The Matches still have it.
Reunion shows have the Matches filling up performance venues.
Ten years ago, the Matches were one of the East Bay’s most popular and hardworking young bands. Originally called the Locals, the four friends from Bishop O’Dowd High School played enthusiastic pop-punk, following in the footsteps of East Bay bands such as Green Day and Rancid. But the Matches were even less beholden than their forbearers to any particular notion of being “punk.”
In fact, their success ballooned as their music expanded into ambitious pop. They developed and cultivated their all-ages following at the now-defunct Oakland venue iMusicast, working tirelessly to build up their name. They also had a very involved manager, Miles Hurwitz, who played an integral part in crafting the band’s sound and image. (The San Francisco Chronicle described him as their “Svengali.”) Known for their exuberant live shows, charismatic frontman, and quotable lyrics, the Matches drew the attention of major labels but ultimately signed with Epitaph, a large indie. They became regulars on the Warped Tour circuit, playing more than 1,000 shows.
But the band never broke through to mainstream success. After the release of third album A Band in Hope in 2008 and the expiration of its contract with Epitaph, the band found itself at a crossroads. “We had all burned out. The spark wasn’t there,” recalled drummer Matt Whalen. “We all decided it was better to walk away while we were all on speaking terms.” In 2009, the band went on indefinite hiatus.
Five years later, the Matches got back the rights to their first album, E. Von Dahl Killed the Locals, which prompted the decision to reissue it on vinyl. They announced a reunion show at Slim’s to coincide with the release, and after it sold out immediately, they added more shows in the Bay Area, which snowballed into shows around the country and, eventually, Australia. Last year, the band also wrote and released two new songs.
Whalen said the band was surprised by the response. “Five years had passed between the band going on indefinite hiatus,” he said. “We had no idea how to gauge whether our fanbase was still there.”
The response to their reunion shows was plenty of proof. When the Matches realized that 2016 would mark the 10-year anniversary of second album Decomposer, they booked more shows around the country and Australia. The show on Nov. 19 at the UC Theatre will be their last show of the tour and mark the first time the band plays the album in its entirety in the Bay Area.
Since their break, the members have pursued separate endeavors: Singer/guitarist Shawn Harris started multiple music projects, guitarist Jon Devoto opened a recording studio in El Cerrito and co-owns a wedding event company, bassist Justin San Souci works at a mobile game company, and Whalen just started law school at the University of Texas at Austin. As is often the case with bands that burn too brightly—and burn out too quickly—the Matches are now finding renewed pleasure in letting go of expectations and ambition. Whalen said the band has no plans beyond the November show but isn’t ruling anything out, either. “We find it works best when we don’t commit to anything too far out,” he said. “If it starts to feel like an obligation for anyone, it would be less appealing.”
The Matches’ Decomposer 10-year anniversary tour happens Nov. 19, at the UC Theatre, 8 p.m., $25.
Published online on Nov. 15, 2016 8:00 a.m.