Matador’s Lost Weekend – Day 2 (Palms Casino, Las Vegas Nevada) – October 2, 2010
The second day of Matador’s birthday celebration started a little bit later than originally planned, as the Saturday matinee shows were moved to late night, after the shows on the Pearl’s main stage were over. That was good planning, since necessities like eating and sleeping were often neglected in the name of whatever particular vice one may want to dabble in; I heard more than one story about people gambling in an attempt to cover all their costs of the weekend. Some were successful, others not so much. To start the music off, San Francisco’s Girls brought their jangly pop and occasional crouching stance postures to the stage, sometimes sounding like a light version of Felt without the cynicism, other times just sounding kinda bland. Bland was not an adjective to be applied to the next two bands, both early era veterans of the label who likely shared very little overlap with the crowd that gathered for Girls. First was the dark, jagged sound of Come, a Boston band who played an incredible warm up gig back home and had shirts printed for the occasion; the two dates were printed under the ‘World Tour 2010’ title. Their set tonight would be shorter, and trim some songs (“String,” the dynamic build up of “Off To One Side”) at the expense of others not quite up to par (the woozy “William” and the Jesus Lizard-esque bass riffage of b-side “SVK”) but overall a very strong set and welcome return. I can’t think of any bands that share Come’s sound, which is largely built on the sympathetic interplay of Thalia Zedek’s and Chris Brokaw’s guitars.
Jon Spencer Blues Explosion is another band who starts with the blues as their sound, but wildly veers off in another direction. Whereas Come takes note of the twisted wreckage of The Birthday Party, JSBX is all about the hootin’ and hollerin’ and working simple riffs into starter fluid for an instant dance party. If you were new to the band, by the twenty-seventh exclamation of “BLUES EXPLOSION!” you’d be well-versed as to the name of the band. Spencer is more than just cheap sloganeering though, and really taps into the a primal energy that goes hand in hand with the best of the blues. A most welcome return to stage; neophytes would do well to check out the stomp of “Sweat” or the sideways lascivious glances of “Bellbottoms.”
Guitarist Judah Bauer would be the only musician to play full-time double duty over the weekend, and he took his usual spot at Chan Marshall’s side as part of the band that she’s assembled a few years ago. As a musical entity, Cat Power has been treading water in the interpretation of others’ songs side of the pool, and when she started her set along on stage with a guitar, I was hopeful for a return to the original material that is so striking. “Satisfaction” sputtered out of the gate, a feedbacking microphone spooking Marshall, and she didn’t even play the entire cover, crucially leaving out the “Can’t you see I’m on a losing streak” bit that just drips with desperation. She held it together long enough to perform an enjoyable set, with credit to her band (especially The Dirty Three’s Jim White who is one of the more visually and aurally arresting drummers in terms of style) and of course her lovely, dusky voice. Still, she had a tendency to skulk at the dark edges of the stage or take cover in the dim stage lighting in general. Maybe Spencer could give her some coaching tips on how to be a performer.
Grizzled ex-Matador veterans and Merge Records kingpins Superchunk took the stage next, and they delivered the most raucous set of the weekend so far, the audience in front of them a seething, pogo-ing entity. They smartly split the set between a generous nod to their roots (the first four songs of their second LP, No Pocky For Kitty and a couple from On The Mouth) plus a trio from their excellent new Majesty Shredding; “Digging For Something” stands shoulder to shoulder with previous high water efforts like “Cast Iron” and “Seed Toss”. Their frenetic set was capped by a 1-2 solar plexus punch of “Slack Motherfucker” and “Precision Auto.” Wow. Somewhere backstage, Britt Daniel had to be shaking his head.
Daniel and the rest of Spoon brought the most dramatic lighting and most adjunct members outside of Belle & Sebastian; strobes controlled by servo motors sawed wildly through the air and a string of bare bulbs decorated the front of the stage. Later during their set, a full brass combo came out for a few songs. Spoon also paid tribute to their Matador roots by starting out with “Mountain To Sound” from their Soft Effects EP, and also did a nice turn by covering “No Time” from the late Jay Reatard. Spoon’s a band that for me, works better when I’m sitting at home listening to their music, rather than watching them play it. It’s not like they are sloppy or terrible, but after seeing three performances they lack a certain spark for me.
The main stage activities were running a bit behind, and the rumored hard curfew of 1AM would either be ignored, or result in a miserably short set from Belle & Sebastian; thankfully, the former prevailed. The band is currently on tour, and as such brought their own sound board and soundman, along with a string quartet and other accouterments, completely filling the stage. In spite of the grand trappings, they delivered one of the most intimate and heartfelt sets of the weekend. Leader Stuart Murdoch remarked about life’s simple pleasures, and they extended a personal touch to the audience in several ways- first, by tossing nerf footballs to random kids in the audience (Murdoch has a better arm and aim than I’d suspected, hitting his last target in the upper balcony perfectly), then by inviting a few people up to dance with them during a song, and afterwards handing out medals for their involvement. Latter-era B&S music hasn’t really captured my attention, but hearing “The State I Am In” and the encore of “Me and the Major” was a real treat.
Free beer was the lure to get people to the after show of new signings Esben and the Witch and Cold Cave, as well as Dead Meadow, and a karaoke session was also underway (apparently Ted Leo did a spot-on version of “Cast A Shadow” from Beat Happening), but the night would end somewhat early for me.