It was only two months ago that I last saw Striking Matches, albeit for one song, at the CMA Song Writers Series as part of Country To Country at The O2, and here they are, back again. Last night they were supported by Lucy May who I knew nothing of before the gig, and she didn’t leave much of a mark on me. She has a good voice, but her whole act is just unremarkable, and for someone who has been around for a few years, she has little in the way of stage presence. She seemed to get a good response for the crowds, so she’s pushing the right buttons for others.
Striking Matches themselves came on with a band, adding a drummer and bassist. This had me worried straight away, as their recent debut album is also with band, and has a more produced and less organic sound than the acoustic maestros I’d come to love. Straight away it was evident this was going to be a very different show to to the one I saw at The Borderline last year, and the two times I caught them at Country in Country in 2014 also. The drums were set up way to loud, so much so that they drowned a lot of the guitars from Justin and Sarah, the latter whose mic was set up too low and made her vocals really hard to hear. Four songs in and their passion and endearing personalities kept me interested, but the new full band set up just wasn’t working.
It was at this point that the drummer and bass player left, and on stage with just their acoustic guitars were Sarah, Justin and the kind of performances that I had been hoping for. They were joined for one song by a guy I hadn’t heard of and can’t remember the name of (shoddy reporting I know) for one song, and then The Shires joined them to sing I Ain’t Leaving Without Your Love, a song that The Shires cover at their live shows. This worked really well, and after not seeing The Shires for 12 months, it was clear to see that a once nervous Crissie is perfectly at ease on stage now. It was during this acoustic stage that we were treated to some of the guitar wizardry that they have become famous for, and definitely got the biggest reaction of the night. When the Right One Comes Along was beautifully performed, with lots of crowd involvement, and resulted once again in an emotional Sarah Zimmermann.
Unfortunately, for me, it was then time for the drummer and bass player to return, and back to not hearing Sarah’s vocals and parts of the guitars. There was one specific part where Sarah was laying out some great looking slide tricks, but the drums came in at such a crescendo, that we could only watch, as the sound of her guitar was drowned out by the percussion. The gig ended with an acoustic cover of Elvis’ Can’t Help Falling In Love, which was the perfect way to finish.
It was a fractured set, with Striking Matches themselves seemingly knowing that people want the acoustic material, and they themselves wanting to play it, but having it sandwiched between the full band sections making it all feel a bit disjointed. I suspect that they have been told that too further their careers they must go with the full band sound, but with their hearts lying with the acoustic they truly love. I could be completely wrong on that, but it’s their acoustic sound that makes them stand out as something very special. It didn’t help that the set-up was all wrong in places, and maybe with less drums and an audible Sarah, it’s very different. They are back in November and I will probably end up going, as the acoustic parts and their personalities are so good that they make it worth the trip – I just hope we get more of them, or at the very least a decent sound set-up.
On a side note Union Chapel is a gorgeous venue, and seeing their shadows dancing on the walls of the building added a great deal to the atmosphere. The only downside are the hard wooden pews – could have done with prayer cushions to sit on. The king of gig photography Flex has published online some exceptional photos from last night which you can see here.