It’s Ya Birthday! Matador @ 21: Day 2


October 2 at the Vegas bash brings the noise with Jon
Spencer, Cat Power, Spoon, Belle & Sebastian, Superchunk (pictured, above) …


Text and Photos by Brian


Day Two: The Sensitive Side


Can a narcissist have a
sensitive side? Matador has a many-faceted personality, as any record label
with a sizeable catalog, but Matador encompasses some of the artists you think
of first when it comes to sensitivity. Sensitivity can take different forms,
and sometimes it can be self-absorbed. Saturday night’s acts seem loosely
designated to be the more sensitive members of the label.



Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
could’ve easily fit into Friday’s noisier agenda, but then they also exemplify
a kind of sensitivity–to the tormented anguish of the human condition, yet in
a way that sometimes hurts so good. Clad in tight leather pants, Spencer runs
all his songs together in this set with the economical yet bombastic trio
including long-time accomplices drummer Russell Simmons and Judah Bauer on
guitar, the common denominator in all this being the exclamation “Blues
Explosion!” Spencer has invented this weird, bastardized version of the blues
that’s very indie-palatable, because it‘s so exaggerated it verges on parody,
but it‘s never not fun. When he’s not doing a Chuck Berry-style peripatetic
exploration of the stage and offering vocal exhortations, he manages to get in
a few solos on the Theremin, getting sounds out of it that would send the stars
of monster movies back into the woods and convince them never to bother human
beings again. Ladies and gentleman, Elvis has just left the building.


In the most abrupt segue
ever, Jon Spencer is followed by Perfume Genius. Mike Hadreas, releasing his
debut “Learning” on Matador earlier this year, delivers a set of songs
accompanied only on piano, and the minimalism is very direct emotionally. He
looks like he is about to break into tears at one point, on songs like “Gay
Angels” talking about the struggles of sometimes heart-wrenching topics. By the
end, the audience has warmed to the new singer-songwriter and welcomed him into
the Matador fold.



Cat Power’s Chan Marshall,
known for being shy, momentarily made the audience think she might balk at
performing when it took a few moments after being announced for her to take the
stage. She started out with a cover of “Satisfaction,” performed like it was
the saddest song ever written. At one point she went into a few bars of Nico’s “These
Days,” which seemed a more logical choice. On a label full of artists known for
being gutsy individualists, she is still one of the flag-bearers of Matador for
the courage of the vulnerability she brings to her performance. Her soulful set
is one of the highlights of the weekend.


Although a Matador alum,
Superchunk (pictured at top) is more closely associated with their own label, Merge Records,
founded the same year as Matador and releasing music there while still on
Matador. Known for a brisk, ‘chunky’ sound that hasn’t really changed much
through their existence, they provided one definition of indie rock’s early
sound, and tonight they are incandescent. The stage was lit all smoky and
reddish like the air about a battlefield. I don’t know if they fit the ‘sensitivity’
agenda, but they mention something I wondered whether would come up: the tragic
death earlier this year of Matador artist Jay Reatard. Superchunk covered one
of his songs, and it was fitting tribute.



Spoon’s 1996 debut “Telephono”
shows the faith Matador has put in emerging artists, and although that record
captured a band still discovering its sound, the disc was a springboard to
Spoon’s ill-fated yet critically-regarded “Series of Sneaks” album on major
label Elektra. “Series of Sneaks” is an indie rock classic, a true musical
sneak attack, subversive, dark and pointed as the group has never been since,
moving in much sunnier directions, his new stuff verging into synth-pop.
Performing “Car Radio” from “Sneaks” shows that Spoon could be a lot more
explosive then. Spoon is an arch pop group, following naturally after
Superchunk in the batting order because most of Spoon’s release are on Merge.


Daniels is an expert pop
craftsman with technological tricks like experimental guitar effects and vocal
delays that might be thrown in a song for just a split second, but they aren’t
gimmicks. Sometimes his songs seem slight just because he makes them seem so
facile, pulls them off so gracefully, but like the best pop songs they have
depth. His instrumental punctuations have to be delivered with the right
emphasis to accompany his lyrical zingers about the pains of love. Last night,
Spoon cut like a knife.



Belle & Sebastian is
perhaps THE sensitive person’s band, their fans long the butt of jokes about
being cardigan-wearing nerds. But then they are the band to have audience members
dancing up on stage with them. Their life with Matador goes back to 1996’s “Tigermilk”
release, and they play an old favorite from the period, “The Boy With The Arab
Strap,” one of the songs they are best known for. Their technique of combining
sometimes dour lyrics with uptempo, hummable melodies is a formula that works
over time, but doesn’t feel like a formula, because of the way they shrug it
off undramatically in the British way. No ‘hanging on in quiet desperation’
here; if there’s any desperation they are dancing about it.  And their new album, “Belle & Sebastian
Write About Love” doesn’t leave much doubt that they are for the sensitive set.


Singer Stuart Murdoch tosses
out some nerf footballs to the audience, noting “it’s the simple pleasures”
that are all that counts. That’s a key to the label’s staying power, that no
matter how diverse and occasionally challenging or risk-taking their acts often
are, they always seem to promote music that can enjoyed just as sheer music,
taken pleasure in the act of listening as much as was taken in creating it. In
that way Matador has always remained sensitive to its audience.




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