Matador 21 Day Three

Festival Diary
by Lesley Katzen-Berndt
Writing from Las Vegas, NV

Robert Pollard's church

Guided by Voices at Matador 21

By Sunday seeing five bands in one day on three hours sleep seems completely normal. We enter the all-too familiar Palms at this point and straight to the Pearl doors. Today the t-shirt merch line is almost out the door, and it’s for one reason only, Guided By Voices. We wait in line for 30 minutes only to have the last medium sized “Hallway of Shatterproof Glass” shirt sold to the guy in front of us. No worries though, hubby Dave can shimmy his skinny self into a size small.

If there were an award for Mr. congeniality for this weekend it would undoubtedly go to Ted Leo. The first night he “battled” Fucked-Up by alternating covers … from Liz Phair to Mission of Burma. The second night at the karaoke after party he took the microphone more than once, his face is a constant smiling presence in the Matador videos projected from the jumbotrons between sets.

Prior to the Liz Phair set (during which Leo joined Phair on tambourine for “Fuck and Run”, the song of hers he covered the first night), he is subjected to an “interview” by the nights MCs in which they stage whisper how boring he is, the crowd loves it.

Ted's a good sport

His high energy fast and loud pop tight white pants driven set features a clap along, crowd cruising cover of Nick Lowe’s “I Love my Label” which he calls “totally 100% un-ironic”. He also waxes about the days he and Chavez’s Matt Sweeny were in high school together and how envious he was of Matador…and how happy he is to be part of the family.

The New Pornographers

The New Pornographers talk a bit about Bob Pollard, "Uncle Bob," and how supportive he has been during their set. They feel a little more Mamas and Papas-y than the last time we saw them open for Belle and Sebastian. It’s nice to see the full line-up together, and they are tight, happy to be there and playing an amazing set. Neko Case has such an interesting and beautifully unique voice, as well as an interesting and unique hair care regimen, so it’s sad that she’s lost in the mix for the first couple of songs. At this point though you have to sympathize with the sound engineers as they are mixing for so many completely different bands.

Guided By Voices: 11:30pm - 1:00am
Yo La Tengo: 10:10pm - 11:05pm
Liz Phair: 9:50pm - 10:10pm
The New Pornographers: 8:40pm - 9:25pm
Ted Leo: 7:35pm - 8:15pm
Shearwater: 6:30pm - 7:10pm

Very quickly after their set the New Pornographers fans collectively decide, “No freaking way am I standing here until 2 a.m.,” which allows us to get pretty close to the stage for two of the greatest bands of all time.

Liz Phair

Liz Phair, is only doing a 20 minute set…no no no!, It’s NOT a personality thing – it’s a well known fact to anyone who earnestly wanted to be her in the early 90’s that she has crippling stage fright. Which she mentions one song in, when she likens the experience to playing her first Matador showcase years ago at the Roseland Ballroom in NYC. She confesses to the estrogen heavy floor crowd (though the high ratio of male to female attendees of this festival is narrowly surpassed by the high ratio of female attendees to Anthropologie dresses, also, guilty as charged) that this feels like a college reunion. She plays exactly five songs. Supernova, Divorce Song, Nashville, Stratford-On-Guy and as previously mentioned is joined by Ted Leo on tambourine for Fuck and Run. From the jumbotron I think I see tears in her eyes as she tells Matador and the crowd “Thank You”.

Liz Phair and Teo Leo

Yo La Tengo is not here to start a fight. Yo La Tengo is okay with it if you’re drying out for the weekend, Yo La Tengo doesn’t take sides! Yo La Tengo totally dropped your custom earplugs off at the lost and found – because they know not only how important your hearing is as a semi-pro rock listener, they also know that those things are freaking expensive – as were the tickets to this show! So Yo La Tengo showedUP. But also Yo La Tengo is not afraid to experiment, their set goes from sweet and soft to shoegazey to pure dissonance, Ira abuses his guitar so much that I actually feel bad for his tech. For an unassuming guy he can feedback solo almost as well as Thurston Moore – nay, AS well as Thurston Moore. They play “Autumn Sweater” and “Sugarcube” they do a little syncopated dance. They are at the top of their game tonight.

Ira of Yo La Tegno

In the most talked about moment of the night, Guided by Voice's Mitch Mitchell rushes the stage twice and almost gets punched in the face by a bouncer who doesn’t know who he is…it could have been very very bad – it could have been goodbye GBV reunion tour. (Dave says “Nah…that guy would have played regardless”)

Mitch Mitchell (pleased with himself)

The big bet this weekend is whether King Bob (Pied Piper of the Upside-Down Whiskey Bottle, Sweatpants High Kick) will play by the stinking rules! Or that it to say, can an hour and a half truly satiate the beast master of the 1 to 3 minute indie rock song? Will Bob have Tobin Sprout cut someone to remain on stage later than 1am? And will that someone be any other band member, because they’ve got a whole rest of a tour to play.

GBV is like a virus you learn to love, like Stockholm syndrome…initially I chalked them up to being a third listen band but at the moment in which you grok GBV in their entirety you’ll want to tattoo “amplified to rock” on your forehead. I bought the pocket sized puff plus for their set as I’m going to cry my eyes out with unadulterated joy… And the answer was no, Bob Pollard will not play by the rules. Guided by Voices play a 33 song set(!) and finally finish their second encore after 2:30am. (They just kept going. GBV has a cigarette tech for Christ’s sakes!) They play basically everything you want to hear, most of the Alien Lanes, Bee Thousand and Propeller albums. The crowd is fiercely pumping their fists into the air and singing along to every word. Bob may be badder than your Dad, but he’s really aged ten years in the past ten years. I have a weird maternal protective concern for him as he mentions he needs to “break for a minute” between some songs.

Pollard's in-between song banter is still littered with Uncle Bob-isms like “They try to get me to drink Cabo Wabo, that’s Sammy Hagar’s stuff…Sammy Hagar ruined Van Halen, not that they needed any help” and “I just collectively called all of you guys, Dude”. For everyone who bought tickets for the rest of their tour, worth it, worth it worth it, GBV themselves were worth the entirety of airfare and show ticket to this whole event. As Bob sings “And shit yeah it’s cool, and shouldn’t it be…or something like that.”

In short it was indeed the best festival type show I’ve seen to date. I want stock in Matador, my desire to begin a new Boston label is completely renewed. As I tweeted Genius + Love = Matador Records. They are a label who loves music so much they sign bands who love playing music to make music for people who LOVE music and would come all the way out here to celebrate with them.


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