The word “troubadour” calls images of medieval cobblestone trampled by soft, leather soles that cap colorful legwear. And, the outfit you’d find on my favorite troubadour often wouldn’t be too far off. But he’s very much a modern artist, dipping his enigmatic toe in and skipping across a spectrum of genre-pools. Who is he? Only the dude responsible for most of my pop-punk memories. You know, the “scene” of yesteryear. He was the front man of The Matches, my absolute favorite band of the early 2ks. They straddled the line of mainstream for years, which worked out well for me and the thousands of fans across the country who would file into mid-size venues like The Intersection and smash against one another to the tune of “Audioblood”, screaming along and living on adrenaline (and Adderall). Lyrics from that song perfectly sum it up, “…Sweating in the dark we feed on the forms in the light, on the floor we’re the flood.” It was an anthem. One I strongly considered tattooing on myself before settling on lyrics from “The Restless”, another song from their debut album. We did bleed audioblood, and understandably, were left lacking when the band officially went on “hiatus” in 2008.
Late last year, there was a brief “reunion tour” for the 10-year anniversary of their album, “E. Von Dahl Killed the Locals”, which I was able to catch in Chicago last November. It was everything I needed it to be and opened up the floodgates of nostalgia and the carefree recklessness that comes with one’s early 20s. But I was a month from 30 and learned the hard way that smashing against sweaty giants while we all jump up and down un-rhythmically for two hours results in three days of the sorest body I’ve ever experienced. I don’t work out. Thankfully, for me and hundreds of other hangers-on, this wandering song-maker has recently taken to the highways of the good ol’ USA with his beautiful wife, fur-babies and their all-chrome-home to bring his talents to the flyover states. Shawn Harris is literally making house calls.
Last Saturday, I traveled again to Chicago and there I sat. Thighs burning slightly, perched half on a stranger’s end table and half on the edge of the couch, shifting uncomfortably and staring into the face of my favorite. For three hours. I had never heard of Fanswell.com or the idea of established musicians playing acoustic sets in the living rooms of fans. But it happened. And I was there. Along with 30 other die-hards and my friend from high school who lives in Chicago and was kind enough to escort me into the unknown. She didn’t have any idea what she was walking into, but she’s a ride-or-die friend. You gotta have one or two of those so you don’t have to wander into some dude’s apartment in a sketchy neighborhood and figure out which window they want you to knock on for entry without a safety net. You do. I was anxiety-ridden and almost too nervous to go. I had no idea what to expect from such a small gathering, and I sincerely wish I had gotten a buzz on before we went. But it was actually great. Once we settled awkwardly onto the couch and struck up conversation with the girl whose thigh was pressed intimately against that of my friend’s, I learned that The Academy Is will also be doing an album reunion of “Almost Here” which is almost as delightful as last year’s news of The Matches. And I relaxed.
The entire three hours was like a dream I had once, where I sit around a campfire with my favorite musicians and we all have a Kumbaya-esque singalong to our favorite songs. It was a real-life jukebox that combines nostalgia with fancy footwork and retro charm. It was my actual favorite musician, performing all of my favorite songs from one foot in front of my face. It was ridiculous. And, to make it even more delightful and inclusive, those of us who lived and breathed the albums were able to vocally provide the bass lines and extra guitar riffs that Shawn’s oh-so-talented fingers couldn’t handle alone. Words are actually failing me at this point. It was just so…neat. Yes. It was neat. It was an experience I won’t be able to duplicate unless he agrees to come to Grand Rapids. (Hint – Hint)
Sprinkling the minutes with stories of some of the song’s origins and otherwise just being charming, Shawn played tunes from all four of The Matches’ albums, including those from the unreleased and untitled fourth album. He also played “Fill the Lens”, a song from “Mania”, the debut album of his 2nd musical endeavor, Maniac. But without Jake Grigg, the other half of the duo, it just wasn’t the same. For me or Shawn. Peppering the set with songs from his latest band, Fortress Social Club, and those from his current solo triumph, St. Ranger, Shawn had something for every taste. But, as he put it, most of us were there for the obscure Matches B-Sides. The ones we didn’t have a chance to see live in our pop-punk days. And he certainly delivered, even ad-libbing lyrics about the house dog, Bella’s “thunder-shirt” when she burst through the performance bubble after a particularly harrowing bout of street-fireworks. It was funny. But I guess you had to be there.
Are you googling him yet?