A Lost Weekend in Vegas: CoS vs. Matador at 21


matadorthumb A Lost Weekend in Vegas: CoS vs. Matador at 21They say there are no windows in casinos so that gamblers lose track of the time spent at the countless card tables and slot machines in Las Vegas. The Palms Casino and Resort is no different, but attendees of Matador Records 21st anniversary party, simply dubbed Matador at 21, didn’t need change in light to see that time can be both cruel and redemptive. From the physical appearance of Robert Pollard, the successful national tour that Pavement was concluding, the ecstatic anticipation of the Guided By Voices reunion, and empty seats that younger bands like Girls and Shearwater played to, the reminders were all around us that both bands and fans get older, but the rock and roll heart is timeless.

Yeah, that’s cheesy, but true nonetheless. See, though the landmark independent label had reached it’s 21 year anniversary, the majority of fans in attendance were probably 21 when Matador Records started. Some, like me, drove from nearby cities of Los Angeles or Phoenix or Salt Lake City. But most seemed to have travelled much further, whether that be from the East Coast or from overseas. The price and difficulty of acquiring tickets weeded out much of the younger crowd, and though there were some people in their 20s <cough>, we were the minority.

What did that mean for the event? It meant that the crowd was excited but tame, knowledgeable but not competitive and drunk but not belligerent. There were no ambulances pulling passed out girls from the pit, no hydrating stations, and no smell of marijuana in the air. This last note was surely due to the fact that everyone could easily go to a hotel room to take care of their mind altering. Yes, only in Las Vegas could the marrying of venue with accommodations and a sprinkle of luxury and seediness have happened.

The most notably absent festival trademark was hippies. I didn’t see a single one! No, this was a festival made by and for Matadorks (not my term, a nice redhead said I could borrow it, though), and as every MC was made painfully aware, they only wanted to hear music and as much of it as possible.

Friday, October 1st

Guitar Wolf

Night one of the festival started late because of a flight delay, but I didn’t know this at the time. All I knew was the the Matador blog had made it clear the set-times were going to be strictly followed, so when I arrived at the Pearl minutes before the 7:30 p.m. scheduled start time, I was surprised to see the band hadn’t hit the stage yet. Of course, my big fear was that Pavement was going to be forced to reduce their set, a fear some fans took out on M.C. Jeff Jenson nearly every time he tried one of his between-band “comedy” routines (jokes from the M.C.’s over the course of the weekend focused on cocaine, Mark Ibold, and Bob Nastanovich being funnier than actual comedians).

matador 21 guitar wolf 0001 A Lost Weekend in Vegas: CoS vs. Matador at 21

But alas, Guitar Wolf did take the stage and the loudest band in Japan played a fun, but short set. I don’t listen to much Japanese punk, and their set wasn’t enough to make me reconsider this stance, but Guitar Wolf’s set played like an opener – it was short, got you fired up for the acts to come, and was mostly unremarkable. As far as the volume the band is known for, they didn’t seem too powerful up in the front, but I would discover over the course of the weekend that the Pearl has an amazing sound system, if you are in the right spots. In the front, the P.A. is designed to play past you, so most of what you are hearing is the stage volume, which meant the vocals seemed too low for most bands. Standing on the sides meant you would lose some part of the music depending on how the speakers were configured. But in the seats, the sound was of high quality and volume and I never had any complaints when I was back there.


matador 21 chavez 0001 A Lost Weekend in Vegas: CoS vs. Matador at 21

I’d always heard great things about Chavez, given them a listen multiple times, but never had them click with me. So I was surprised to witness them give the performance of the night. Their sound could be compared to Dinosaur Jr. in both the impressive guitar work and un-poilished vocal technique of Matt Sweeney. Sweeney has had the most distinguished career since Chavez last recorded in the mid-nineties, but guitarist Clay Tarver was the star on Friday night. While appearing as aging men onstage, Tarver managed to make the band young again with crisp solos and a revived passion that saw him raising his guitar over his head at numerous points, like a hockey player would hold the Stanley Cup. Sure they looked like your dad getting the old band back together in the garage, but Chavez proved that age really is just a number and 15-year-old songs can still sound fresh if you mean them.

