NEW YORK Matador Records' roster of guitar rockers,
hip-hop bands and electronic acts celebrated the label's 10th birthday
over the weekend with three days of stirring and sometimes wild
concerts at which the occasional ex-Matador band (Superchunk)
and the odd non-Matador band (the Rolling Stones) also were saluted.
The festival, at Irving Plaza, came to a chaotic end Saturday night
with Jon Spencer Blues Explosion leader Jon Spencer singing an
impromptu version of Superchunk's "Slack Motherfucker"
with Yo La Tengo.
After that, Brett Gurewitz, head of Epitaph Records, another revered
indie label, came onstage, introduced himself as "Brett F---in' Gurewitz"
and roasted Matador bosses Gerard Cosloy ("a prick and a tastemaker")
and Chris Lombardi ("a notorious drunk"). Gurewitz, an ex-member of punk
band Bad Religion, jokingly claimed he intended to buy Matador, while
sharing an occasional swig on a bottle of gin with Lombardi.
But the real party came from the 17 sets of music over three nights.
Headlining sets were played by techno rocker Cornelius on Thursday,
indie-rock darlings Pavement on Friday and droning guitar rockers Yo
La Tengo on Saturday.
Most bands paid little overt homage to Matador and let their music do
the testifying. But rappers the Arsonists led Thursday's crowd in an
exuberant hip-hop chant of the company's name, which until recently
was associated mostly with guitar-rock bands such as Pavement
still one of the label's flagship acts and Superchunk, who
departed several years ago in favor of their own label, Merge.
Friday night was Pavement Night, as that's who most of the audience seemed
to be there to see; the show doubled as the opening of Pavement's U.S.
Pavement performed behind microphone stands bedecked with bright,
colorful lights. Percussionist Bob Nastanovich played court jester,
balancing the group's solid rock with trills, tambourines and pained
shrieks that echoed singer/guitarist Stephen Malkmus' lyrics and
Pavement played songs such as "The Hexx" (RealAudio
excerpt), from Terror Twilight (1999), but reached into
their catalog for two of the set's highlights: "Trigger Cut," from
Slanted and Enchanted (1992), and "Unfair," from Crooked Rain,
Crooked Rain (1994). During the latter, Nastanovich leaped from behind
his drum kit to the middle of the stage to help scream some of the lyrics.
During "Range Life," Malkmus changed a reference to the "Smashing
Pumpkins" to "Smashing Sh--heads."
Those who showed up late on Pavement Night missed funk-rockers Lynnfield
Pioneers, a set of ethereal pop-rock by Chavez, the incoherent raw rock
of Japanese band Guitar Wolf and Cat Power.
Playing before Pavement, Cat Power (just Chan Marshall and her electric
guitar) performed a typically emotive half-hour set, during which she was
forced to compete with loud audience murmuring. She began with a slow,
folksy version of the Rolling Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction,"
sans chorus. Marshall also seamlessly flowed "You May Know Him," from
her album Moon Pix (1998), into part of the Phil Phillips '50s
R&B classic "Sea of Love." Her next album, she said earlier Friday, will
be a covers album.
Guitar Wolf singer/guitarist Seiji, clad, like the rest of the trio,
in a black leather jacket and black leather pants, primed the audience
by chugging most of a beer, hurling the rest at fans and standing atop
a stage monitor while raising his pinky and index finger in the rock
'n' roll salute.
With "rock 'n' roll" emblazoned on his guitar strap and in studs on
his belt, Seiji (who goes by only one name) careened around the stage,
screaming in Japanese and flailing away at his guitar on songs
including the title track from the 1999 album Jet Generation
At one point, Seiji brought 18-year-old New York University student Andy
Brower onstage and gave him his guitar. Seiji set an example for Brower
by jumping up in the air and playing air guitar, then he commanded the
teen to do the same. Brower, who said he had never played guitar before,
mostly banged on the open strings, but somehow it still sounded all right.
"I always wanted to be a rock star," Brower, a newly minted Guitar Wolf
fan, said later. He said he came for the full bill because, "Usually,
whatever they (Matador) put out is pretty cool."
Saturday's lineup included experimental guitar band Bardo Pond, Helium
singer Mary Timony, blues-rockers Come and Dutch electronic popster
Solex. The latter, whose new album, Pick Up, features the
Lombardi tribute "Chris the Birthday Boy," said what attracted her to
Matador is that the label's owners, Lombardi and Cosloy, double as its
At another label, Solex (a.k.a. Elisabeth Esselink) said, "the A&R guy
quits or gets fired, and you're stuck on the label."
"There's a few goofs here and there," Come guitarist Chris Brokaw said,
"but that shows everyone they're a true indie punk label."
Yo La Tengo the trio of Ira Kaplan (guitar), Georgia Hubley
(drums, keyboards) and James McNew (bass, keyboards) gave the
celebration a fitting finish Saturday. Their set began and ended in
jams with a horn trio that included noted New York free-jazz
saxophonist Daniel Carter.
In between were plaintive love songs, such as "Nowhere Near" from
Painful (1993), rockers ("Tom Courtenay") and the usual offbeat
covers (including the Only Ones' "The Whole of the Law"). "Nowhere Near"
offered an effective clash of keyboard/vocal harmonies from Hubley and
Kaplan's strangled, atonal guitar massacre, a forceful juxtaposition
next to the love song's soft melody.
Yo La Tengo's encore featured a surprise Spencer's take on "Slack
Motherfucker," during which he mostly wailed, flipped the bird and cursed
in his New York version of an Elvis Presley voice.
That was followed by Gurewitz's rant, after which a busty woman in a
tight-fitting leopard print outfit walked onstage, took off her skirt
and gave Lombardi a lap dance.
(Staff Writer Brian Hiatt and Contributing Editor Eric Arnum contributed
to this report.)