Kurt Vile/Times New Viking/The Clean: That three-band bill looks so good, I'd probably have trouble sleeping the night before such a show came through Vegas. At Matador at 21, it was but the tiniest sliver of a giant, weekend-long musical pie. Beginning at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, the festival's lone matinee event drew a solid crowd to the Palms Ballroom for its first two acts, then packed the place wall to wall for the third.
Kurt Vile, a rising singer/songwriter/guitarist from Philadelphia who's released three albums in two years, kicked off the day's music with his three-piece band, the Violators. The foursome delivered a satisfyingly dense curtain of psychedelically-hued classic-y rock. Really good tunes that sound even better live. If your tastes run toward Springsteen and Neil Young, track down a copy of 2009 Matador disc Childish Prodigy.
Next up: Ohio trio Times New Viking, a band that buries addictive pop hooks beneath layers of wildly messy noise, in the studio and onstage. As is their custom, TNV slammed out two-minute song after two-minute song without coming up for air. The final tally: 19 numbers in 32 minutes. Now that's efficiency. These guys need to come back to town soon.
And then, with the room filled to capacity, The Clean closed it out. I'd like to say the influential New Zealand trio — brothers David (guitar) and Hamish Kilgour (drums) and bassist Robert Scott (bass) — killed it, but the set was something of a mixed bag. Muddy sound plagued the performance, and a back-loaded setlist failed to generate much energy from the crowd early on. But a guest appearance by Yo La Tengo's Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley, on a gloriously raucous version of "Don't Point That Thing at Me," seemed to invigorate the Cleansters, and the back half of the set — "Getting Older," "Oddity" and a cover of The Velvet Underground's "I Can't Stand It" found the band shifting into a noticeably higher gear. — Spencer Patterson
Shearwater: Shearwater's music is the sound of the world we'd all like to live in. From leader Jonathan Meiburg's powerfully pure voice to the hyper-epic feel of his band's songs, everything about the Austin five-piece suggests you might actually find utopia if you keep on listening. Though a small crowd turned out to see the Pearl's first band on Day 3 of Matador at 21, those who knew to show up were rewarded with some of the weekend's most spine-tingling sounds. Why this stuff hasn't been featured in, like, 25 fantasy films by now is a total mystery to me. — Spencer Patterson
Ted Leo & The Pharmacists: After staying out until the wee hours of the morning Saturday night doing karaoke, Ted Leo opened the final day of Matador at 21 with a raucous, inspired set. (According to his Twitter account, he did this all without grabbing a nap.) Leo and backing band The Pharmacists ripped through eight songs that touched on mod-rock ("Where Have All the Rude Boys Gone?"), power-pop ("Even Heroes Have to Die") and hardcore punk ("The Stick"). The latter song was particularly jaw-dropping; Leo's hands were a blur as he strummed his guitar in time with the lightning-fast tempo set by drummer Chris Wilson.
Leo was chatty and in fine spirits, as he was all weekend while hanging around with fans at the fest's various activities. This conviviality — and community — carried over to his music: Sally Crewe added backing vocals and tambourine to "Bottled in Cork" and a set-closing cover of Nick Lowe's "I Love My Label" featured Carl Newman of The New Pornographers. In the middle of that song, Leo sat down on the stage and told a touching story about his history with Matador. Many years ago, Leo's high school pal Matt Sweeney (then of Skunk, now of Chavez) insisted that Leo come early to a Skunk show to see a band called H.P. Zinker (aka, the first artist to release music on Matador). Leo noted that he's had a Zinker song in his head since then, and then praised Matador for its employees' love of music. It was a touching, heartfelt start to the nighttime action. (See setlist below) — Annie Zaleski
The New Pornographers: The New Pornographers turned in a looser-than-normal set of ebullient power-pop. Frontman Carl Newman and vocalist Neko Case created a playful atmosphere from song one, riffing on Grand Funk Railroad's "We're an American Band" as opening banter. (Translated roughly: "We're a Canadian band/We're coming to your house to clean it.") Appropriately, the band's hook-happy songs brimmed with joy — from the corrugated rock of "The Slow Descent Into Alcoholism" and the big-sky harmonies of "Sing Me Spanish Techno" to the piercing, bell-like vocals on "Moves." The band's stage presence also felt laid-back and relaxed, in particular Kathryn Calder's enthusiastic hopping, keyboard lines and yelping vocal contributions.