Setlist: Top Pocket Man, Break Up Your Band. New Room, Unreal Is Here, Peeled Out Too Soon, The Ghost By The Sea, Pentagram Ring, You Must Be Stopped, You Faded, Flight 96

Fucked Up

matador 21 fucked up 0014 A Lost Weekend in Vegas: CoS vs. Matador at 21

Because I planned on seeing Fucked Up again later in the night, I took this set to eat some dinner and caught only the last bit. On record, Fucked Up are too screamy/hardcore for me, but I admit it’s quite the spectacle in concert. Pink Eye is a born-frontman, making connections with the crowd and getting every person in the venue to be invested in the set. He brought out his young son and gave the set a different spin, taking the aggression and putting a rounder tint on it. I would’ve skipped dinner if I knew that the later show was going to be all covers, but Fucked Up aren’t going anywhere and I will make it a point to catch their next local set.

Sonic Youth

matador 21 sonic youth 0006 A Lost Weekend in Vegas: CoS vs. Matador at 21

Another weekend highlight, and about a billion times better than previous shows I had seen from them, which seemed to always be at the wrong time (as an opener for Pearl Jam, the day after they had their equipment stolen in Irvine). Though they have had Mark Ibold playing bass for them recently, Sonic Youth knew this was a party and played the show in their classic formation. Likewise, they played some absolute killer cuts and provided what might be the best single song of the festival, closer “Death Valley ’69”, which was spooky and inciting, giving Sonic Youth the fist-pumper that I always thought “Teen Age Riot” stood alone as in their catalog. Set openers “Tom Violence” and “Schizophrenia” were also tremendous, reminding us of just how good this band has always been. In fact, I might be alone in this opinion, but I think the set did lack by neglecting newer material, as it would have really tied together the set as a complete retrospective. After-all, they are Matador newcomers, and while it was truly a masterful performance, it did seem strange to fail to acknowledge The Eternal.

Setlist: Tom Violence, Schizophrenia, Bull in the Heather, Stereo Sanctity, Mote, The Sprawl, Cross the Breeze, (I Got a) Catholic Block, Shadow of a Doubt, Death Valley ’69

(Writer’s Note: As this is finished, I heard Steve Albini’s comments on Sonic Youth. So I take back everything I said. They suck and their set sucked and I’m way too indie to ever like them. Except when I produce records for major labels. Then, it’s just a paycheck, ya know? It doesn’t matter who signs it…Unless you are Sonic Youth.)


Now, you will hear that Pavement were bad at this festival, that the two singers were obviously sick of each other, and that it was a poor end to an otherwise successful tour. I did not get any of that from their set. For one, they are Pavement. I don’t know if you expected them to totally change their demeanor because it was a special occasion, but it seemed like Pavement was almost more Pavement-y because of it. And secondly, I think I’ve heard this kind of report from just about every Pavement show on the reunion, like people are looking for a reason to think that they hate one another. Maybe I’m wrong, but I know they still have to visit South America. I guess that will tell us.

matador 21 pavement 0057 A Lost Weekend in Vegas: CoS vs. Matador at 21

I lined up for Sonic Youth stage-right, because I knew that was where Malkmus had been positioning himself. Many other photographers had this same idea, but Malkmus came out and played “Grounded” with his back to us and facing the opposite side of the stage. After this song, they began changing something in the drums (Spiral Stairs also had some sound trouble, the beginning of a curse that seemed to take over that side of the stage, which some people attributed to Thurston Moore’s barrage of guitar noise) and Malkmus killed time by playing “Perfect Depth”, which was one of many rarer songs played this evening, including “AT&T” as an amazing closer that featured Malkmus leaving his voice on the stage with his reaching screeches.

Then Malkmus spun his microphone around, and began playfully posing throughout the rest of the set for the hungry crowd. As far a the reunion goes, it was a strange setlist (heavy on E.P. songs, Brighten The Corners) and offered less playfulness, but if there is ever a bright spotlight on Stephen Malkmus, I would hope that he would shy away from it. Maybe his band will always begrudge the man that right, but it is his right. Because without him, honestly, no one would care.

