It’s Ya Birthday! Matador @ 21: Day 3

 

 

 

“Your unreal is here now”: October 3 at the Vegas bash
wraps things up with Kurt Vile, Times New Viking, The Clean, Shearwater, Yo La
Tengo, Ted Leo, Liz Phair (pictured, above) and, as headliners, Guided By
Voices. For Day 1 coverage go here; for Day 2 coverage go here.

 

Text and Photos by Brian
Staker

 

Day Three: An Epic Story

 

Regardless of the fact that
many of the bands here to celebrate Matador’s 21st birthday broke
big or reached some kind of apex in the 90s, Matador isn’t stuck in that
decade. The label has taken a stake in the upcoming generations of indie bands,
and continue to do so.

 

The Palms Ballroom hosted
some of the up and coming groups on the label, Friday and Saturday late night
and Sunday matinee. These included Harlem
Friday, Cold Cave Saturday and on Sunday, Kurt Vile and Times New Viking. Harlem is the old-fashioned kind of garage rock you’d
expect to hear on a Nuggets compilation, reminding us of Matador’s mindfulness
of the tradition of rock music, as much as they try to sign acts that blaze new
trails.

 

Kurt Vile is an unknown
quantity, his Matador debut “Childish Prodigy” one of the buzz albums of last
year after two previous releases on under-the-radar imprints. Compared to
everyone from Velvet Underground to Bob Dylan, this ‘Prodigy’ might be the next
Kurt Cobain in terms of raw songwriting genius, or a one-trick pony. Again,
it’s evidence of Matador’s willingness to take risks. His performance here is
impassioned; it’s as though, like most of the acts this weekend, he’s pushing
himself to give it a little bit extra.

 

 

Times New Viking (above) is a
three-piece lo-fi band from Columbus, Ohio who on it’s second Matador
full-length, last year’s “Born Again Revisited” has become one of the most
talked-about new groups, moving up the cognoscenti so much that Yo La Tengo has
covered one of their songs, after they name-checked Yo La Tengo in one of
theirs. They have that same kind of ‘do more with less’ approach that promises
creative things to come.

 

New Zealand trio The Clean bat clean up for the matinee schedule,
evidencing a kind of British-style art-punk similar to Wire and obvious where
Robert Pollard is influenced for his punkier numbers. They cover the Velvet
Underground’s “I Can’t Take It Any More,” and it reminds us that the Velvets
were in a sense the first real indie band, in terms of lo-fi sound, and it’s an
origin from which all these bands share roots. Ira and Georgia from Yo La Tengo
join them on a song, and their VU influence is one of the most obvious in indie
rock.

 

Then to the Pearl Theater at
the Palms for the final evening on the main stage.

 

Matador likes to do things on
a large scale, and the last evening seems reserved for groups that operate on
an epic scale. Shearwater, formed by Jonathan Meiburg, formerly of Okkervil River, provides an environmental, even
at times political voice on the label. His study of ornithology informs his
lyrics, and his evocative vocal tone and instrumental textures from this year’s
new release “The Golden Archipelago” create a sonic seascape. His performance
at the festival is mesmerizing, and sets a tone for a dramatic evening.

 

 

Ted Leo (above) and the Pharmacists are
pop punk in the grand tradition of someone like Graham Parker’s early work. His
ode to Matador, Nick Lowe’s “I Love My Label,” is not the only love letter to the imprint
during the evening. Their set is energetic and muscular. He notes “I’ve worked
with a lot of labels, but Matador does what they do because they love music.”

 

 

The New Pornographers (above), in
addition to Fucked Up the second Canadian band scheduled during the weekend,
have a sound that’s tighter, less expansive than during some dates during their
recent tour. A pop ensemble in the sixties tradition, their ensemble doesn’t
quite gel during their set, feels a little crammed in, a little off the cuff,
but no New Pornographers live is ever really bad New Pornographers.

 

Liz Phair, pictured at the top, was given a
twenty-minute slot in which she performed with just another guitarist as
accompaniment, but her renditions of numbers from “Exile In Guyville,” another
keystone release for the label, sent the audience on a musical time machine
back to the 90’s like little else quite did during the weekend. Ted Leo joined
her on a moving version of “Fuck and Run” and her all-too-brief segment of the
evening demonstrated the monumental effect of events on the personal level.

 

 

Yo La Tengo (above) is one of the
smartest bands on the face of the earth, able to play seemingly any cover
during their annual live in-studio performances they do for New York radio station WFMU’s fund drives.
They riff on a birthday song, “Twenty one years/it’s a motherfucker” and
name-check a voluminous list of Matador employees, play “Autumn Sweater” and
space out on some really mind-bending psychedelic noise.

 

At almost the end of their
set, a strangely familiar looking guy in a pink tuxedo shirt rockets across the
stage with a cup of beer and back again. One of the security goons almost threw
the guy out into the audience, not realizing it was Mitch Mitchell of Guided By
Voices, who was apparently upset that YLT had gone past their allotted time. After
being chased off, he returned to the stage signaling triumph, and it was time
for the climax of the evening.

 

I assume, by the way Lombardi
and Cosloy operate their business, that the schedule was deliberate and placing
Guided By Voices at the end was in a way making them the headliner of the whole
shebang. Does front man Robert Pollard and Guided By Voices represent what the
label is all about? It’s not ‘all about’ one thing, of course, but with
Pollard’s amount of work in different guises and collaborators, and sheer
plethora of creative output, they encompass such musical, literary and other
influences, making lyrical allusions to history, art and rock itself that it’s
almost an encyclopedic impulse. Like the impulse of Matador itself.

 

 

Pollard is in a sense the
most quintessential Matador artist, since he built up the myth of his rock
stardom one step at a time, in his egotistical yet self-mocking manner. He
created his own mythology, and his persona is largely about authenticity — no
costumes, pyrotechnics or even tattoos (on him at least) — but with a heavy
fake British accent. It’s about self-creation, as though self is the sum of
influences, though filtered through the funhouse mirror of Pollard’s eccentric
imagination; he’s in a way the last great ‘British’ surrealist poet.

 

It’s the same GBV we all know
and, if you’ve stayed along for the ride, love, only the ‘classic’ 1994 lineup,
playing songs from their 90’s classic albums Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes as well as other tidbits from the period. Pollard still gives it his all; he’s
just a little (okay, a lot) grayer, all his rock star moves intact. The cultish
fan club Postal Blowfish is there, singing along with the songs, as sweaty as
‘Uncle Bob’ is, by the time the band gets in two encores.

 

It’s the excitement only
rock’n’roll can provide, in all the forms the weekend has presented us with, a
Birthday present from Matador to us to remind that everything, in a sense, is
created from nothing, like a record label imagined in a tiny apartment. In
between bands setting up, at one point again Chavez’ lyrics come over the video
monitors: “Your unreal is here now…”

 

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