Guitar Wolf: “Guitar Wolf flights are delayed. They will not be playing at 7 p.m.” So went the tweet from Matador Records hours before the scheduled start of Matador at 21: The Lost Weekend at the Palms in Las Vegas. Word had it the Japanese trio had been held up oversees, or in New York, or California, or wherever the leather-clad garage-punkers were traveling from. As GW’s 7:30 start time crept closer, even the guys working the soundboard inside the Pearl Concert Theater had no idea whether the first band on the bill might make it. MC Jeff Jensen—a comedian in name only—filled time with an unfunny routine (his first of several on the night) big on insidery indie-rock cracks. And then, suddenly, Guitar Wolf appeared onstage, a little late (7:45) but onstage nonetheless. “Guitar Wolf are on!!! Surprise (to us)” Matador tweeted as guitarist Seiji, bassist U.G. and drummer Toru tore through opening number “Jet Generation.” Unfortunately, the Nagasaki rockers only got in 25 manic minutes before their time ran out, but Matador did its best to rectify that, tweeting that Guitar Wolf would play again later that night, at 3:45 a.m., in the Palms Ballroom. See ya there … maybe. —Spencer Patterson
Chavez: Can four musicians still be considered a band if they haven’t recorded new music in 14 years and have rarely played live in a decade? Apparently, New York quartet Chavez proved tonight at Matador at 21. Though they joked around about their barely active status (“Clay’s kids don’t even know he’s in a band,” singer/guitarist Matt Sweeney announced, to which guitarist Clay Tarver responded, “That’s [true for] most of planet Earth.”), their music spoke louder than any words, stirring early arrivers at the Pearl with a stunningly tight 10-song set. From thunderous opener “Top Pocket Man” —the first track on classic ’96 Matador disc Ride the Fader—through the elegantly down-tempo “Unreal Is Real” to an extended take on the complex “Flight 96,” Chavez’s twin-guitar-headed sound rang out with the dexterity of a band that’s stayed on tour for years. And drummer James Lo? Well, as Tarver said, he’s not considered “one of the top Chinese drummers to ever come out of Detroit” for nothing. —Spencer Patterson
Fucked Up: Fucked Up’s live show is notorious for unpredictable antics, and the intense Canadian punk sextet hardly disappointed at Matador at 21. The set began with “Son the Father,” during which a small-but-dedicated pocket of fans in front commenced slam-dancing and full-body headbanging. By song No. 3, bald and big-bellied frontman Damian “Pink Eyes” Abraham had stripped off his shirt off and jumped into the mostly terrified crowd. He weaved through the GA floor pit back to the seats—doling out hugs and headrubs all the way—and stopping occasionally to scream lyrics. Stymied when the mic cord finally reached its limit, he made his way back to the stage as bandmates launched into the supernova punk scorch “Black Albino Bones.” The rest was equally relentless. The five instrumentalists kept their heads down and sculpted death-disco, punk dirges and lacquered hardcore; highlights included the new “Solomon’s Song” and the older “Police.” During “No Epiphany,” Abraham fetched his 17-month-old son, Holden, and recited lyrics while carrying him around stage. (Don’t worry, the tot sported headphones.) And when a fan crowd-surfed to the stage, Abraham hugged him, picked him up, spun him around and then ever-so-carefully deposited him back into the audience. —Annie Zaleski
Sonic Youth: Sonic Youth played exactly zero songs from its Matador catalog. (To be fair, this spans one full-length album.) However, the band—which performed sans touring bassist/Pavement member Mark Ibold—was the perfect choice to make Matador 21’s first night extra memorable. In a parallel universe, Sonic Youth could have been on Matador for its entire career; before he took lead vocals for “Mote,” guitarist Lee Ranaldo joked, “This is from our 12th Matador record, from back in 1991.”
As a live act, Sonic Youth just gets better with age: Speed-wise, drummer Steve Shelley hasn’t lost a step, nor has guitarist/vocalist Thurston Moore, who’s a surprisingly nimble and graceful presence onstage. The band focused mainly on songs from its mid-’80s EVOL/Sister/Daydream Nation trilogy—a nod to its underground roots that meshed well with the raucous, unhinged aesthetic of the other bands on the bill.
