Thursday, October 7th, 2010
Matador At 21: The Lost Weekend Day Three
Guided By Voices, Yo La Tengo, Liz Phair and more at Matador at 21
Frank YangIf there’s an upside to getting a full night’s sleep after turning in at 5AM, it’s that it eliminates a lot of the decision-making around what to do with one’s day. Hauling my ass out of bed at almost 1PM meant that all I had to do for the last day of Matador at 21 was shower, cram myself with enough food to get me through till the wee hours of the morning and stand in line waiting for the doors to the Pearl to open. Easy peasy.
The weekend’s grand finale was led of by Shearwater, who this show and ACL aside, were taking a short break before a final, extensive November tour in support of this year’s The Golden Archipelago. And if this performance was any indication, the US cities on that itinerary had best be prepared for a Shearwater that’s making a strong argument for themselves as a rock band. I’d seen Shearwater a number of times through a number of lineups, including their last visit to Toronto in April, but this was the most punchy and aggressive I can recall hearing them and that they were able to convey that kind of energy and dynamicism without compromising the majesty and mystery that makes up so much of their appeal was really remarkable.
Photos: Shearwater @ Pearl at The Palms – October 3, 2010
MP3: Shearwater – “Black Eyes”
MP3: Shearwater – “Castaways”
MP3: Shearwater – “Rooks”
MP3: Shearwater – “The Snow Leopard”
MP3: Shearwater – “Red Sea, Black Sea”
MP3: Shearwater – “Seventy-Four, Seventy-Five”
MP3: Shearwater – “I Can’t Wait”
MP3: Shearwater – “Room For Mistakes”
MP3: Shearwater – “An Accident”
Though only a recent signee to Matador with this year’s Brutalist Bricks, Ted Leo seemed to have been anointed man-about-fest and label ambassador for the weekend – he was ubiquitous at events and after parties, guesting in MC sketches, karakoeing and generally seemed to be having a great time, as someone who’s finally found a stable home after being on way too many failing labels reasonably would. That positive energy gave his set a distinctly different vibe than the last time I saw him in June during a totally different kind of insane weekend. Highlights included bringing Sally Crewe out to add vocals and tambourine to “Bottled In Cork”, a rampaging “Ballad Of The Sin Eater”, the best one-liner of the weekend (“this is champagne, not my own urine”) and being joined by Carl Newman for a closing cover of “I Love My Label”, though delivered sincerely rather than ironically as songwriter Nick Lowe had intended. This weekend, we all loved his label.
Photos: Ted Leo & The Pharmacists @ Pearl at The Palms – October 3, 2010
MP3: Ted Leo & The Pharmacists – “Bottled In Cork”
MP3: Ted Leo & The Pharmacists – “The Mighty Sparrow”
MP3: Ted Leo & The Pharmacists – “Even Heroes Have To Die”
MP3: Ted Leo & The Pharmacists – “Bomb Repeat Bomb (1954)”
MP3: Ted Leo & The Pharmacists – “The Sons Of Cain”
MP3: Ted Leo & The Pharmacists – “Me & Mia”
MP3: Ted Leo & The Pharmacists – “Where Have All The Rude Boys Gone?”
MP3: Ted Leo & The Pharmacists – “Squeaky Fingers”
MP3: Ted Leo & The Pharmacists – “Under The Hedge”
MP3: Ted Leo & The Pharmacists – “Come Baby Come”
MP3: Ted Leo & The Pharmacists – “Under The Hedge” (Treble In Trouble)
I had spent much of the weekend playing The New Pornographer bingo and had managed to spot half the lineup in the wild before they took the stage. I was excited not just because they were one of only two Canadian acts in the lineup – gotta have some national pride – but because I hadn’t yet seen them on tour for Together. Whereas some of their label peers were using the occasion to do something a little different, be it a guest appearance, deep cut or cover, the Pornographers instead went for maximum content, cramming a dozen of their biggest, hookiest songs into their allotted time. Things were hampered a bit by a questionable mix that was far too light on the vocals for a band with so many great vocalists, but the sheer concentration of tunes and the presence of a happy and chatty Neko Case and a Dan Bejar who didn’t look like he wanted to bolt for the nearest exit as soon as his song was done made for a great set that finished with the unbeatable one-two punch of “Letter From An Occupant” and “Bleeding Heart Show”.
Photos: The New Pornographers @ Pearl at The Palms – October 3, 2010
MP3: The New Pornographers – “Your Hands (Together)”
MP3: The New Pornographers – “My Rights Versus Yours”
MP3: The New Pornographers – “Myriad Harbour”
MP3: The New Pornographers – “Twin Cinema”
MP3: The New Pornographers – “The Laws Have Changed”
Of all the acts playing this weekend, the most intriguing was Liz Phair, who was originally listed as a performer when Matador 21 was announced, then mysteriously removed, then added again weeks later. The prodigal daughter, whose disastrous major label reinvention is used as a cautionary tale for others considering same, had been out of the public eye for some years but was apparently staging a comeback with the recent release of the perplexing and deliberately awful Funstyle and upcoming unearthing of the legendary Girlysound recordings on October 19 (as a bonus disc to the physical release of Funstyle, natch). Who would show up? The mainstream pop punch line or the revered indie queen? Would she be welcomed with arms open or crossed? The answer to both was clear when she strode out on stage, looking as great as ever, to huge applause. And in return, she opened with “Supernova” and the great Liz Phair resurrection was underway. Playing with just a second guitarist, the rest of her set was made up of highlights from Exlie In Guyville and Whip Smart that culminated in a terrific duet with Ted Leo on “Fuck & Run”. In the course of a 20-minute set, Liz Phair was able to largely erase the last 10 years from our memories and remind us why we cared so much about her in the first place. Where she takes things from here is anyone’s guess but either way – welcome back, Liz.
