Tuesday, October 5th, 2010
Matador At 21: The Lost Weekend Day One
Pavement, Sonic Youth, Fucked Up and more at Matador at 21
Frank YangLas Vegas is the sort of place that everyone should go to once in their life, if just to bear witness to the astonishing and grotesque excess of the city. If you couldn’t tell, I am no great fan of the place and, having been there once as an adult some years back, I had been there, done that, eaten the deep-fried twinkie and had no need to ever go back. Matador Records, however, felt otherwise and so when the astonishingly stacked lineup for their 21st anniversary celebrations was announced earlier in the Summer, I begrudgingly made plans to return to Sin City.
And it was a hard deal to pass up. Beyond the sheer amount of indie rock royalty that was being crammed into three nights, there were packages that included rooms at the casino where everything was going down – The Palms – which as I learned was regarded as a party hotel even by Vegas standards and had a history of hosting such cultural watershed events as The Real World and hosting luminaries from Jersey Shore. But while the couple thousand Mata-fans who descended on Vegas Friday, Saturday and Sunday were but a drop in the ocean of decadence that was a normal weekend at The Palms, we were able to commandeer their fancy-pants Pearl concert theatre, fittingly located underground so as to keep the Morlocks apart from the Eloi, to celebrate the days when indie rock was called college rock.
The Friday night program was thankfully the most compact of the three, a thoughtful bit of consideration for those who traveled several time zones to be there (aside: Vegas is in the Pacific time zone, not Mountain, which is an interesting thing to discover when you land and it’s not what time you thought it was). But it was still as laden with great bands as you could hope for, though it was almost a little less laden before things even got started. In mid-afternoon, word was going around that Japan’s Guitar Wolf had had their flight delayed and weren’t going to make it in time to kick things off. Writing them off turned out to be premature, though, as they apparently opted to drive to Vegas rather than wait for a flight and were able to storm the stage with their leather pants and pure garage rock posture for an abbreviated but still incredibly bould electrifying set. Pretty great for a band that wasn’t even supposed to be there.
Next up were one of a few old-school Matador alumnus who had been largely inactive for the past decade but got it back together for the occasion – New York’s Chavez. Their aggressively mathy yet melodic sound was very much of the ‘90s but still undeniably potent. Led by Matt Sweeney’s vocals and Clay Tarver’s searing guitar lines, they played a tremendous energy you wouldn’t expect from a band that’s only occasionally active. Their compact set whipped the crowd into a delirium and offered a glimpse into what an alternate universe where these singles had been hits might have looked like – graying and clad in faded t-shirts, yes, but still delirious. I’d listened to a little Chavez in the past; clearly there’s a need to listen to a lot more.
Considering the veteran demographic of much of the attendees, it’s not surprising that Fucked Up seemed to be the designated pee break band. They were the only band representing the Matador new school on this night and even though they’ve succeeded as a sort of gateway hardcore act, they weren’t exactly classically Matador-sounding. And it’s just as well that some of the audience cleared out as it gave the youth contingent more room to lose their shit, which they did with gusto as Fucked Up provided the ideal soundtrack for shit-losing. As his bandmates churned out an unrelenting rock attack, frontman Pink Eyes was in fine form with a plastic cup smashed and stuck on his forehead for am impressively long time as he roamed the stage, bellowing and hollering all the while. The highlight of their set, though, wasn’t Fucked Up per se but one of their fans who went on an epic-length crowd surf that found him on stage singing with the band, back into the crowd, back on stage, out into a cluster of photographers (not a good idea we don’t have free hands and dropping you is a preferable scenario to dropping our gear), way out the far corners of the Pearl floor, back on stage and then heaved up fireman-style onto Damian Abraham’s shoulders and once more back into the crowd. No, this was not something you were likely to see during Belle & Sebastian’s set.
Sonic Youth have only been a Matador band for one record so far, but they certainly they shaped the landscape that allowed the label to exist and are spiritually intertwined on countless levels. But rather than focus on their official Matador material – last year’s The Eternal – they instead performed some revisionist history and adopted their back catalog with OLE numbers and delivered a jaw-dropping set of exclusively pre-1994 material in their original four-piece configuration, with Kim Gordon on bass full-time. The throwback song selections was a great contrast to their show at Massey Hall last year where they focused almost exclusively on the new material and while that was certainly a great show in its own right, this one was another level of riveting entirely. And maybe most terrifically, they closed out with a genuine, physical guitar duel as Lee Ranaldo dashed across the stage to cross guitar necks with Thurston Moore, laying flat on the stage. It was great to see the musical godfathers of nearly everyone playing this weekend still having fun like, well, youths.
The night closed with the reunion that a year ago no one ever thought would happen – Pavement – winding down a year of shows that had taken them around the world to claim some of the reward that largely eluded them when they were an active proposition in the ‘90s. And while Pavement 2010 has been a success by most standards, on this night there were clearly signs that the tensions that split them up a decade ago were resurfacing. Just one song into the set, some technical issues with Steve West’s drum kit opened up some dead time, prompting Steven Malkmus to invite Bob Nastaonovich to join him in an impromptu reading of “Perfect Depth” but not extending it to Scott Kannberg – whether it was an oversight or deliberate slight, only SM knows but the net result was an unhappy Spiral Stairs (credit to Prefix for catching it). Kannberg’s unhappiness boiled over when he stepped up for “Kennel District” and while Malkmus – who had earlier turned his mic stand so as to have his back to the band – rolled around on the floor covering his parts, Kannberg alternated verses with grimaces and by song’s end was fuming over perceived flubs, though it sounded fine in the audience.
Seething and palpable tensions aside, Pavement sounded great and their performance had an extra bit of looseness that wasn’t there when they played Pitchfork earlier in the Summer. Malkmus, in particular, was in a strangely goofy mood, cracking jokes and batting around the mic like a toy and Nastanovich was, well, Nastanovich, bounding around the stage like a kid while belting out his parts. The SM/SS dynamic would still be the biggest take-away from their set as Kannberg walked off stage a couple times before the set was done, only grudgingly returning to finish things off. It was a very Pavement moment that rather than have a properly grand finale prepared for their final North American show, they went with an off-the-cuff “AT&T” and, uncertain if they had any more time but down a guitarist, shuffled off stage. No handcuffs made an appearance but no one in attendance will likely be surprised if it’s announced that Pavement are, again, done. And for night one, despite some sweet-ass after party type events scheduled, I was also done.
Photos: Pavement @ Pearl at The Palms – October 1, 2010
MP3: Pavement – “Gold Soundz”
MP3: Pavement – “Rattled By The Rush”
MP3: Pavement – “Heckler Spray/In THe Mouth Of A Desert” (live)
MP3: Pavement – “All My Friends”
MP3: Pavement – “Greenlander”
You may note that no mention was made of the evening’s MC, Jeffrey Joe Jensen. This was deliberate.
eye talks to Fucked Up’s Damian Abraham at Matador at 21 while The New York Times considers the Pavement reunion and the band’s legacy. There’s more night one writeups at Las Vegas Weekly, The AV Club and Los Angeles Times. And loads more are out there, just look.