Wednesday, October 6th, 2010
Belle & Sebastian, Spoon, Superchunk and more at Matador at 21
Frank YangThe generally packed Matador At 21 schedule didn’t allow time for much activity beyond getting rocked and sleeping it off, but on Saturday I still managed to get away from The Palms and over to the strip with Dave Rawkblog and Brad Almanac for some Vegas-style (read: totally excessive) buffet and celebrity-sighting (Pete Rose and Tim Gunn were hanging at Caesar’s Palace while I bought a new mouse), and it’s a good thing that I loaded up before the evening’s festivities, because this day was going to be a long one.
So long that I had to skip out on the first mainstage act of the day – Girls – to take care of some business, and was okay with that. I’d seen them at Pitchfork and that was enough for a while. I did make sure to catch Come, however, seeing as how it was just the Boston quartet’s third show in 15 years. And yeah, it was a good thing I did as they played the role that Chavez had the night before of groundbreaking ’90s act whom if not for the relative misfortune of being ahead of their time, might have found a much greater audience. Led by Thalia Zedek and her worn, emotive voice, their set was heavy and atmospheric with her and Chris Brokaw’s guitars weaving through and around each other overtop the steady and grinding rhythm section. Like Chavez, Come were a band I tried out some time ago and couldn’t quite get into – their performance made me think it might be time to try again.
I figured I’d gotten enough The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion back at Pitchfork, but found I actually enjoyed this performance considerably more. Surely the setting was part of it – the JSBX are far more suited to playing dark, grungy clubs – or fancy theatres masquerading as dark, grungy clubs – than bright, sunlit afternoons at festivals, and being in their element definitely helped their vibe. They sounded jammier and greasier and angrier than they did there, that last one partly thanks to Spencer’s dissatisfaction with the sound onstage – at one point, he smashed his mic and tried (unsuccessfully) to sing through the kick drum mic. They eventually got things fixed in time for their big finish, but the stage crew was clearly unimpressed with Spencer exploding his blues all over their equipment and cut their set off at the earliest opportunity though they probably could have squeezed one more in. This wasn’t well-received by the audience, resulting in one drink thrown and one demonstration of the Pearl security’s lack of tolerance for thrown drinks.
Photos: The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion @ Pearl at The Palms – October 2, 2010
Video: The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion – “Dang”
Video: The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion – “Flavor”
Video: The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion – “Talk About The Blues”
While most of the performers at Matador at 21 were veterans that represented the pinnacle of the label’s roster, there were still a few new acts injected into the lineup, including one of their most recent signees – Perfume Genius. Though the piano duo, playing some songs on separate keyboards and some on the same, took the energy levels down several hundred notches following Jon Spencer’s over-the-top set, the stark beauty of their short set largely and impressively silenced a room that had been absolutely adrenalized minutes earlier. I tend to approach the sensitive, piano-based singer-songwriter thing with some trepidation, but I think Mike Hadreas is the real deal. They’re currently on tour in support of debut album LearningLearning and at the Drake Underground in Toronto tomorrow night. If you’re on the fence, let me nudge you towards yes.
The evening’s timetable had been overly optimistic in thinking that the simplicity of Perfume Genius’ setup would allow them to segue directly into Cat Power’s set, and the changeover and soundcheck ended up taking considerably longer than zero minutes and set things back by at least half an hour. Anyone hopes that the occasion would find Chan Marshall revisiting the days of Moon Pix and You Are Free evaporated when the band setup was clearly that of the Dirty Delta Blues Band that had supported her on the Jukebox tours but when her set finally got underway, there was a nod to those simpler, starker days as Chan offered her version of The Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” accompanying herself only on electric guitar. But then the guitar went away and the band came out and the rest of the set featured the southern soul diva Cat Power who dazzled on 2006’s The Greatest with a brace of largely unfamiliar songs and covers. I admit to having some reservations of her continuing on in this style as it puts too much focus on Cat Power the voice and that’s not nearly as compelling as Cat Power the songwriter but regardless, she sounded great, looked radiant and seemed pretty together save for some random repositioning of her mic stand.
When 2010 began, high up on my list of bands that I had yet to see (but really wanted to) was North Carolina’s Superchunk. I finally got to check that off thanks to their short but sweet set at SxSW in March, and as energized as they were there I clearly hadn’t seen anything yet. Playing half a year later with a terrific new record in Majesty Shredding and some touring under their belts, Superchunk were a rock revelation. Easily the most energetic performer of the weekend – and that’s saying something – the former Matador signees and current Merge masterminds incited a pogo party in the crowd, pounding out power punk gems from all points in their career, wrapping with an explosive “Precision Auto” and just generally being awesome. Superchunk. Super. Chunk. Can’t wait to make it a three-peat when they play the Sound Academy on December 9 opening up for and inevitably upstaging Broken Social Scene.