Dan Bejar — who sported a mass of hair reminiscent of the Simpsons character Sideshow Bob — was along for the ride to add acoustic guitar and lead vocals on "Silver Jenny Dollar" and "Myriad Harbour." Case also used his presence as an excuse for some deadpan humor: Before the Bejar-lead "Testament to Youth in Verse," she dryly said: "This is a song about Dan's hatred. It kind of turns me on, though."
Newman was also especially funny. "Check out this piercing rock guitar," he quipped before the band launched into the riff-stacked "Letter From an Occupant." And like many others, he acknowledged Matador's influence. Before a beautiful version of the sugary mid-tempo confection "Challengers," Newman revealed that he met his wife when she was a Matador employee. He then poked fun at marriage's patriarchal reputation and the record label in one fell swoop: "No wife of mine will work for Matador Records!" (See setlist below). — Annie Zaleski
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- Pavement's Steven Malkmus
- Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore
- Guided by Voices's Tobin Sprout
- Fucked Up's Damian Abraham
- Liz Phair
- The Jon Spencer Bues Explosion's Jon Spencer
- Kurt Vile
- Yo La Tengo's Ira Kaplan
- Yo La Tengo's James McNew
- Superchunk's Mac McCaughan
- Even More
- For complete Matador at 21 coverage click here!
Liz Phair: Liz Phair's short-but-sweet set solidified her place in Matador's history. Perhaps owing to her notorious stage fright — something she said plagued her during a long-ago NYC Matador showcase — the five-song performance started off with a shaky version of Whip Smart's "Supernova." But the wobbles in her voice wore off as she moved through Exile in Guyville's iconic "Divorce Song" and "Stratford-On-Guy"; the latter's reverbed-out fuzz and powerful electric riffs felt especially empowering. To everyone's delight, the ubiquitous Ted Leo showed up to add tambourine and backing vocals to "Fuck and Run." A playful tone superseded the song's angry shading, an appropriate shift for the celebratory atmosphere. The musical highlight, however, was Whip Smart's "Nashville." Phair's accompanist teased out lonely guitar effects that sounded like hollow wind gusts, while Phair displayed her strongest vocal performance and some haunting, evocative melodies of her own. (See setlist below) — Annie Zaleski
Yo La Tengo: I'd seen Yo La Tengo seven times previously, at festivals and on its own, with somewhat mixed results. When Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley and James McNew are on, they're spectacular. When they're not, well, it can feel a little forgettable. Sunday at Matador at 21, YLT didn't waste its opportunity to impress. Playing in the slot ahead of reunited headliners GBV, the New Jersey trio reminded those inside the Pearl — and watching the online stream around the world — that Matador's longest-active anchor remains one of its most capable live acts.
More than any other band playing the festival, Yo La Tengo appeared to have put some very serious consideration into its set construction. The threesome — sometimes aided by Clean drummer Hamish Kilgour — sampled all sides of its stylistically diverse catalog: from tender opener "Our Way to Fall" to turbulent slow-burner "The Story of Yo La Tango" and the boogie-able "Mr. Tough" to the apocalyptic "Shaker." The group played two of its biggest hits, "Autumn Sweater" and "Sugarcube." Ira and James did their usual silly dance moves to "You Can Have It All," and the pair changed the lyrics to Sun Ra's "Nuclear War" to acknowledge (seemingly) every employee in Matador history. And then, to finish it off, Yo La Tengo played a roaring version of perhaps its single best song, "Blue Line Swinger" off 1995 must-own Electr-O-Pura. As the tempo quickened, the tension mounted and Kaplan's writhing body became a blur of arms, guitar and controlled noise, I remembered why, once upon a time, Yo La Tengo ruled my world. (See setlist below) — Spencer Patterson
Guided By Voices: Full disclosure: I'm a GBV fanboy. I own just about everything Robert Pollard's ever released, and he's released a lot. Like, more than all of your favorite bands — and all of their favorite bands — have combined. I say this so you'll understand I don't exactly have the clearest perspective on Sunday night's Guided By Voices' performance inside the Pearl. Also, I spent the second half of the set bouncing around in a pit of sweat-soaked diehards. So there's that.
