’m just a dog-eared page you turn back to / where’s the place for me?” I’m sure they didn’t have this in mind back in 2003, but it was a brilliantly fitting way to begin a reunion show.

On runs like this, when albums are being played in their entirety and the crowd knowing what’s coming next, there are always certain moments when the excitement reaches just that little bit higher. One of these moments was undeniably as the feedback at the end of “Audio Blood” dove directly in to “Chain Me Free,” with every hand in the crowd pumping a fist.

As “The Restless” wound down, Harris addressed the crowd – “I can’t believe there are this many people here,” he joked. “We were always a kind of ‘weird’ band, so I guess if you’re all still here after this long, you guys are pretty weird too. So thanks. And these are my best friends in the world, this feels just as great as it did way back when.”

Keeping pace with the album’s tracklist, Devoto soon scraped down his guitar to lead into “Destination: Nowhere Near.” After the first couple of lines, Harris interrupted, leaning on to the microphone stand laughing. “So even though this song is all about ‘I wanna be on the road again,’ we had never actually been on tour yet when we wrote this one,” he chuckled. “It’s like, when a rapper puts out their first single and it’s all about ‘rollin’ in bitches and money’ and you just think ‘no, dude! This is your first song!’ But it’s okay. You guys are like our bitches and money. I prefer you guys and shitty tour vans.”

Concluding with album closer (and my personal favorite) “Scratched Out,” the lights lowered as the band placed their instruments on the ground. “And that,” Harris said with a bow, “was E. Von Dahl Killed the Locals. Thank you.” The stage lights went dark as they walked backstage.

Minutes later, to the welcome of another roaring applause, they retrieved their instruments as “Salty Eyes’” eerie violins crept through the PA. After a semi-acoustic “Wake the Sun,” Harris told the story about their choice to include the next song, “Didi (My Doe, Part 2).” Before the show, a pair of Midwestern fans who had been following the tour tweeted a photo to the band’s account. The picture contained a bracket, with each of the band’s songs listed head-to-head. “So, according to these two ladies, this next one is the undisputed champion out of all of the Matches’ songs. Nobody has come along to dispute that, but who knows, maybe a new champion could come along in 2015,” Harris said, deviously.

And with that, a room of fans began exchanging eager, cautiously-optimistic looks and whispers.

As a second encore, they returned for “Superman,” which had been shouted for during the first batch of songs. The guys briefly exchanged stories about the song, talking about how it was the first band they wrote after officially becoming The Matches, and how it feels weird to actually be playing it in-tune. “It won’t win an NCAA bracket or anything, but it’s the feeling, man.”

I’ve been to a lot of concerts. I mean a lot. Anything ranging from arena shows to weekend-long festivals to coffee shops to dive bars and whatever is in between. And I’ve seen a lot of bands, all of which I have possessed various levels of interest in. It’s only on certain occasions where I can say that I know every word to a band’s set.

When I was twelve, I sang every word to The Matches’ set that night in Albany. And to this day, I still have that setlist stuck onto my bedroom wall, a bright green guitar pick with the band’s logo adorning it taped to the paper. Back then, the set was a scattered collection of E. Von Dahl played frantically on the smallest stage I’ve seen a show on.

Saturday night, with the album played in sequence, followed by a mixed bag of fan favorites, I still sang every word. While we can’t be sure how long they’ll stick around, it feels great to have The Matches back for now. And it felt like they had never left.

And if we’re lucky enough to get a Decomposer tour in 2016, you can bet I will be back in the front row again.

E. Von Dahl Killed the Locals

First Encore:
Salty Eyes
Wake the Sun
Didi (My Doe Part 2)
What Katie Said
Little Maggots
Papercut Skin

Second Encore:

Written by Eric Riley.