Setlist: Grounded, Perfect Depth, Stereo, Elevate Me Later, Shady Lane, Conduit for Sale, Starlings of The Slipstream, Box Elder, Unfair, Fin, Kennel District, Cut Your Hair, Two States, Gold Soundz, She Believes, Range Life, Stop Breathin’, Heckler Spray, Shoot The Singer, AT&T

Fucked Up Vs. Ted Leo and the Pharmacists

matador 21 ted leo vs fucked up 0013 A Lost Weekend in Vegas: CoS vs. Matador at 21

Though Chavez and Sonic Youth killed it, this after-party was the most fun I had all weekend. Now, I didn’t grow up listening to punk or hardcore, and in all honesty, I would never put Black Flag on for pure enjoyment. But I have a profound respect for the scene and what it meant, and both Fucked Up and Ted Leo and the Pharmacists may not be embraced by the punk scene, but they live its ideals everyday and preach its gospel to anyone that will listen. It was fitting these two would play a “versus” set, when really it was about unity and community, with both bands playing together when appropriate and genuinely enjoying themselves.

The setlists included tunes from other Matador artists (Leo covering Liz Phair, Fucked Up tackling a tribute to Jay Reatard, both with Mission of Burma’s “That’s When I Reach For My Revolver”) as well as a wide range of punk-rooted material (Superchunk’s Job Wurster providing guest-Danzig duties on the Misfits’ “We Bite”, both groups jamming out “Rise Above” together, Fucked Up providing a ferocious version of Nirvana’s “Breed”, and Leo using his own material as a stepping stone for guest appearances from Sally Crewe and Tom Sharpling with “Bottled In Cork”). The affair felt intimate, but more importantly it felt like a party, which was the whole point, right? It was nice to see two bands, who notably were in town for the entire weekend, not lose sight of that.


And Harlem kept the party going. Though the audience was not particularly large (it had to be near 3 a.m.), Harlem asked the now noticeably drunk crowd to move in close. Harlem put everyone at ease by hoping that everyone was as drunk as they were. They didn’t play like it, though, as they put together the standout set from the young bands on the bill. They even came with their own trio of dancing drunk girls who played cute and spilled their beers.

matador 21 harlem 0021 A Lost Weekend in Vegas: CoS vs. Matador at 21

But Harlem, a band I expected nothing from, were pretty damn good. Despite their difficult set-time, they seemed enthusiastic and their sloppy , 60’s-inspired garage rock was suited for a smaller gathering anyway. It felt like a Black Lips show where the band didn’t ry to fight you. It was enough to keep me in the building for their entire set, though not enough to make me stay for more Guitar Wolf.

matadorthumb A Lost Weekend in Vegas: CoS vs. Matador at 21I always claim to never get star-struck, but it might just be because I am a little shy. Either way, if I saw a musician on the street, 99 times out of 100 I wouldn’t stop him to chat or shake his hand (noted 1% exception occurred recently while walking by Jason Lytle, stopping to tell him that I was a big fan and then accidentally insulting him by stating that his performance that night was much better than the previous show of his that I had witnessed). And I didn’t really speak to much of anyone besides random concertgoers, who tended to be in the music industry in some way, instead preferring to watch fans live out their dreams. From Ted Leo taking the time to meet fans after his late-night set to Mitch Mitchell walking out and giving autographs before the Guided By Voices finale, the artists knew the dedication and cost that the attendees had absorbed to be there and besides showing their appreciation for their label, also showed appreciation for the reason the label exists: the fans. Ultimately, I was reminded of those fantasy baseball camps where you get a base-running lesson from Pete Rose and Mike Schmidt helps you refine your swing. But, instead, you got to hug a New Pornographer.

There were plenty of other reminders of the appreciation throughout the weekend. Saturday night’s after-party featured free Miller Light. Throughout the weekend, the top level record and merchandise stores offered signing sessions from the artists; everyone from Sonic Youth to members of Pavement. And there seemed to be no backstage corridors, as I rode elevators with both Fucked Up and Superchunk. Indeed there also seemed to be a lack of artist hospitality, unless they were given comps at the food court. Or maybe some artists were so grateful they wanted to eat with the fans, too. Doubtful.

matador 21 general 0012 A Lost Weekend in Vegas: CoS vs. Matador at 21

Even the merchandise was made to impress, with each attendee receiving a free tote bag that held a program, a Matador pin, and a special 12-inch vinyl. I’ll let you guys hunt for what is on it, but it’s cool. Lastly, seven different artists created posters for the festival, each limited to only 200 prints. Most were sold-out by the end of the weekend and I’m keeping mine above my bed until I meet a woman who can convince me to get something more tasteful.