What I can say with certainty: If you like what Pollard does live, you'll dig what he and his reunited classic-era lineup — guitarists Mitch Mitchell and Tobin Sprout, bassist Greg Demos and drummer Kevin Fennell — are offering up on the first GBV tour since 2004. A mountain of indie-rock tunes (we got 30), some drunken buffoonery (see: Bob's takes on Van Halen, Miller Lite and leaving Matador in the late '90s — "We thought we were hot shit … then we crawled back to them for three more albums), a few throwback Pollard leaps and leg kicks and lots of sing-along fun for the sauced-up crowd. Was it technical perfection? Hell no. Pollard's vocals were somewhere near the middle of his wide rough-to-clear range, and Mitchell hit more than a few funky notes. But when has a GBV show ever been a display of musical precision? It's about fans belting out the words to "Smothered in Hugs" and high-fiving one-another when Pollard announces that "Johnny Appleseed" is next.
Matt Sweeney gets it. The Chavez frontman rose up out of the audience to crowd-surf his way onto the stage, where he sang along for a while. The Clean's Hamish Kilgour gets it. He appeared onstage momentarily during the set before stage-diving onto the floor. And in case anyone needed proof this reunion isn't some quick cash grab for the band, there was Mitch Mitchell, surfing his way into the crowd — after the rest of the band had exited after its second and final encore. The smiling guitarist stayed on the floor long after the lights went out, doling out bear hugs that appeared to mean as much for the back-in-action musician as for his many admirers. — Spencer Patterson
Ted Leo & The Pharmacists setlist:
01 "Where Have All the Rude Boys Gone?"
02 "Even Heroes Have to Die"
03 "The Stick"
04 "Me and Mia"
05 "Bottled in Cork" (with Sally Crewe)
06 "Woke Up Near Chelsea"
07 "The Ballad of the Sin Eater"
08 "I Love My Label" (Nick Lowe cover)
The New Pornographers setlist:
01 "The Slow Descent Into Alcoholism"
02 "Myriad Harbour"
03 "Crash Years"
04 "Sing Me Spanish Techno"
05 "Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk"
06 "Silver Jenny Dollar"
07 "Use It"
09 "Testament to Youth in Verse"
11 "Letter From an Occupant"
12 "The Bleeding Heart Show"
Liz Phair setlist:
02 "Divorce Song"
05 "Fuck and Run"
Yo La Tengo setlist:
01 "Our Way to Fall"
02 "The Story of Yo La Tango"
03 "Nuclear War" (Sun Ra cover)
04 "Autumn Sweater"
05 "Mr. Tough"
06 "You Can Have It All"
08 "Nothing to Hide"
10 "Blue Line Swinger"
Guided By Voices setlist:
01 "A Salty Salute"
02 "Shocker in Gloomtown"
03 "Tractor Rape Chain"
04 "Pimple Zoo"
05 "Closer You Are"
06 "Buzzards and Dreadful Crows"
07 "My Valuable Hunting Knife"
08 "Cut-Out Witch"
09 "Hot Freaks"
12 "A Good Flying Bird"
12 "Motor Away"
13 "Striped White Jets"
14 "Matter Eater Lad"
15 "The Goldheart Mountaintop Queen Directory"
16 "Gold Star for Robot Boy"
17 "Awful Bliss"
18 "14 Cheerleader Coldfront"
19 "My Impression Now"
20 "I Am a Scientist"
21 "My Son Cool"
22 "Echos Myron"
23 "Game of Pricks"
24 "Exit Flagger"
25 "Unleashed! The Large-Hearted Boy"
26 "Johnny Appleseed"
27 "Smothered in Hugs"
28 "Don't Stop Now"
29 "Quality of Armor"
30 "Some Drilling Implied"