I've been back from my weekend excursion to Las Vegas for the Matador at 21 festival since Monday, but have been under the weather, so I haven't been able to report until now. The whole thing was excellent, by the way. I should also note that I took my own pictures of the shows, but my camera sucks, and none of the shots I took are usable. So I am "borrowing" pictures taken by others for this here report. Sorry. So let's run through the artists I saw with some brief reviews of their sets.
Friday, October 1
Guitar Wolf - The Japanese garage rockers opened the festival. I had heard that GW had some flight delays and would not make it in time for their set, but it turns out they got there in time for an abbreviated show. I was never a fan, and this set did not change anything in that regard.
Chavez - Next up was New York City math rockers Chavez, who are one of my fave bands of the 90s. I was only able to see these guys one time before, so I was anxious to see them again. The set was stellar, and the guys (many of whom no longer play music full-time) seemed to be enjoying themselves immensely. Their set was one of the highlights of the weekend.
Fucked Up - I have to say that this Canadian hardcore band does nothing for me. They certainly put on a lively show, but the music is not my cup of tea. I went to the merch booth during their set.
Sonic Youth - As anyone who listens to my radio show knows, Sonic Youth is one of my favorite bands ever. They are new to the Matador Records roster, but certainly not new to fans of indie and punk music. SY was absolutely stellar, and their set was filled to the brim with vintage Youth cuts. Unless I missed one, nothing in the band's set was newer than 1994 ("Bull in the Heather"). No problem for me, but I was surprised they didn't play anything from their one Matador record, The Eternal. Oh well. I loved it just the same.
Pavement - This was set to be a big one for me. I didn't go to any of the band's reunion shows earlier in the year, so this was going to be the only time I got to see them before the reunion ended and the guys went back to their solo careers. Unfortunately, the band did not really deliver the goods this time around. The set was sloppy as hell, and it seemed more like the guys were simply playing their parts as opposed to genuinely playing together. It also appeared to me that Stephen Malkmus and Scott "Spiral Stairs" Kannberg were fighting or something, and Malkmus played with his back toward Scott. Spiral Stairs apologized a number of times for how badly they were playing, yet it didn't exactly get better. The song selection was great, but the performances were not. I chalk this up as a major disappointment.
Saturday, October 2
Come - I only caught the tail end of this band's set, but what I saw was quite good. Lead singer Thalia Zadek sounded great, and guitarist Chris Brokaw played spectacularly. I kinda wish I had seen the whole thing.
The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion - I really used to love this band in the early to mid 90s, and saw them perform maybe half a dozen times in their heyday. But it had been a while since I'd listened to JSBX, and I wondered if I'd still like them. Turns out, I do. While the JSBX set was plagued by sound and video problems (for some reason the projection screens were off during their set), they were still just as wild and energetic as they were 15 years ago.
Perfume Genius - This is one of Matador's newest acts, and I have to admit that I never listened to their record when I got it. I actually left during the set and missed most of it. From what I heard from others, they were quite good - even a highlight of the festival. Their placement after JSBX seemed odd, though.
Cat Power - Chan Marshall aka Cat Power is an amazing talent, but has a history of spotty live performances. For this set, however, she was in fine form. She even looked like she was having fun. She opened with a cover of The Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction," and then ran through many of her best songs from the last few years. Her 1990s material was largely ignored. Fanboy note: I got to touch Chan! Not in a pervy way, mind you, but once when I was headed to the bathroom, I had to tap her on the shoulder and ask her to move. It meant something to me, even though she barely noticed.
Superchunk - Absolutely one of the best sets of the weekend!! The Chapel Hill boys (and girl) seriously brought it for this show, and got the crowd moving like they hadn't been all weekend. Before the show, I wondered if Superchunk would just play songs from their "Matador period" (i.e. the first three albums), thus making it a very unique set. It started out that way, but the band did play some cuts from their excellent new album, Majesty Shredding. This was the second time I have seen the band this year after a 15 year gap since my last 'Chunk show. I found myself utterly amazed at just how good this band is. Another stellar performance.
Spoon - Next up was Spoon, who also haven't been with Matador for a very long time. In recognition of their "Matador period" (which was only one album and an EP), Spoon opened with a cut from their debut, and proceeded to play a set that touched nearly all of their albums. I was especially excited to hear "Car Radio" from the band's most unappreciated record, A Series of Sneaks. They also covered the late Jay Reatard which was very cool. I bailed before the final act of the night, Belle & Sebastian, played as I can't really stand those guys. I did hear they were good, however.
Sunday, October 3
The New Pornographers - I skipped out on the first two bands of the night (Shearwater and Ted Leo & The Pharmacists), but got there in plenty of time for TNP. I've been a fan of the band for going on a decade, but have never been able to see them perform. I've seen singer Neko Case a number of times as a solo artist, but have never seen the collective play together. They opened with one my favorites, "The Slow Decent into Alcoholism," and played an enjoyable 50 minute set touching on most of their albums. Frontman A.C. Newman has a pretty good sense of humor, and had some good stage banter. I like stage banter.
Liz Phair - Like most of the folks in attendance at this festival, I was a huge Liz Phair fan when she first emerged on the scene with Exile in Guyville. Her next two albums - Whip-Smart and Whitechocolatespaceegg - were also great, but then she ventured into some strange areas with the rest of her music. I had sort of given up on Liz and wondered if she'd ever return to her past greatness. I'm not sure her newest release, Funstyle, will mark that return; but her set for Matador at 21 was a fantastic move in the right direction. She came on stage accompanied by another guitar player, and the duo ran through a quick 20 minute set that featured songs from the first two albums. Liz looked amazing after all these years, and performed with a confidence she did not have in her early days. While the shortness of the set prevented it from being a true highlight for me, many in the crowd considered her show to be the best of the weekend. It was also quite cool to see Ted Leo join Ms. Phair for her classic, "Fuck and Run."
Yo La Tengo - YLT has two types of sets - very quiet or very loud. The set on this evening was on the quiet side. I much prefer to see the band wailing away, as Ira Kaplan is one of my favorite guitar players, and one who knows how to use feedback the right way. The band was having a great time and was joined by a member of New Zealand's The Clean for a bit. By the time YLT came on stage, the show was already running an hour late. I think my patience was running a little thin at that point, and I had a hard time focusing on the band. Ultimately, this was my least favorite YLT set. But even a bad Yo La Tengo set is still better than most band's A-game.
Guided By Voices - After the disappointment of the Pavement reunion show, I was really hoping that the return of GBV would not have the same result. It didn't. GBV was abso-fucking-lutely amazing. Bob Pollard was in amazing spirits and in amazing form. The rest of the band - especially guitarist Mitch Mitchell - seemed so excited to be back on stage that their enthusiasm became contagious. The crowd was wilder than at any point in the festival. I noticed a number of the other artists from the festival really getting into the GBV set, as well - especially Chavez's Matt Sweeney (a one time touring member of GBV) who ended up jumping on stage and singing along. The band performed nearly all of their early classics, and ended up doing two encores. It was a helluva way to close out the festival. Here is a fan filmed video of my favorite song from the set, "Lethargy":
I had an awesome time over the weekend, and really enjoyed seeing some bands that I had not seen in years or even decades. It was, as Liz Phair put it, like a college reunion. This was largely the music of my college days, and as I approach 40, I am realizing that I may never enjoy music the same way I did back then. It was great getting to see so many of my favorites in one place. I highly doubt that any other label could pull off a festival with this many groups I like. Kudos to Matador for a job well done.