From the event being inside a hotel, to the in and out privileges, being off the strip and even the parking at the resort, everything gleamed with convenience. Any gripes that were heard on the first day had been silenced by the last. Yes, Matador at 21 succeeded big time at being a crowd-pleaser.

Saturday, October 2nd


I have seen Girls quite a few times and think their debut album is just fantastic. That being said, the conclusion of their hump-day kickoff set left a sour taste in my mouth. After beginning the show by admitting that they barely squeaked in to the main event and showing genuine gratitude for being able to participate, singer Christopher Owens ended the show by pleading with the other founding member, J.R. White to return to the stage.

matador 21 girls 0019 A Lost Weekend in Vegas: CoS vs. Matador at 21

The set began with a nice wakeup-call with “Laura” and then seemed to be content to lull the audience to sleep with a number of slow songs. Sure the crowd was sparce, but I was surprised to see the band so subdued. This, though, appeared to be a trick, as the band finished “Hellhole Ratrace” with its typical noise-jam and was about to kick into “Morning Light” and “Lust For Life”, basically signalling a complete change in the set and finishing with wow factor, like a boxer applying the knockout while the opponent was unsuspecting. And it would have worked, which is probably why White was so upset when his guitar began having technical problems (yes, in the same spot as Stairs). And though he grabbed a tambourine from the drum kit to finish-up “Morning Light”, his momentary making-due was indeed momentary, as he threw the tambourine to the ground at the conclusion of the number and stormed off stage. After his pleas were ignored, Owens led the band through the concluding number and left the crowd to draw their own conclusions about the state of the San Francisco group. Please note that alleged band fights at this point of the festival equalled the number of reunions.


matador 21 come 0005 A Lost Weekend in Vegas: CoS vs. Matador at 21

Okay, reunions went back ahead, and for good. Come, like Guitar Wolf, was a band I wasn’t really familiar with and their set didn’t really change that. It sounded like Chavez meets Hole and had a few rabid fans, particularly the coked-up dude next to me who kept yelling “Boston”. But the set seemed to please those who wanted to be pleased, and I think that was the point of the weekend. Making new fans would only be a bonus.

The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion

matador 21 jon spenser blues explosion 0008 A Lost Weekend in Vegas: CoS vs. Matador at 21

Man, Jon Spencer must get a lot of ass. He does this cool dip and pop move that looks almost like the splits but isn’t, plus he has awesome sideburns and plays music professionally. The only thing that might deter the ladies is his seeming lack of a vocabulary outside the words “baby” and “blues explosion”. Sometimes he curses, too. But I have a feeling it doesn’t matter once they see the kneeling-dance-move-thingie. I’ve never much enjoyed The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion on record, but live they are a force to be reckoned with; hopefully this comeback lasts a little while.

Perfume Genius

Talk about shit luck. I have been pretty vocal about Perfume Genius. I adore their debut album. But scheduling the duo performing songs of a deeply personal nature involving sexual abuse, drugs, and suicide was not appropriate considering the party that Jon Spencer tried to incite minutes earlier. The funeral-like silence was broken only when “Mr. Peterson” tells of the eponymous teacher’s jump off a building, which one listener in the back must have not seen coming, because he yelled “Holy shit” like a football fan after a punishing, blindsided hit. Unsuspecting or drunk witnesses were forced to muffle laughter, to varying degrees of success. It was perfect for Cat Power, who didn’t have to change the mood on her own, but Perfume Genius’ primary entity Mike Hadreas acknowledged the morose sheet that had wrapped the room by introducing the final songs as “party jams.”

matador 21 perfume genius 0004 A Lost Weekend in Vegas: CoS vs. Matador at 21

I was still able to appreciate the delicate beauty in the songs as well as notice the two lovers silently admiring each other and occasionally staring at the other when the other wasn’t looking. I even had to hold back sympathy tears when Hadreas lost composure on two occasions. When do you see someone perform art about themselves that can move the artist to tears, outside of a creative writing class? By the time they reach a real audience, most artists are taught to bury the personal stuff deep to avoid these kind of situations. I’m sure glad we get to see Hadreas learn this for himself, because certainly he will follow similar raw talents, like Conor Oberst, away from such personal pieces as his craft matures.

