Concert Review: Striking Matches and Tyler Rich

“One of the finds of the decade”

October 23, 2019
The Garage, London

“I’m saying it: this is our favourite place to play in the whole world”

Many bands say things like that; somehow every crowd is their favourite crowd. Here, it seemed like Striking Matches actually meant it. They were playing a Country Music Week headline show in front of a rapt, rapturous crowd, including a hardcore of front-row fans who were following their tour around the country to show support.

Justin Davis called it early: “I know it’s gonna be the kind of night when we go all out.” To underline the fact, his jacket came off after just one song – a sure sign of meaning business!

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Realistically it’s far too hot to play guitar *like that* in layers. Sarah Zimmerman had it right all along with a stunning catsuit leaving her arms free to slay the slide guitar in Retrogade, Medicine…pretty much everything! No wonder. If we could play slide like that, we’d be breaking it out for Happy Birthday!

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We kid, we kid – it wasn’t all about slide. There were also “picking songs” with an acoustic guitar, so we settled in for a nice gentle…OH MY, Trouble Is As Trouble Does was just as dramatic and intricate as its electric predecessors.

When It’s Raining – the most requested song for the night, even though it’s never been released – also had the potential to be a simple guitar number, but ended up with those guitars being punished for something they hadn’t done!

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We can’t quite get over how immensely talented these two are, and yet how endearing and unassuming with it. Zimmerman breezed through yet another solo while trying to free her high heel from a hole in the stage, and would have gotten away with it if the pair hadn’t mentioned the predicament afterwards.

Later, she smashed a song out of the park and then sheepishly handed a bottle over to Davis for help. Thankfully, he said what we were all thinking “you just shredded your guitar in half and you can’t open your water?!”

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We were let into one of the downsides of being a touring musician. Davis revealed that his grandfather has recently been taken ill and Striking Matches’ schedule means he can’t yet get back to be with his family. With a lump in his throat he explained that his grandparents had been together for 70 years but had known each other for longer and that he “can’t stop thinking about Grandma.”

The song they dedicated to Davis’ grandparents was fitting: “There will be a song we used to sing/And I will feel you in the melody.” As the lyrics sunk in, there were tears in eyes and the couples in the room held each other just that little bit closer.

The bond between Davis and Zimmerman, was clear too. Throughout the show, they’d given each other space to shine, watched each other perform with clear mutual respect, and communicated through eye contact and grins. At the end of Every Word, Zimmerman gave Davis a little hug that looked like it meant everything.

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Ever the professionals, they carried on rocking, finally mentioning the word that had brought the band to the attention of most of the people in the room: NASHVILLE. They don’t need to trade on it too much, as their talent is self-explanatory, but alongside their guitar skill they also wrote nine songs for CMT’s smash hit TV show. This brought them to the attention of legendary producer T Bone Burnett, who then produced their debut album.

Hits from the show, When The Right One Comes Along and I Ain’t Leaving Without Your Love, brought the house down with mass singalongs and thunderous applause.

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Alongside songs from the debut, previous EPs and their current EP cycle – Morning, Noon and Night (the latter two due out in 2020) – the duo found space for a couple of covers. As support act Tyler Rich pointed out, it’s risking sacrilege to play The Beatles in the UK, but Striking Matches’ version of While My Guitar Gently Weeps seemed natural because it was like a practical demonstration of a guitar gently weeping.

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The blues standard Crossroads was another interesting choice. Davis explained that they had met at university when the first years were randomly paired together and required to improvise in front of the older students: “you two, do something.” Our guitar heroes chose to improvise blues and the rest is history. (We can’t help but feel sorry for the other people on the course though!)

Here at Music Closeup, we consider Striking Matches to be one of the finds of the decade. They’re equally as interesting to listen to, watch and photograph.

Long may it continue, even if it does come with the occupational hazard of having Retrograde and Medicine stuck in your head for days on head!

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“I just wanna find some pubs…and an English dog who fucking hates me”

Tyler Rich

Oh, here we go – a country dude with baseball cap and songs about flatbed trucks and ripped jeans. Except…as he eased into the set and the banter started seeming less rehearsed, Tyler Rich‘s personality shone through.

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He shot back at any eyebrow raising about a California boy liking country – it’s only as weird as Brits liking country too! Plus such a vast state has plenty of rural areas, so it’s just as country as the South. He reminisced about feral chickens – “homeless-ass chickens” – and how it’s like playing real-life Frogger with them around (stopping to make sure, to his great relief, that the crowd were old enough to get the reference.)

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He somehow talked himself in knots until he had to explain that “this song has nothing to do with chickens,” and later had to backtrack to explain that he hadn’t written a hit song for Blake Shelton, he’d been inspired to write a song by his hit!

That led into Radio which muses about the power of music to conjure up the best bits of a relationship and conceal the bits that made it fail. Or, as he eloquently introduced it: “As Eminem, a great philosopher, once said: music is a time machine.” Speaking of which, he mashed a little of Hey Jude into his own ‘na na na na’ hook in honour of the locale.

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The one man and a guitar format, absent snap tracks or any other distractions, allowed focus on the lyrics. Yes, there are a lot of the contemporary country tropes, but Rich also seems to be reaching out for something deeper and more timeless. The songs vacillate between the pain of losing an old love (11:11, Radio) and the joy of finding the new (Drive Me Home, Rather Be Us). It’ll be interesting to see how the latter songs progress as Rich got married just a month earlier.

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The Difference is Rich’s biggest hit so far (it’s been streamed over 28 million times) so it had a fair few Brits singing along, but you’d be forgiven for thinking every song was a smash from the passion with which two particular fans from America sang along to every tune. When Rich left space for them to join in, they were louder than the amplified sound. It was a pleasure to see how much they enjoyed the show. If Rich’s entertaining performance was anything to go by, he’ll have some more word-perfect fans by the time he next plays the UK.

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