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Matador at 21 Night 2: Belle & Sebastian, Superchunk continue the party

October 3, 2010 | 12:35 pm

Belle-seb

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. Here's his take on Night 2.

The second day of Matador at 21’s weekend birthday celebration started at the extremely un-Las Vegas hour of 4:40 p.m., a time when God meant us to be finishing up brunch and going back upstairs to take a nap. Nevertheless, the floor of the Palms hotel’s Pearl Theater was full for San Francisco’s Girls, a charming all-guy ensemble whose twee, lackadaisical guitar pop grew more sincere onstage. “I wish I had a boyfriend,” singer Christopher Owens sang in “Lust for Life,” and even the audience’s straightest men felt a twinge of desire.

The appearance of Come, a group led by Thalia Zedek, marked the event’s first full-time female lead singer. The long-absent act’s Zedek seemed determined to make up for lost time, leading the group’s guitar assault with a voice as gravelly and punishing as a rock slide.

Music fests being a marathon already, handling one in Vegas requires extra attention to the basics of survival/sanity, which meant, for this writer, the aforementioned nap and room service during the sets of Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and 2010 blog favorites Perfume Genius, a keyboard duo who snuck in a quick handful of songs in between the vintage acts.

We returned to the Pearl Theater in time for Cat Power. Chan Marshall’s band has thoroughly completed its Dusty Springfield (or, less credibly, Norah Jones) career overhaul. It was a revealing moment for 2010 indie snobbery: At a time when poor Jones is taking Internet criticism for a harmless appearance on Matador at 21 Night 2 headliners Belle & Sebastian’s new album, Marshall’s brand of Starbucks-ready Memphis soul-blues was met with applause and a flurry of impressed tweets. With seminal records such as  “Moon Pix” and “The Greatest” to her credit, the singer’s performance avoided a set of fan favorites from her own gorgeously damaged catalog, instead turning toward sleepy covers of Jackson Browne’s “These Days” and James Brown’s “Lost Someone,” among others.

If anyone needed a wake-up call, it came next with Superchunk. A number of acts at Matador at 21 aren’t best-known for their work with the label; Superchunk went on to found Merge Records, now home to acts such as Arcade Fire and Spoon, but Matador gave the North Carolina act its start. You’d be hard-pressed to tell if time had passed since then: The resurgent quartet blasted through their set as if running for their lives, pogoing around the stage and pausing just long enough between songs to tune and take a deep breath. Again, the often groundless biases of indie fandom were on display: The group’s power chords and exclamatory vocals have more in common with the emotional pop-punk of Saves the Day (or even Green Day) than any of Matador’s quote-unquote indie rock bands, but mention the Warped Tour and the crowd would vanished quicker than money at the blackjack tables next door. (A particularly painful analogy for this writer this weekend.)

Superchunk seemed to be the night’s consensus favorite, but then the evening upped the ante. Spoon, arguably the weekend’s most commercially successful act, arrived onstage determined to prove it belonged in a lineup with the likes of Sonic Youth and Pavement; its greatest-hits set, which reached from 1998’s “Car Radio” to this year’s “Written in Reverse,” offered surprisingly lengthy workouts of the band’s usually terse pop-meets-post-punk. A bittersweet moment came when the group covered late rocker and Matador alum Jay Reatard’s “No Time,” but the mood rose with a horn section and a triumphant version of “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb.”

Belle & Sebastian, the night’s headlining act, took the stage with nothing to prove: The Glasgow act’s early-career recordings remain the template for hundreds of bookish bands, while their recent turn toward '70s soul has found them just as beloved. Though the disco-tinged new material is the group’s most upbeat, Belle & Sebastian’s current 12-piece ensemble (complete with a string section) was at its best playing the oldies: “The State That I Am In” was pretty enough to win beauty pageants, not to mention bring actual tears to this hardened festival reporter’s eyes, while an encore of “Me and the Major” brought even the VIP seats crowd to its feet.

More so than any other act Saturday night, Belle & Sebastian treated their performance as a celebration, with singer Stuart Murdoch throwing autographed footballs into the audience (with a decidedly un-twee arm, we might add) and bringing fans onstage to dance with him. There was no posturing, no cred at stake –- just music doing what it does best. Matador at 21, like the label itself, may be many things to many people, but its second night ended with everyone together at last.  

-- David Greenwald

Photo: Belle & Sebastian lead singer Stuart Murdoch at the 2010 Jisan Valley Rock Festival in Icheon, Gyeonggi-do, South Korea. Credit: Jeon Heon-Kyun / EPA

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