Cat Power

matador 21 cat power 0001 A Lost Weekend in Vegas: CoS vs. Matador at 21

So, Cat Power was my dinner break, but I have to note that she seemed in a way better mood than at Outside Lands. I watched her open with her version of “Satisfaction” and second-guessed leaving for dinner as the singer smiled and gave off confidence that simply wasn’t present as she hid in the corner of the stage in San Francisco. I hear mixed things about the rest of her performance once the full band arrived.


Somehow, I misjudged timing at my hotel and missed the opening chunk of Superchunk. Heh, see what I did there? Plus, fellow Los Angeles music guy Andrew Youseff planted doubt in my head, noting that Cat Power hates being photographed and demands personal photo approval, thus causing me to stay for her set to start and get a few shots in. Anyways, I digress.

On Saturday the combination of too much rock and roll, elevation change and not enough sleep due to feverish writing and well, being in Las Vegas finally hit me like a ton of bricks. But the Superchunk that I did catch completely kicked ass.

The group has to be in their forties, but play like kids, jumping and yelping like teenagers trying to impress a pretty girl at a battle of the bands. But I think what really made the Superchunk set so memorable was the new songs, which hold their own against the back catalog. “Digging for Something” and “My Gap Feels Weird” could be on current alternative radio if they were made by twenty-year-olds, but note that Superchunk is not trying make the music of today’s youth. They are simply making the same style of music that they have been creating for a couple decades. It’s not their fault that pop-rock finally caught up with them…or maybe it is?

Setlist: Throwing Things, Skip Steps 1&3, My Gap Feels Weird, Digging For Something, Detroit Has a Skyline, Seed Toss, Mower, Learned To Surf, Cast Iron, Slack Motherfucker, Precision Auto


I had just seen Spoon perform their most important Matador release, the Soft Effects E.P.,  in Los Angeles, so I figured I knew what was coming for this set. Well, I guess technically I did, but it wasn’t the part of the L.A. show that I expected. Though they did open with “Mountain To Sound”, the set then went pretty much like the main Palladium set. Maybe time constraints came into play?

matador 21 spoon 0016 A Lost Weekend in Vegas: CoS vs. Matador at 21

But it was a perfectly fine set that would have been more enjoyable if I had not just seen it two days prior. And if I wasn’t about ready to pass out. But they did give one surprise in their lovely tribute to Jay Reatard, a Matador artist who died earlier this year (and opened for the band this past New Year’s in Milwaukee). Their version of “No Time”, the single released in 2008 for the label, was low-key but apt and ultimately affecting, showing an appreciation not for Matador the label, but for the artists who make it a truly special entity. A shame that not everyone was there to celebrate.

Belle & Sebastian

I was dead tired and seriously contemplated bailing on Belle & Sebastian. Yes, I know they are one of my all-time favorite bands, but that should give you an idea how tired I was. But I am glad I stayed, as the opening sounds of “I Didn’t See It Coming” brought me back to life and soon I was circling the theater looking for camera angles once again.

The Scottish group has produced some of the finest work Matador has to offer, and of all the headliners, they are the most well rounded and most professional. They are also the only ones still recording new material, which affected the set strangely. I noted when recently reviewing their new album that Write About Love seemed like a continuation of Dear Catastrophe Waitress, ignoring their last album’s shifts. And the live show reinforces that, which included four tunes from Waitress while offering only one tune from The Life Pursuit and most other old albums. So with more than half the set devoted to some of my least favorite material and the rest featuring the songs you’d expect them to play, the set was not up to par with the performances they were pulling out in 2006.

matador 21 belle and sebastian 0004 A Lost Weekend in Vegas: CoS vs. Matador at 21

But I won’t whine. The set was fun above all and Stuart Murdoch is one of the most engaging and comforting frontmen in business. He took some lucky fans on stage and made them dancers for two numbers, then gave them all gold medals for their trouble. He also threw footballs into the crowd, hitting the top balcony, and proving his worth as an athlete. The crowd was pleased and I left feeling better, but in no way up for the afterparty. My apologies to Esben and The Wolf, Cold Cave, and Dead Meadow.