Moore was in a playful, lively mood—he jumped back as if electrocuted at the end of “Stereo Sanctity” and kneeled on the stage played his guitar like a washboard during “Mote.” Kim Gordon emoted like a slam-poetry queen on “Bull in the Heather” (dedicated to Pavement’s resident horse-racing expert, Bob Nastanovich) and wailed like a doomed ghost on “Shadow of a Doubt.” Nation’s ace pair, “The Sprawl” and “Cross the Breeze,” veered between panicked resignation and squealing chaos, while set-closer “Death Valley ‘69” was particularly evil. A sinister slab of B-movie death-punk, it felt akin to surfing on a hurricane-turbulent ocean. The song ended with Moore and Ranaldo wielding their guitars in a clashing duel, and then collapsing on the floor in a heap of feedback while Gordon added her bass to the noise orgy. (See setlist below) —Annie Zaleski
Pavement: Pavement’s final scheduled U.S. show ended with “AT & T,” a deepish cut off 1995’s Wowee Zowee. It featured two songs off classic 1992 Matador debut Slanted and Enchanted (the punky “Conduit for Sale!” and "Two Srates"), compared with a whopping four— “Perfect Depth,” “Box Elder,” “She Believes” and “Heckler Spray” from the California band’s pre-Matador EPs. It did not include performances of seminal songs “Summer Babe,” “In the Mouth a Desert,” “Here,” “Frontwards,” “Rattled by the Rush,” “Father to a Sister of Thought” or “Fight This Generation.” Oh, how very Pavement.
The quintet’s reunion-capping set inside the Palms (okay, the band might play South America in November, but for most Americans, this was it) was weird, wonderful and for some, worrisome. “Have you ever seen a band break up for a second time in front of you? Not awesome!” tweeted one fan afterwards, but it’s tough to tell what was bugging the guy. Sure, guitarist Scott Kannberg appeared annoyed over some technical snafus he experienced (see: Kannberg’s own “Kennel District,” especially), and Steve West needed some help with his drum kit at the start. But singer/guitarist Stephen Malkmus seemed in great spirits and, well, that's all you really need for a positive live Pavement experience. His guitar work and vocals were easily audible in the mix, so whatever might have been wrong with sound, at least that was incredibly right.
Having seen Pavement’s first two U.S. comeback shows—in Pomona, California and at Coachella in April—I found the Vegas set much more ferocious, particularly the first half or so. This performance also felt more varied, with the noisy early rarities contrasting nicely with more meandering material like “Starlings of the Slipstream,” “Fin” and “Stop Breathin’.” Whether the show’s abrupt ending (no encore) was the result of technical difficulties, the late hour (the band finished 17 minutes past the Pearl’s 1 a.m. festival curfew) or some disagreement within the group, we might never know. And that’s probably exactly how Pavement wanted to go out—with us wondering. (See setlist below)
Ted Leo & The Pharmacists vs. Fucked Up: Highlights from the crazy two-band/one-stage combo that kicked off Friday night’s late-night slate inside the Palms Ballroom:
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- For complete Matador at 21 coverage click here!
• Fucked Up’s cover of Superchunk’s “Precision Auto,” featuring comedian Tom Scharpling—co-MC of Sunday’s Pearl schedule—on guest vocals.
• Fucked Up’s cover of Nirvana’s “Breed.”
• The two bands teaming for a cover of Mission of Burma’s “That’s When I Reach for My Revolver.” Wish you coulda been here, Burma.
• Ted Leo’s solo cover of Liz Phair’s “Fuck and Run.” Very cool to hear a dude sing that.
• Leo & The Parmacists, aided by Superchunk drummer Jon Wurster (on vocals) on the Misfits’ “We Bite.”
• The two bands collaborating for covers of the Sex Pistols’ “Bodies” and Black Flag’s “Rise Above.”
* Fucked Up’s tribute to fallen Matador comrade Jay Reatard, a cover of his “An Ugly Death.”
* Leo’s by-request cover of Billy Bragg’s “Between the Wars.” He struggled through the lyrics, but made it to the end.
* Leo crowd-surfing on his back—while continuing to play his electric guitar. Yeah, he did that. —Spencer Patterson
Harlem/Guitar Wolf: Okay, this part is a bit of a haze, it all having gone down after 3 a.m. But yes, at some point, Austin trio Harlem took the stage in the Palms Ballroom, playing its frenetic garage-y pop to a crowd of around 200, and then less than that, and then a lot less than that. By the time Guitar Wolf began its second set of the day at 3:45, some 50 bodies—excluding the security detail, which seemed in relatively high spirits considering it was watching Guitar Wolf at 3:45 a.m. Pavement bassist Mark Ibold and Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley stayed past 4 a.m. When I left, around 4:25, I counted 30 heads left in front of the stage. And Guitar Wolf was still going strong. —Spencer Patterson
Sonic Youth’s setlist:
01 “Tom Violence”
03 “Bull in the Heather”
04 “Stereo Sanctity”
06 “The Sprawl”
07 “Cross the Breeze”
08 “(I Got a) Catholic Block”
09 “Shadow of a Doubt”
10 “Death Valley ’69”
02 “Perfect Depth”
04 “Elevate Me Later”
05 “Shady Lane”
06 “Conduit for Sale!”
07 “Starlings of the Slipstream”
08 “Box Elder”
11 “Kennel District”
12 “Cut Your Hair”
13 “Two States”
14 “Gold Soundz”
15 “She Believes’
16 “Range Life”
17 “Stop Breathin’”
18 “Heckler Spray”
19 “Shoot the Singer (1 Sick Verse)”
20 “AT & T”