I’ve seen Striking Matches play five times, and this would be the second time I saw John & Jacob, so I had an inkling of what would be in store on the night of November 11th, and I was excited about it. The venue (a fairly recently-refurbished arts club on the fringes of Liverpool city centre) was already about half-full when John & Jacob took to the stage at 8pm, all smiles and energy. Kicking things off enthusiastically and egging on the crowd, they were quick to win almost everybody over, with some present clearly already big fans of the duo. Charismatic and enamoured by their first trip to the city (even making a red versus blues joke), they were a lot of fun and their joy drove the crowd into a cheering frenzy, especially on the likes of ‘Done’, a Band Perry song they co-wrote.
They were able to slow things down for a couple of tracks however, including new single ‘I’d Go Back’ and newly-written ‘Norway’, a song inspired by the word for “I’m in love with you” in Norwegian that they discovered on Kacey Musgraves’ last European tour. While occasionally their voices seemed to reach a limit at the top of their range, that was really the only criticism I could afford them, and they left everyone thoroughly warmed up for the buzzy duo everyone had come to see.
I have been a fan of Striking Matches since 2012 and have been lucky enough to watch their stars rise, particularly here in the UK. I was pleased to see they hadn’t come with the full band this time as I had heard they were better without it, and sure enough their energy and chemistry as a duo was more than enough to blow the roof off the place. They entered with ‘Trouble Is As Trouble Does’, one of my favourites for its sheer electric musical interplay and driving pace, and they rarely let things calm down throughout their 90 minute set (including two-song encore). This was the longest I’d ever seen them perform for, and despite the ill-advised heels that were turning my feet numb, not once did I ever wish it to be over (which trust me, has happened multiple times to me at gigs).
They ran through the majority of their debut album ‘Nothing But The Silence’, including ‘Hanging On A Lie’, ‘Never Gonna Love Again’, ‘Make A Liar Out of Me’ and ‘Miss Me More’, extending each usual instrumentation/solo considerably by adding new sections. They did this for just about every track, and while some solos were fairly short, others lasted for several minutes, showcasing their pure talent and synchronisation on the guitars. I should say that at one point about halfway through the show, I did notice that the audience were starting to lose concentration as a couple of instrumentals in particular stretched out to the brink of attention span, and the energy dropped slightly. I absolutely adore watching them do amazing things with their instruments and part of their appeal is exactly that, but I think at one point each song had just been pulled a little too far out of place.
Still, they brought it back long before the end, delighting us with the likes of ‘When It’s Raining’, which Justin described as like the kid that stays at home in the basement instead of going off to college and getting a good job – you still love it just the same, but it’s not as successful. For the record I was really disappointed they left that off the album as that’s one of my favourite songs of theirs, so guys take note – put it on the next record.
They also loaded in a couple of older songs, including ‘Saving All My Tears’ (which was played on a baby guitar, inspired by all the fans who thought Sarah’s mandolin was actually a baby guitar), and some covers, such as Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Never Going Back Again’ (which brought John & Jacob back on stage for a spirited rendition) and Robert Johnson’s ‘Crossroads’ (the Eric Clapton and John Mayer version). They also performed Elvis Presley’s ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love With You’ as the encore closer, and that delicate moment joined fan favourite ‘When The Right One Comes Along’ as one of the most special performances of the night.
There was one brand new song on the set list and that was ‘Wake Up Alone’, a heartfelt reflection on how we miss out on being with those we love because we’re too scared or too proud to pick up the phone and apologise. The arena-ready track incorporated plenty of audience interaction as we all sang the vocal hook, and such engagement was a regular occurrence throughout the night. Spirits were high, everyone was involved and on board, and most of all both Sarah and Justin were loose and relaxed in their stage patter despite being constantly on point in their musicianship. Sometimes when the focus is on the musicianship younger acts can forget to chat with the audience and instead give very rehearsed and generic lines, but Striking Matches are very adept at lightly joking and improvising, dropping in one or two stories but stringing things together really well. They are thoroughly likeable people too, which really helps their cause.
This was the duo’s first time in Liverpool, and they seemed genuinely excited to come back. Hopefully they tell everybody to come visit, because as a city we’re in desperate need of some country and Americana tours to come our way. They will certainly always be welcome here and pretty much anywhere in the UK, because their live show is one of the best I’ve ever seen. I already can’t wait for the next time.
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