Setlist: I Didn’t See It Coming, I’m A Cuckoo, Step Into My Office, Baby, The State I Am In, I’m Not Living In The Real World, Piazza, New York Catcher, Write About Love, Sukie In The Graveyard, There’s Too Much Love, The Boy With The Arab Strap, If You Find Yourself Caught In Love, Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying, Sleep The Clock Around,(break), Me and the Major

matadorthumb A Lost Weekend in Vegas: CoS vs. Matador at 21If I ended up leaving Matador at 21 no longer on the Guided By Voices fence, firmly planted on the side of support for indie music’s butt-rockers, Sunday would have been the clear-cut standout of the festival. Even with not being into the GBV set, Sunday only narrowly loses to Friday, if only because Friday had higher highs and less-low lows, while Sunday was a more consistent show. That, and the Leo V. Fucked Up was seriously a bizarre, once in a lifetime spectacle that made me not only like the artists involved more, but actually appreciate music more in general, if that were even possible.

And while I was going to reserve this space to talk about all the issues I had with the festival, aside from technical issues that occur at any fest, there were few to no problems. The M.C. on Friday sucked, and actually, next time go with no M.C.s, period. It just makes the fans impatient and costs you money. Dim the lights and have the band walk-on like everywhere else.

But even as I wrap up this article, the lack of controversy and the general reliability of the music veterans involved left little to write about. While so much of the event was good, very few sets left me thinking “I want to tell someone about that.” Not to play spoiler, but Yo La Tengo had a set I wanted to talk about, as did Leo in both his roles. Sonic Youth, Pavement, Harlem, and Chavez had interesting sets, but not quite as shareable. Perfume Genius and Girls had different struggles, but they fascinated me nonetheless. Otherwise, everything was pretty good, but not meaty material, as you will see most writers for this event use lists or gimmicks to avoid duller moments and focus on the 10 or so happenings that left a lasting impression.

matador 21 ted leo vs fucked up 0019 A Lost Weekend in Vegas: CoS vs. Matador at 21

That is not to say I didn’t fucking love it. I was thankful for every minute, except maybe the Spoon-sleepys that hit hard. And I’d go again in a second. But maybe last summer’s seemingly-endless parade of weekend outdoor festivals toughened me up and made Matador seem too safe and easy… No that’s not it. I think it was more humbling to be in the presence of so much talent and dedication and inspiring commitment to stay true to both your ideals and your business partners, that to criticize seemed to miss the point and to shower with hyperbole would be disrespectful.

Besides Interpol, who had scheduled overseas dates at the time, the label got most of their core to come out, as well as former members like Spoon and Superchunk. And even if it was just an obligatory appearance, no one made The New Pornographers show up two days early or newbie Ted Leo play every set that would have him. No one made Matt Sweeney stick around to jam with Guided By Voices or Pink Eye check out Kurt Vile on Sunday afternoon. No, these artists seemed like family. Sure, some of the members hate each other, but they still all show up to Thanksgiving. And this Thanksgiving, a couple thousand of us got in on the feast, too.

Sunday, October 3rd

Kurt Vile

matador 21 kurt vile 0008 A Lost Weekend in Vegas: CoS vs. Matador at 21

After a solid night of rest, I made it to the matinee for Kurt Vile‘s surprisingly sharp set. First of all, I had previously seen Vile as a solo act and thought that was it, so I was prepared for a sleepy acoustic affair. But when the foursome of people, who may or may not actually have faces, performed, they gave credence to all the positive attention artists and critics bestow on Vile. I didn’t know any of the songs, can’t say that I am dying to listen to more of his music, but I wasn’t bored or pissed, which says a lot on day three of a festival.

Times New Viking

matador 21 times new viking 0001 A Lost Weekend in Vegas: CoS vs. Matador at 21

Now, people get down on Times New Viking for being noisy and abrasive on record, but this was the reason I made my way to the matinee. And though they do replicate the lo-fi distortion in the guitar tones and mic levels, the chief problem I have with this band is not the noise, but the volume. I hate how I can’t get their albums loud enough and if I even dared put one of their cuts on a mix, all hell would break loose in my car. This is not a problem with their live set, allowing the listeners to finally notice their songs are pretty great pop songs in the center. Pop songs with hissing and static and occasional feedback and fuzz. You know, the best kind.


matador 21 shearwater 0007 A Lost Weekend in Vegas: CoS vs. Matador at 21

If Girls had it rough with their turnout as first-band-on-stage on Saturday, Shearwater might as well have not even shown up, playing to maybe 100 people at the start. But that didn’t stop Jonathan Meiburg and his cohorts from putting their all into their set, which seemed like an abridged version of their show I had previously seen at Spaceland. The big difference was that they focused on their louder and more upbeat tracks, and unlike Girls, they didn’t wait until the battle was nearly lost to win over the crowd. “Black Eyes” is a confident opener, “Castaways” sounded great, and the one-two punch of “Rooks” and “Century Eyes” are enough to win over most skeptics. A solid set that too many people missed.

