Matador at 21
Oct. 2, 2010
Palms Casino, Las Vegas
The show: Don't ask why or how, but we (I) dropped into Matador Record's 21st anniversary music showcase in Las Vegas for one of its three nights this past weekend. It was the night that lacked a big marquee reunion act like Pavement or Guided by Voices, instead boasting, among other acts, a trio of mellowness: Cat Power, Belle & Sebastian and Perfume Genius. That's not to say there weren't plenty of lovely moments in the vast Pearl theater at the Palms. The sight of so many flannel-wearing beardos wandering in the slot-machine glare of the casino floor was a treat in itself.
Here, in no order whatsoever, are thoughts from the night:
- Pavement's jack-of-all-trades Bob Nastanovich played emcee for the evening, and he was brilliant. The key to his brilliance? As I heard someone in the crowd observe, "He knows when to shut up." At one point, he told the audience that he'd written on his cue card that he should tell the story on stage of his car getting in a wreck that day. He left it at that, not bothering to actually, you know, tell the story. But by the time he was introducing final headliners Belle & Sebastian, Nastanovich was blitzed. He barked out his home address and his own hotel room number--and invited everyone to come on by later for beer.
- Recent Matador signees Perfume Genius played the night's wimpiest, and therefore gutsiest, set. It was just two skinny fellows sitting at keyboards, crooning delicately over their spare songs for about 20 minutes. The crowd thinned after a bit as the set started, but those who remained were spellbound, even as the and members self-deprecatingly broke the spell occasionally by promising "party jams" that never came. Not everyone, though, was completely respectful. Here's a hint, people: When a band delivers a lyric about a lover jumping off a building, giggling is not the correct response.
Belle & Sebastian's music is charming on its own, but it turns out that the band members are charming as human beings as well--and eminently quotable. "There's one label where the guys at the label are more rock 'n roll than the guys in the band," front-man Stuart Murdoch said of Matador after a boozy introduction from Nastanovich. I counted 12 people on stage, but that number swelled once they brought up audience members to clap and dance at the mic. At one point, the willowy Murdoch surprised with his athletic prowess as he chucked autographed green footballs into the mezzanine seats. The music was wonderful too; "Step Into My Office Baby" made for an unlikely contender for song performance of the evening.
- The specter of Chan Marshall's days of crippling stage fright returned when Cat Power waited a minute or two to take the stage after being introduced. But then Marshall appeared with her guitar, deconstructed the Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction," and was joined by her full band for "Good Woman." The sound was very much latter-day Cat Power: full, sultry, swampy. It was also a little hazy, perhaps not the best showcase for Marshall's song craft. The full-band take on "I Don't Blame You," for example, was so alien from the original version as to be unrecognizable. Of course, this just made Superchunk's blazing performance that followed all the more refreshingly energetic.
- What's there to say about a Spoon set? Like everything Spoon, it was solid but not amazing. Best moment for my money came when they played "The Ghost of You Lingers," if for no other reason than the fact that its mostly percussion-free synth stabbery resembled nothing else delivered on stage that night.
The crowd: As alluded to above, this was a stereotypical indie dad crowd--not the sort of people that usually swarm a Vegas casino all at once.
Personal bias: I'm of the generation that, thanks to file sharing and all that, doesn't really understand why record labels exist. This weekend, however, taught me that they were pretty important in the '90s!
Overheard at the after party: "Well, Britt Daniels is standing right behind you." This was pretty common; the hallmark of the festival was the way that talent and commoners mingled.