It must have been some bad luck the first couple of times I saw Yo La Tengo live because those shows, way back in the early part of this century, gave me the impression that the trio were first mates on the USS No Fun, so sullen and inward did they seem at those performances. But the music keeps bringing me back and every show since then – particularly in recent years – has been better and better as they’ve found a good balance between the extended jams and the pop gems, the deep cuts and the fan favourites. And while they still seem prone to bouts of moodiness, when they’re feeling good their shows are great and at Matador 21, they were feeling good. The trio – as synonymous a band with Matador as ever there was one – started off with the slow-burning “Our Way To Fall” but all the many sides of Yo La Tengo were represented, including the organ-driven “Autumn Sweater”, the goofy synchronized dance-move enhanced “You Can Have It All”, the eternally wonderful “Sugarcube” and epic drone-to-freakout finale “Blue Line Swinger”. I’d commented earlier in the day that the shortened set time might force them to stay focused and hopefully “Nuclear War”, which had been a 20-minute nadir of the worst Yo La Tengo show I’d ever seen, would be omitted but they made be eat my words as the Sun Ra cover was indeed in the set but flipped around lyrically to shout out to every member of the Matador staff. Hilarious and perfect.
Photos: Yo La Tengo @ Pearl at The Palms – October 3, 2010
MP3: Yo La Tengo – “Here To Fall”
MP3: Yo La Tengo – “Periodically Double Or Triple”
MP3: Yo La Tengo – “Pass The Hatchet, I Think I’m Goodkind”
MP3: Yo La Tengo – “Beanbag Chair”
MP3: Yo La Tengo – “The Summer” (live on KEXP)
MP3: Yo La Tengo – “I Feel Like Going Home” (live on KCMP)
MP3: Yo La Tengo – “Little Eyes”
MP3: Yo La Tengo – “Don’t Have To Be So Sad”
MP3: Yo La Tengo – “From A Motel 6”
And finally, at long last, after three days or six years – whichever you like – it was time for Guided By Voices. It wasn’t the first time I’d seen them – I caught one of their final tours, and the last to come to Canada, back in the Summer of 2002 at the Horseshoe – but certainly the first time with this “classic” lineup associated with their very best mid-’90s records. To be honest, I was less excited about the who that was going to be performing, though the presence of Tobin Sprout was a definite plus, than the what – a set made up of exclusively pre-1996 material was going to be pretty sweet. My anticipation was nothing compared to many of those in around me, though, waiting for that iconic “The Club Is Open” neon sign to light up. It seems that there had been convoys of Bud Light-wielding proto-bros from Ohio to Nevada and they spent the entire weekend to this point out in the parking lot having a giant tailgate party. That things were going to get rowdy was a foregone conclusion, as was the fact that my spot right up against the stage – claimed and held onto for the past seven hours or so – would get pretty painful as a result. But these are the prices you pay in the name of rock.
And it was indeed rock. Guided By Voices have never been a young band and were clearly even less so now – Robert Pollard in particular looking older than his
57 53 years – but they clearly weren’t going to let a little thing like age slow them down, at least not while they were on stage. Pollard had all his signature moves ready to go – the mic twirl, the skipping, the scissor kick – and he wasn’t even the most enthusiastic of the band. That honour went to guitarist Mitch Mitchell, who was so gleeful to be back out there with his windmills and rock poses, it was as though he’d been waiting by his phone for the reunion call for the past 14 years; bassist Greg Demos’ enthusiasm levels weren’t far off. Sprout, on the other hand, was more reserved with an amused professorial air about him but I suspect that was the case 15 years ago as well. I couldn’t see drummer Kevin Fennell behind his kit, but I will assume he was having a good time.
It wasn’t the old days – the mandatory cooler of beer wasn’t tapped in to nearly as much as it might have been a decade ago and with this being just their third show, the 90-minute set was a far cry from the 3-hour marathons they were once known for – but they certainly couldn’t be accused of not trying their damnedest. 30 songs ranging that dipped into more obscure EPs, but mostly they gave everyone what they wanted to hear – gem upon gem from Propeller, Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes. I would have liked to hear more from Under The Bushes, Under The Stars but couldn’t tell you at the cost of what selections. A show without “My Valuable Hunting Knife”, “Echoes Myron”, “Game Of Pricks” or “Gold Star For Robot Boy” would have been unthinkable. The actual execution of said songs wasn’t perfect; more than once Pollard and his bandmates had to catch their breath and they weren’t overly tight, but even in their heyday slop was part of the mystique and so that it now came from rust rather than beer didn’t matter so much. What did matter was that this was Guided By Voices, one more time, and that they were the perfect cap to an outstanding weekend and something I thought I’d never experience – a good time in Vegas. See everyone at Matador @ 22? Olé.
Photos: Guided By Voices @ Pearl at The Palms – October 3, 2010
MP3: Guided By Voices – “Everyone Thinks I’m A Raincloud”
MP3: Guided By Voices – “Window Of My World”
MP3: Guided By Voices – “I’ll Replace You With Machines”
The Los Angeles Times, Las Vegas Weekly, The AV Club, Wall Street Journal and Rolling Stone have writeups of the final night’s festivities while Pitchfork, Entertainment Weekly and Spin opt for complete weekend feature pieces. Also check out the oral history of Matador at MySpace, a complete set of festival feature articles and interviews at Las Vegas Weekly and a list of acts who could have/should have played but didn’t and why not at Spinner.
And tomorrow, back to reality.