Photos: Superchunk @ Pearl at The Palms – October 2, 2010
MP3: Superchunk – “Digging For Something”
MP3: Superchunk – “Misfits & Mistakes”
MP3: Superchunk – “Never Too Young To Smoke”
MP3: Superchunk – “Rainy Streets”
MP3: Superchunk – “Becoming A Speck”
MP3: Superchunk – “Pink Clouds”
MP3: Superchunk – “Detroit Has A Skyline” (acoustic)
MP3: Superchunk – “Nu Bruises”
MP3: Superchunk – “Skip Steps 1 & 3”
Continuing the Matador-Merge cross-label summit were Spoon, who started their career on the former but found their fame on the latter. And like their label bosses and lead-in act, it’s kind of funny that I’d gone some five years without seeing Spoon live and here this was my third Spoon show in the past six months. This one wasn’t too different from those, with the band tight and taut and embellishing their sound with a locally-recruited horn section and guest percussionist. Their special treats for the occasion were a cover of the late Matador artist Jay Reatard’s “No Time” and a few seriously old-school back catalog selections including fan favourite “Car Radio”. Their set may not have offered a lot of surprises, but it certainly didn’t disappoint.
Photos: Spoon @ Pearl at The Palms – October 2, 2010
MP3: Spoon – “The Underdog”
MP3: Spoon – “I Turn My Camera On”
MP3: Spoon – “The Way We Get By”
MP3: Spoon – “This Book Is A Movie”
MP3: Spoon – “Mountain To Sound”
MP3: Spoon – “Chips & Dip”
MP3: Spoon – “Idiot Driver”
Oh, Belle & Sebastian. The only British act on the mainstage this weekend and really, not having a lot in common stylistically with most of the other performers but still big enough and beloved enough to rate closing out the second night’s programming. Their presence at this event was something of a surprise since they had been on an indefinite hiatus since 2006’s The Life Pursuit and Stuart Murdoch was devoting all his energies to last year’s God Help The Girl project. But it apparently doesn’t take long to get the band back together and though most would be happy just to have the band back, they’ve returned with one of their best records in some time with Write About Love, out next Tuesday and currently streaming at NPR. I’ll comment more on the record next week after their Toronto show at Massey Hall also on the 12th – for now, just their Vegas appearance.
And it’s a show that opened with a new song – “I Didn’t See It Coming”, the first track on the new record – and even if it was unfamiliar to most of the audience, the duet between Stuart Murdoch and Sarah Martin was immediate enough to announce that Belle & Sebastian were back and hadn’t lost a step in the time away. And if anyone had forgotten how good they were as a live band, they were well reminded by the Scots’ wonderful hour-fifteen set. In between songs that touched on every one of their albums, going back as far as their debut Tigermilk for “The State I Am In”, Murdoch and guitarist Stevie Jackson tossed off wonderful bits of banter to the audience and each other and Murdoch demonstrated his throwing arm by tossing autographed toy footballs into the crowd and later, audience members were enlisted to clap and dance through “There’s Too Much Love” and “The Boy With The Arab Strap” and rewarded with gold medals. Those of us not so fortunate as to cut a rug with the band had to settle – so to speak – for bobbing up and down to energetic readings of favourites like “Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying” and “I’m A Cuckoo”. By the time they wrapped up the set with “Sleep The Clock Around”, things had already run almost an hour later than scheduled and it was unclear if we’d be allowed an encore, but clapped and cheered for one anyways. The band returned in short order, saying they’d been given permission for one more song if they made it “fucking quick” and though “Me And The Major” was quick, it was still glorious. And yes, I do feel incredibly fortunate to be seeing them again so soon, particularly since I’ve been so handily reminded of how much I love this band.
Photos: Belle & Sebastian @ Pearl at The Palms – October 2, 2010
MP3: Belle & Sebastian – “Write About Love”
MP3: Belle & Sebastian – “Funny Little Frog”
MP3: Belle & Sebastian – “Another Sunny Day”
MP3: Belle & Sebastian – “Take Your Carriage Clock And Shove It”
MP3: Belle & Sebastian – “Storytelling”
If I had any sense this would have been the end of the night but I’d skipped out on the previous night’s after party festivities and damn it, this was Las Vegas – you don’t go to sleep at a reasonable hour. Instead you go to indie rock karaoke and rush the stage when Matador staff are called on to sing Pavement’s “Summer Babe” and crowd surf Ted Leo. If you’re wondering, it looks something like this. And then at 5AM – 8AM your own time – you go back to your room and pass out.
The Patriot-Ledger and Phoenix have features on the Come reunion. Rolling Stone talks to Cat Power about her plans for her next record, and they include playing all of the instruments herself. If that pans out, then it surely won’t be sounding like The Greatest or Jukebox – colour me intrigued. Interview and NPR have features on Superchunk. The Guardian interviews Belle & Sebastian, who are running a contest wherein a winner gets to spend a day with Stuart Murdoch and co-write a song for a forthcoming 7″.