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Country Music Week 2019: Striking Matches, The Garage, London live review

The guitar-slinging duo performed in London last night as part of Country Music Week 2019.

Striking Matches
Credit: Capitol Records

Striking Matches – made up of Sarah Zimmerman and Justin Davis – may have found fame with the songs they wrote for the TV series Nashville, but they’ve also become huge fan favourites as musicians in their own rights for their standout guitar playing and well-crafted, heartfelt lyrics. They released their debut album, Nothing But The Silence, in 2015 and are currently working on a collection of three EPs, with the second, Noon, due out next month. Additionally, they regularly perform live in the UK – including playing at Black Deer Festival 2018 and opening for Clare Bowen – and last night returned to London for a headline show as part of Country Music Week 2019.

Sarah and Justin arrived on stage to huge cheers and opened their set with their 2018 single Retrograde. The swaggering song had a stomping beat and gave both of them a chance to show off their guitar-playing skills, particularly Sarah whose fingers flew up and down the neck of her guitar as she played the distinctive slide riff. I loved the blend of their voices too, particularly towards the end as they hit some impressively big notes. The crowd burst into loud applause as they finished and that set the tone for the rest of the evening.

Throughout their 100-minute performance Sarah and Justin performed songs from their debut album as well as the EPs they’ve released over the last few years. They also played a couple of covers, including putting their own spin on the Beatles classic While My Guitar Gently Weeps with a mix of tempos and freestyle riffs. I particularly liked their high-energy take on Eric Clapton’s Crossroads that brought out the rawness in Sarah’s vocals and ended with an a capella vocal section before bursting into rattling guitars.

One thing which stood out to me was just how in sync Sarah and Justin were during their set. Granted they’ve been performing together for over a decade now, but watching them play it almost feels like they’re two versions of the same person. Although their styles are quite different, they combined together brilliantly and the chemistry between them was incredibly powerful, especially when they got the chance to jam out on songs like the funky, sultry Burning Down. They also came across as very warm and relaxed, bouncing off each other as they cracked jokes and dealt with mishaps like Sarah getting her heel stuck in the stage, and frequently encouraged the crowd to sing and clap along such as on the rocky Medicine and Make A Liar Out Of Me, with its sharp chords and rapid-fire solo from Sarah.

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About a third of the way through their performance Sarah and Justin broke off to perform a selection of their songs acoustically, and for me this was the standout section of their set. They kicked it off with Trouble Is As Trouble Does, a lively, fast-paced number that featured soaring vocals with a touch of gravel from Justin in particular. Towards the end they took each other on in a guitar lick face-off and the acoustic setup really emphasised just what incredible musicians they are. I also loved the slinky, playful vibe of Don’t Hold Back, where Sarah’s breathy delivery balanced out Justin’s John Mayer-esque tones.

However, the duo particularly shone on the slower tracks. One particularly emotional moment came with I’ll Remember Every Word, which Justin introduced by speaking very movingly about his grandparents. The song had a sparse, subdued quality and the heartfelt, romantic lyrics clearly meant a lot to the band, with Sarah (and myself!) moved to tears by the end of it. Meanwhile, the bittersweet fan favourite When It’s Raining had a beautiful yearning quality, with great vocal control from Sarah particularly in the effortless final note, and When The Right One Comes Along featured a spine-tingling moment as Justin and Sarah crowded around the same mike stand.

After thanking the ‘amazing’ crowd for an ‘unforgettable’ night, Sarah and Justin closed the main section of their show with Desire. The bouncy, upbeat groove gave Sarah a chance to show off her outstanding slide guitar playing and had a bluesy, grungy feel to it, before the pair of them went off into a freestyle jam session finale. It was clear they were pulling out all the stops and they looked like they were having a whale of a time. The crowd roared their approval as they finished the song and it wasn’t long before they were back for a loudly demanded encore, performing I Ain’t Leaving Without Your Love. It had a bright, joyous feel to it and saw the duo encouraging the audience to clap and sway along, which they did with gusto. For me it was a great way to end the show and seemed to leave everyone feeling on a complete high.

Overall Striking Matches continue to go from strength to strength and yet again they delivered another fantastic show. Their incredible musicianship, rich songwriting and tight harmonies were all out in force, making for a very entertaining evening. It’s clear they love playing in the UK – at one point early in the set they talked about how London ‘feels like home to us’ – and it’s clear that the audience loves them just as much. As they left the stage, they promised they’d come back ‘sooner’ and personally I can’t wait to see them live here again!

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Set list: 1. Retrograde 2. Medicine 3. Burning Down 4. Trouble Is As Trouble Does 5. When It’s Raining 6. Don’t Hold Back 7. Make A Liar Out Of Me 8. I’ll Remember Every Word 9. While My Guitar Gently Weeps (Beatles cover) 10. When The Right One Comes Along 11. Crossroads (Eric Clapton cover) 12. Desire 13. I Ain’t Leaving Without Your Love Performance date: 23rd October 2019

See Striking Matches on tour in the UK this October:

Friday 25 October – The Wardrobe, Leeds
Saturday 26 October – The Cluny, Newcastle
Sunday 27 October – Arts Club, Liverpool
Monday 28 October – Stereo, Glasgow

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