Setlist: Black Eyes, Landscape at Speed, Castaways, Corridors, Hidden Lakes, Home Life, Rooks, Century Eyes, Seventy-Four, Seventy-Five, Uniforms

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists

Ted Leo was the MVP of the weekend. Though he only joined Matador recently, the man made his presence felt with the classic versus performance, a later jam with Liz Phair, an apparent killer karaoke jam, and one of the weekend’s best sets. I don’t know if it was a standard set for Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, but from the opener of his most-beloved song, “Where Have All The Rudeboys Gone” to another duet with Sally Crewe for the extended ending of ‘Bottled in Cork”, Leo had the crowd feeling his enthusiasm for music. And that is maybe what the weekend was for him, not just a celebration of Matador, but a celebration of the little guy actually lasting, of achieving hard earned success and of doing things the right way rather than the easy way.

matador 21 ted leo and the rx 0020 A Lost Weekend in Vegas: CoS vs. Matador at 21

For the conclusion of his set, which featured an emphasis on Matador released The Brutalist Bricks, A.C. Newman joined Leo for a rendition of Nick Lowe’s “I Love My Label”, which saw Leo sitting on a monitor to really reach the crowd. He told a story that could have been taped as a commercial for the weekend, as it succinctly provided an explanation for why we were all there. I’d ruin it if I tried to recount it, but it involved Matt Sweeney and his introduction to Matador and how he had been on quite a number of labels and that Matador, like other indies, love music and love artists and provide an atmosphere for them to create. He then bolted into the crowd while Newman kept the song going from the stage, letting the crowd in on the lovefest.

And he has a point. But the point he didn’t make is that if you look at the Matador roster, while its list of up and comers are remarkable, like non-attendees Delorean and Magic Kids, in addition to the list of bands that have stayed with them for decades, like Belle & Sebastian and The New Pornographers, what’s really most impressive, is how the label can sign vets who could be on any label they want (and have seen many different labels throughout their career) but still choose Matador. Sonic Youth and Ted Leo & The Pharmacists prove that Matador does something that musicians respond to. We’d probably have to work for them to really understand it, but magic happens when Matador is involved, that’s for sure.

matador 21 ted leo and the rx 0025 A Lost Weekend in Vegas: CoS vs. Matador at 21

Setlist: Where Have All the Rude Boys Gone?, Even Heroes Have to Die, The Stick, Me and Mia, Bottled in Cork, Woke Up Near Chelsea, The Ballad of the Sin Eater, I Love My Label (Nick Lowe cover)

The New Pornographers

I saw the Canadian power-pop supergroup over the summer in Los Angeles, but was there to interview Meric Long of The Dodos and didn’t get to write about The New Pornographers, one of my long-time favorites. I was disappointed in their enthusiasm and sound at the earlier date, but the Sunday set seemed anything but phoned-in. Like the Shearwater story, A.C. Newman’s story about “Challengers” being about meeting his wife was something that I had heard before, but what I didn’t know was that she was a Matador employee, but not for long as he joked, “No wife of mine will work for Matador Records”. Certain crowd members were shocked to see Dan Bejar join the group, seemingly high as hell, and deliver his barroom renditions of “Myriad Harbor” and “Testament To Youth In Verse” (introduced by Neko Case after a profession of love to Matador as “a song about Dan’s hatred”).

matador 21 the new pornographers 0025 A Lost Weekend in Vegas: CoS vs. Matador at 21

There were technical problems, with Case being too low in volume early on and Calder having the same issue when her moment to shine arrived during “Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk”, but the setlist was more than satisfying, including “Letter To An Occupant” and surprising opener, “The Slow Descent Into Alcoholism”. But most importantly, the band looked like they were having fun (they were also one of the groups that could be seen taking part in the entire weekend). If the New Pornos are anything, they are jovial jokesters onstage and it was nice to see that playfullness and joy still visible, and that the L.A. show was hopefully a fluke.

