LONDON Rockers Sleater-Kinney, Yo La Tengo and the Jon
Spencer Blues Explosion and dance and hip-hop acts Solex and the
Arsonists helped indie label Matador Records celebrate its 10th
birthday with three days of shows over the weekend.
The low-key festival at the University of London Union, billed as
"A Nice Weekend in London," was the first of two birthday parties for
the New York label. Many of the same acts are scheduled to perform at
one of three concerts Sept. 2325 at Irving Plaza in New York,
along with such additional indie-rock firepower as Pavement, Mogwai
A relatively tame crowd at the weekend's first show, on Friday,
morphed into a sweaty moshpit when the headliners, female punk trio
Sleater-Kinney, took the stage.
"We've had a very fervent message from the front row," singer/guitarist
Carrie Brownstein announced, holding a piece of paper a frazzled fan
passed to her. " 'Stop the moshing!' But this is a birthday party,
right, so we can still have the dancing. In fact, this next song is
loosely based on a two-step."
"Yeah, perhaps we can get some line dancing going down there,"
singer/guitarist Corin Tucker added as the band struck up a
turbo-charged version of "Get Up" (RealAudio excerpt).
The trio, whose albums are released on Matador in the UK and Kill
Rock Stars in the United States, bombed through a selection of tracks
from their fourth album, The Hot Rock (1999), including "God Is
a Number." Bandmembers grinned at each other and bantered with the
Friday's five-hour gig also featured sets from singer/songwriter Cat
Power (a.k.a. Chan Marshall), Solex, rock band Unwound and hip-hopper
"I'm really here to see Cat Power," drawled John Withers, 24, of New
York. Though he said he enjoyed her sexy vocals, he criticized
Marshall's tendency to follow every song with a request to the stage
crew: "As soon as each song ended, she was telling the crew to turn
the vocals down, or the guitar up. ... It spoiled the atmosphere a
Nonetheless, the crowd stood silent and attentive while Marshall sang
her folksy ballads of broken love.
Solex (born Elisabeth Esselink) won over a few new fans with her
quirky, keyboard- and sample-based songs spiced with
rock-guitar riffs which included "One Louder Solex"
(RealAudio excerpt) from Solex vs. the Hitmeister (1998).
The mood in the 700-capacity hall was mellow. A nursery school
upstairs did double duty as dressing rooms for the bands. The fans,
about half students and half music-industry employees, freely wielded
cameras and video recorders and taped various bands.
The label saw the event as a publicity boost for its growing roster,
a representative said. Once the home of such notable indie rockers as
Liz Phair, Teenage Fanclub and Guided by Voices, all of whom have
departed, Matador has branched out into electronica and hip-hop lately.
"We're using the goodwill and reputation of some of the famous bands
and hoping it will rub off on the lesser-known bands," Matador
co-president Gerard Cosloy said.
Solex returned Saturday night to check out one of those lesser-knowns.
"Live Human was jazzy and experimental just simply amazing,"
she said of the San Francisco band's performance. "I didn't know
anything about them before, but I'm going to go buy their album now."
The energy and sound levels were notched up Saturday, with an
eclectic bill featuring the raw, blues-influenced rock of the Jon
Spencer Blues Explosion in a surprise performance New
York hip-hop acts Non Phixion and the Arsonists and London techno duo
But it was Japanese techno pop star Cornelius (born Keigo Oyamada) and
his band who stole that night's show with their full-throttled
guitars, trance tones, dub stylings and clever slide show.
"The way he matched his images to his music and used unexpected
combinations of numbers ('Count Five or Six' from Fantasma), it
just opened my mind up to a whole new dimension," said Stewart George,
a musician from London.
Spencer, billed as a "special very attractive guest," provided raw
power and sex appeal with a set of songs mostly from Acme (1998),
including "Blue Green Olga" (RealAudio excerpt) and "Talk About the Blues"
"Throw your hands in the air and kiss my ass," he yelled.
On Sunday, London band the Wisdom of Harry played layered soundscapes
and complex noodlings from their first Matador album,
Stars of Super 8 (1999). Philadelphia hippie metal band Bardo
Pond presented loud experiments in sound, the guitars often drowning
out Isobel Sollenberger's singing and flute playing during songs such
"I came because I'm a huge Mark Eitzel fan, but Bardo Pond was just an
absolute stampede of noise and thrust of guitar," Jim Bagnall of West
London said. "It's not easy to get that right like they did."
The festival's final act, Yo La Tengo, went through heartbreakingly
thoughtful tunes and bouts of guitar wrestling. They debuted a new
"We like this so much, we're just going to go over and keep playing
until they shut the power off," singer/guitarist Ira Kaplan said.
Cosloy said the label plans to record the New York shows for a CD and
DVD to be released early next year. "We just couldn't get our act
together to record the London shows, too," he said.