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Matador at 21 Night 3: Guided by Voices gives the festival a salty salute


Funny thing about Matador at 21: After three days and dozens of diverse bands, it turns out everyone was pretty much there to see Guided by Voices. The '90s lo-fi heroes, who reunited to play the festival (and stop in L.A. Monday night), headlined the event's final night, hitting the stage around midnight and playing past 2 a.m. -- to a nearly capacity crowd. If Matador at 21 were a game, Guided by Voices would've won -- they earned the most encores, the most fist pumping, the most singalongs, the most pushing against the stage and the most chanting of the whole weekend. 


The night's other acts were a mix between the label's future and its refreshingly relevant past. Shearwater, a recent label addition whose work draws on the atmospherics of Talk Talk with more dark drive, opened the evening to a mostly empty audience (the rest were off seeing the Clean headline a matinee show upstairs). They were followed by Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, the longtime semi-punk act who made their Matador debut earlier this year. Leo got a lot of shine this weekend, joining fans at Saturday night's karaoke after-party to sing a version of Beat Happening's "Cast a Shadow," taking the stage to serve as the butt of jokes on Sunday night from MCs Jon Wurster and Tom Scharpling and even introducing and later dueting with Liz Phair. The singer earned it. His set was as high-energy as a case of Red Bull. 


Finishing up the '00s acts were the New Pornographers, at full strength with members Neko Case and Destroyer's Dan Bejar, who sang three songs and was otherwise curmudgeonly. The group's banter was almost as funny as Scharpling and Wurster's (who should've MC'd the whole weekend), but their power-pop anthems were even better. Then the evening turned toward the '90s: Liz Phair, in a cut-up Belle & Sebastian shirt, took the stage with a guitarist and his-and-hers Fender Stratocasters. Though the songwriter's music (and reputation) has taken a number of strange turns in recent years, on Sunday night she stuck to the classics, closing with a song we can't print the name of in a family blog but which turned from lament to anthem.



Yo La Tengo, who have nearly as many albums as the endlessly prolific Guided by Voices, preceded the headliners, playing a jumpy set that ranged from raucous experimental sprawls (what Phish fans call "jamming," we hear) to the pop tenderness of "Our Way to Fall" and "Mr. Tough." On "You Can Have It All," drummer Georgia Hubley stepped out from behind the kit to sing lead, while frontman Ira Kaplan and bassist James McNew abandoned their instruments for a charming set of choreographed moves. 

Then came Guided by Voices, and the crowd pushed toward the stage with an intensity not seen all weekend. It wasn't that love was lacking for the festival's earlier acts; they just weren't Guided by Voices. It was a special end to a weekend full of impressive moments and, for all the surreal Vegas backdrop, a long-overdue outpouring of emotion for the indie label. Long live Matador Records; now can we do this every year?


-- David Greenwald

Photos, from top: Guided by Voices' Robert Pollard and his band headline Matador at 21; Shearwater's Jonathan Meiburg; Ted Leo and the Pharmacists; the New Pornographers' Neko Case; Liz Phair; Ira Kaplan of Yo La Tengo. Credit: David Greenwald / for the Times

Comments () | Archives (10)

Not to be too pedantic, but Liz is playing a Mustang.

Dan Bejar always looks like he'd rather be somewhere else. I wonder why he's still in the band. Surely, AC doesn't need the Destroyer leftovers.

Not to be too pedantic, but Liz is playing a Duo-Sonic.

More pedantry: The Clean had finished up at least an hour before Shearwater went on. I'm glad you mentioned The Clean, though - they were fabulous.

NO...they can't...and or won't do this every year...
as Gerald Cosloy said himself last nite from the stage ...it was a miracle that it came off at all.
it almost failed a couple times during the planning and production.

Geebs triumphantly both stole and ended the entire weekend though...
just as planned...
best set of he weekend...with Sonic Youth coming in at a close second.

not to be too too pedantic, but bejar's curmudgeonly thing is sort of an act when he plays with NP.

I felt the GBV show from Las Vegas was a real drag. I love the band's entire catalog and enjoyed seeing them in the 90s and 00s, but this reunion show added absolutely nothing and didn't ever take off. Usually when bands reform, they polish their performances and sound great. Pollard and company just trotted out the same drunken shtick, however now it was for whatever reason no longer amusing or celebratory. It just seemed stupid and juvenile- a surprise-free setlist, plowed through drunk and under-rehearsed. Every other band I heard at the Matador event was a thousand times more together musically and vocally, even if they didn't have the songs. The GBV reunion tour is a cash cow because the guys obviously need some dough just like the rest of us. Too bad they didn't put something together that was worth listening to.

You're such a little twerp joe callum. I've been to over twenty gbv shows since '95 and this show was as strong as any of the others even though it was unfortunately a couple hours too short. They told you upfront what time period they were going to draw their set from and then they delivered hit after hit after hit. Dont u have an oven to go stick your head in joe?

Not to be didactic, but I believe Liz Phair's guitar is a Fender Musicmaster boys.


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