Scenes from Las Vegas: Pavement, Chavez and more open Matador at 21
Pop & Hiss contributor and Brand X blogger David Greenwald is in Las Vegas to take in the three-day anniversary party for New York's Matador Records. His middle-of-the-night dispatch from Night 1 is below.
About an hour outside of Las Vegas, at an anonymous rest stop notable for a selection of chocolate fudge-related desserts, “Hot Tub Time Machine” actor Rob Corddry was spotted taking a break from the freeway on Friday afternoon. Inconsequential, perhaps, but a fitting omen for a weekend in Sin City serving as an unexpectedly surreal journey to the past.
Matador at 21, a thee-day celebration of the New York indie label’s drinking-age birthday, descended on Vegas on Friday night, bringing an influx of bespectacled, buttoned-up indie kids (some, if not most, deep into their 30s), many of whom seemed to avoid rubbing shoulders with the standard-issue glammed-up nightclubbers.
Music geeks, after all, were once actual geeks too. Before American Apparel, iTunes and the life-changing developments of "Garden State," all of which helped bring indie to the masses, the music released by labels such as Matador was outsider stuff, the kind unlikely to be blared from casino loudspeakers.
Things have changed. With the Matador catalog commandeering the sound system, any awkwardness faded once inside the Palms Casino Resort's Pearl Theater, with the hotel serving double duty as concert hall location and festival-goer host. (And DJ Pauly D sometime-employer. But we digress.)
The first night’s acts didn’t so much explicate Matador’s history as revel in its accomplishments. Dinner held precedence over Guitar Wolf for this particular writer, who entered the venue to the sounds of Chavez, a band whose well-muscled guitar work and thunderous rhythm section were a reminder that indie rock need not be flimsy and garage-only.
The act that followed, whose name rhymes with “Schmucked Up,” also went the noisy route, offering hard-charging punk anchored by the shirtless, flabby bellowing of front man Pink Eyes. The band didn’t inspire much moshing from the audience on the floor (hanging on to their glasses, surely), but his sweaty bear hugs were happily accepted during his rampage through the crowd.
But the evening belonged to the older acts. Had they broken up and reformed like so many of their peers, Sonic Youth might have headlined this show; instead, their decades of ceaseless work have been rewarded with a mastery of their sound.
The band’s music has always been a battle between order and chaos, with the rhythm section racing to keep pace with Thurston Moore’s anarchic guitar feedback; on Friday night, in a set heavy on their early material, the feedback won. Amid the onslaught, bassist and occasional lead singer Kim Gordon added a much-needed dose of girl power to the proceedings -- in the audience and on stage, Matador at 21 was mostly a boy’s club, at least on Night 1. As Sonic Youth’s set came to a close, Moore lay on the ground, his bandmates’ instruments pushed against his own in a Vegas-worthy orgiastic climax.
Pavement, on the other hand, found their reunion beginning to fray. The '90s slacker heroes' headlining set was littered with false starts and confusing banter, a -- to be generous -- looser take on their more impressive Coachella show earlier this year (a more forgiving review of a recent Pavement concert can be had here).
Front man Stephen Malkmus, who looked at times as if he’d rather be on the casino floor (or at least checking his fantasy baseball stats), seemed most inspired by songs from the band’s 1994 effort “Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain.” In that album's “Gold Soundz,” a song Pitchfork recently named the best of the ‘90s and indeed arguably the finest track anyone played all night, he sang, “You can never quarantine the past.”
The band’s history may have caught up with them. As for Matador’s, however, with two nights of iconic acts to go, the label’s legacy proved itself deserving of celebration, with or without a time machine.
-- David Greenwald
Photos, from top: Pavement headlines the first night of Matador at 21 at the Palms hotel in Las Vegas on Friday; Chavez performs; Pink Eyes heads into the audience; Sonic Youth unleashes the noise. Credit: David Greenwald / Los Angeles Times