It’s Ya Birthday! Matador @ 21: Day 1

 

 

October 1 at the Vegas bash brings the noise with Guitar
Wolf, Chavez, Sonic Youth, Fucked Up and Pavement.

 

Text and Photos by Brian
Staker

 

Some people make a big deal out of their birthday, and others just let the day
roll by or try to ignore it. Matador Records has a reason to celebrate, even if
their 21st anniversary “The Lost Weekend” as they are billing it, is more an
excuse to have a party with a ‘coming of age’ theme than a milestone. At the
Palms Hotel in Las Vegas, they deliberately picked a location associated with
partying, and the hotel’s Pearl Theater is intimate yet made it a tough ticket
to get. Certainly the “Matador At Fifteen” compilation was a more marked
demonstration of the staying power of their bands and influence of the imprint
on the indie rock soundscape. But that celebration didn’t showcase the label
like this live juggernaut.

 

 

Day One: Bring the Noise

 

First off, comedian Jeff
Jensen, the cheesy MC who took on various personae during each introduction,
was so disliked that people were throwing things at him by the end of the
night. He actually released a record on the label, and it shows that they
should probably stick to music. 

 

 

Guitar Wolf inaugurated the
festival with a furious rush of rock’n’roll noise turning to sludge at some
points, and returned for the after party later with Fucked Up ‘Vs’ Them Vs Ted
Leo and the Pharmacists. Their energy never let up, and with their biker gear
they just look damn cool!

 

 

Chavez is one of those bands
that gets lost in the sheer greatness of the Matador roster. You forget their
genius, the relative simplicity of their four-piece approach. It’s all about
the great songwriting, and brilliant, yet not overwrought lyrics like “Unreal
Is Here” with “there is nothing to not be amazed at,” seemed like they were
talking about the label itself. They are jokingly introduced as a “super group,”
and they somehow are, Matt Sweeney having played in Guided By Voices and Billy
Corgan’s Zwan.

 

Fucked Up (pictured, top) is
the one hardcore punk band on the label, and also Canadian, as Jensen made a
point of noting in his hockey-clad shtick conducting a contest between an
audience member and a ringer to alphabetically name bands from up North. They
play punk in the classic hardcore style, with great riffs, and singer Damian “Concentration
Camp” Abraham got physically into the music in hardcore style, getting out into
the audience with the microphone and at times swinging it around his head. The
band lived up to their name, in the good way.

 

 

Sonic Youth is, oddly, the
newcomer to the label, only joining for last year’s release “The Eternal.” But
they are the band that’s been around the longest, and it really showed when
Jensen’s ‘humor’ was really running thin and fans started chanting for them,
and also showed in the audience’s excited reaction to some of the songs they
played. They dipped into their back catalog for “Cross the Breeze” from “Daydream
Nation” and even “Death Valley 69,” Thurston
Moore showing off some amazing guitar pyrotechnics and even aerobics. 

 

 

Pavement illustrates the
label‘s ethos: signing the ‘thinking person’s’ bands from out of the mass of
musicians post-punk and during the period the label built up steam in the early
90s, when they signed Pavement and some of their other best-known groups, when
the majors were falling all over each other to sign any band who sounded ‘grunge.’
Pavement played their ‘hits,’ and the lyrics from “Range Life” reminded us,
more than ever, why we laughed at Malkmus’ knock on Smashing Pumpkins and Stone
Temple Pilots.

 

There was the old tension
between Malkmus and Scott “Spiral Stairs” Kannberg, both motioning for their
guitars’ volume to be turned up at different points, at times seemed to be
competing with each other, and Malkmus‘ usual frontman drama. All the bands on
Day One embodied noise in some way, but at the end Pavement pulled back from
the echoing pool and regarded themselves in it like Narcissus of myth. There’s
something of that Greek story in the story of Matador too, but that’s also a
part of what has made the label great.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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