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Photograph by Andrew Paynter

The Matches create pyromania.

Strike Up The Band

Self-starting Oakland pop-punk quartet the Matches gets ready to catch fire with Epitaph release

By Sarah Quelland

BY THE TIME the Matches hit the floor at the Mitchell Park Center in Palo Alto last Saturday (April 3), the main hall had the humidity of a high school gymnasium, and the air was ripe with teenage sweat. By the end of the night, the heat radiating off the band's many young fans turned the venue into a steamy sauna. Ah, the smell of a good rock show.

The Matches are well accustomed to such environs. In fact, the young punk band from Oakland thrives on it. The Matches' enterprising spirit has served them well. Under 21 and frustrated by the lack of all-ages venues, they became involved in iMusicast.com, an all-ages Oakland-based venue that broadcasts concerts live over the Internet. With their rising street cred and obvious potential, they helped build up the popularity of iMusicast with the L3: Live, Loud and Local series. Labels took interest, and the group eventually inked a deal with Epitaph Records late last year. The label is remixing and rereleasing the band's self-produced debut album, E. Von Dahl Killed the Locals, which is scheduled to come out on May 11. The new release will include two new tracks, "More Than Local Boys" and "Borderline Creep," while "Superman" will remain exclusive to the original independent release.

The Matches' appeal is undeniable, and the way the band members (frontman and guitarist Shawn Harris, guitarist Jon Devoto, bassist Justin San Souci and drummer Matt Whalen) interact with their zealous fan base is remarkable. They referred to their fans as part of their band when they asked security to be cool at the Mitchell Park Center, a space with no stage and no barrier.

Those at the forefront of the thick wall of fans did their best to respect the invisible line between band and audience, and when the line creeped forward, they easily complied with Harris' request for everyone to move back five feet on his count of three.

In concert, this animated band is amazing to watch and totally entertaining. Born performers with good looks and arena-rock moves, they powered through nearly every track off E. Von Dahl Killed the Locals and then some. With no stage to elevate them, the guys repeatedly jumped on chairs to achieve height and briefly give fans in the back a better view. Throughout the show, the feverish mass of fans was bouncing, arms were in the air and kids were singing along word for word, sometimes less than a foot away from the business end of the mic.

The Matches bring a sense of Bay Area community to their lyrics by casually referencing familiar places like Marine World ("Superman"), the L3 series ("Say 18") and their hometown of Oakland ("Destination: Nowhere Near"). Musically, they take an innovative and technical approach to their punk-rock songwriting, which includes acoustic guitar and blues harmonica. Thematically, they connect with their youthful fans with compelling songs about the teenage experience ("The Restless"), unhealthy habits ("Sick Little Suicide") and complicated relationships ("Dog-Eared Page").

In the next few months, the Matches popularity could spread like wildfire. The band is booked solid through June 6 with dates all across the country. Its next Bay Area dates are May 17 at the Santa Cruz Teen Center with Matchbook Romance, Maxine and Bleed the Dream and May 19 at Slim's in San Francisco with the same lineup. Visit www.thematches.com.

HOT TOPIC: Punks rally to rock the vote in Santa Cruz this Monday (April 12), when the Punk Voter Tour featuring NOFX, Alkaline Trio and Jello Biafra takes over the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium. Visit www.punkvoter.com. ... The night The Punisher opens in theaters (April 16), Strata will be playing a one-off date with Finger Eleven in Texas before rejoining the SnoCore tour (featuring Finger Eleven, Smile Empty Soul and Trapt) at the House of Blues in New Orleans. Strata's "Piece by Piece" is featured on The Punisher soundtrack, along with songs by all three other SnoCore bands, plus Nickelback, Queens of the Stone Age, Seether, Hatebreed and more. The album is in stores now and SnoCore hits the Fillmore on May 17. Visit www.stratadirect.com.

PLAN AHEAD: Plans for Revenge, April 8 at the Last Day Saloon in San Francisco; Syndicate of Sound, April 9 at the Blank Club; Moulder's Lounge, April 10 at Studio Z in San Francisco; the Riverboat Gamblers, April 13 at the Blank Club.

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From the April 7-14, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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