Setlist: The Slow Descent Into Alcoholism, Myriad Harbour, Crash Years, Sing Me Spanish Techno, Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk, Silver Jenny Dollar, Use It, Challengers, Testament to Youth in Verse, Moves, Letter From an Occupant, The Bleeding Heart Show

Yo La Tengo

I hadn’t really seen Yo La Tengo before. Well I had, but it was the last part of an opening slot for Bright Eyes and though I thought I’d catch most of their set, it turned out to be just one really long song (“The Story of Yo La Tengo”). So after opening with my favorite YLT jam, “Here To Fall”, guess what song began? Yep, “The Story of Yo La Tengo”. But, I can’t complain, because Ira Kaplan went ballistic during this jam and absolutely killed it. Kaplan is an under the radar guitar hero that will hopefully receive his due from the next generation of musicians who need not look farther for an inspiration and influence.

matador 21 yo la tengo 0010 A Lost Weekend in Vegas: CoS vs. Matador at 21

The rest of their set was a little more light-hearted, as they performed a cover of “Nuclear War” with changed lyrics, so as to include the employees of the record label. “You Can Have It All” was fully choreographed and fully ridiculous, but “Nothing To Hide” saw perhaps the strongest side of the trio: genuine rock band. The recent tune, with its mantra of “harder not faster” could some up the work ethic of the label; not looking for a quick check but hoping the hard work pays off. While it may not get you into arenas, it gets a couple thousand enthusiasts to fork over their savings for a recapturing of the last 21 years.

Setlist: Our Way to Fall, The Story of Yo La Tango, Nuclear War (Sung As Matador Tribute), Autumn Sweater, Mr. Tough, You Can Have It All, Shaker, Nothing to Hide, Sugarcube, Blue Line Swinger

Guided By Voices

Lots of people loved this set, and I’ll give it that it was enthusiastic, but it also felt a little over-bloated, a little dinosaurish, and mildly self-absorbed. Maybe it was the crowd, with the arena rock atmosphere and “G-B-V” chants that got me to question, or the fact that I still have no desire to revisit some of these classic albums after watching the set (unlike Superchunk or Yo La Tengo), but I didn’t really get the whole event. Guided By Voices seemed like old men trying to relive the past, where Chavez or even the less-than-sharp Pavement were able to find their youth on the same stage.

matador 21 guided by voices 0001 A Lost Weekend in Vegas: CoS vs. Matador at 21

But I can’t really hold Guided By Voices responsible for me being unable to relate to them. The band is a year younger than I am, and many of the touchstones (Robert Pollards leg kicks, Mitch Mitchell’s non-stop theatrics) are long out of date, but I don’t think I am the target audience. Point being: the matadorks ate it up. The sign above the band read the “club is open” and the band turned the still-polished Pearl into any bar in America. Fans seem to think the setlist was amazing, for me the weekend was already over and I patiently waited for the men to fatigue and end early, which they didn’t, going well-over curfew once again (every night did!) and leaving the die-hards feeling that the year’s vacation was worth it. Now, how was it not possible to sellout The Wiltern on the next night? Though their fans are rabid, they are still few.

matador 21 guided by voices 0005 A Lost Weekend in Vegas: CoS vs. Matador at 21

Setlist: A Salty Salute, Shocker in Gloomtown, Tractor Rape Chain, Pimple Zoo, Closer You Are, Buzzards and Dreadful Crows, My Valuable Hunting Knife, Cut-Out Witch, Hot Freaks, Lethargy, Weedking, A Good Flying Bird, Motor Away, Striped White Jets, Matter Eater Lad, The Goldheart Mountaintop Queen Directory, Gold Star for Robot Boy, Awful Bliss,14 Cheerleader Coldfront, My Impression Now, I Am a Scientist, My Son Cool, Echos Myron, Game of Pricks, Exit Flagger, Unleashed! The Large-Hearted Boy, (break), Johnny Appleseed, Smothered in Hugs, Don’t Stop Now (break), Quality of Armor, Some Drilling Implied

Gallery by Philip Cosores

[nggallery id=126]