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Matador Saturday recap

Belle and Sebastian, Spoon, Superchunk, Cat Power, Perfume Genius, The Jon Spencer Blues Experience, Come, Girls

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Belle and Sebastian
Photo: Jake Giles Netter
Spencer Patterson and Annie Zaleski

Girls: Girls opened Day 2 with an up-and-down set. The San Franciscans started off with the loping psych-jangle shuffle “Laura,” which found vocalist Christopher Owens breathily emoting like a non-cheeky Jarvis Cocker. “Ghost Mouth” appeared several songs later, and its “Just Like Honey”-esque drum kicks and lush psych-pop ended in a pleasing volume increase. Unfortunately, the rest of Girls’ show felt like a sleepy day at the desert gulch, due to meandering tempos, dusty harmonica and cringe-worthy lyrics (“Kissing and hugging is everything that you need”). It was also marred by a strange ending: Near the end of the set, bassist/guitarist Chet “JR” White started having equipment problems. After he and a tech tried valiantly to fix whatever went wrong, he gave up, grabbed a tambourine and shook it for awhile and then left the stage before the set ended with “Lust for Life.” The lack of bass didn’t make a huge difference in the show-closing noisy crescendos and shoegaze roars—really, the highlights of Girls’ show—but his exit struck a sour note. —Annie Zaleski

Come: I spent my college years pouring over Matador Records’ narrow blue-and-white catalog, trying to imagine what some of the bands might actually sound like. These were the mid-’90s after all, before filesharing made it possible to hear any song whenever you wanted. So I stared at cover art, read the short descriptions and wondered. I ultimately gravitated toward certain groups—Pavement, Yo La Tengo, Guided By Voices—and stayed away from others. Come fell into the latter category. Maybe it was that band name. Dunno. But after witnessing a rare Come reunion Saturday at Matador at 21: The Lost Weekend in Las Vegas, I wish I’d been onboard back in the day. The Boston quartet’s original lineup—singer/guitarist Thalia Zedek, guitarist Chris Brokaw, bassist Sean O’Brien and drummer Arthur Johnson—was performing (according to Day 2 MC Bob Nastanovich of Pavement) just its third show since 1995, though that might be wrong considering Come’s final album came out in 1998. Whether it’s been 15 years or 12 since they were an active unit, the four musicians channeled the same sort of throwback tightness the mostly inactive Chavez displayed on Day 1. Bluesy opener “Submerge” confirmed Zedek’s muscular voice is still in fine form, while the mostly instrumental “German Song” was the eight-song set’s pinnacle, finding Zedek, Brokaw and O’Brien gathered closely as they jammed, Crazy Horse style. Basically, Come played like a band with something left to prove … or at least, some unfinished business with that blue-and-white catalog. “We did four albums with [Matador] and they left us do whatever we wanted,” Brokaw said while thanking the label celebrating its 21st anniversary this weekend at the Palms. “They’re out of print right now, but we hope that situation can be rectified.” —Spencer Patterson

Update: Bumped into Zedek in the Ballroom on Sunday. She says it actually was the third show since 1995—by the original lineup. O’Brien and Johnson left the band at that point, and Zedek and Brokaw continued on as Come.

Jon Spencer (center) of The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion

The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion: I intended to tally up every reference Jon Spencer made to his band during the trio’s Matador at 21 performance on Saturday. That fell apart during song No. 1. Does “Explosion!” count? Or only “Blues Explosion!”? As I debated that existentialist conundrum, a handful more name-checks went by, and the thread was lost. Ah well, suffice to say, he said it a lot.

The early portion of the JSBX’s set was marred by the worst sound of the festival so far. Mics were way too low. Spencer’s guitar was virtually inaudible. And if there was a snare drum onstage, you couldn’t tell by listening. But props to the Pearl sound crew, which worked quickly to rectify the situation, so much so that by song three, the Blues Explosion’s two-guitar, twin vocals and drums attack rang out as clearly as anything else all weekend.

The band—Spencer, guitarist Judah Bauer and drummer Russell Simins—stuck mostly to its classics (“Bellbottoms,” “Sweat,” “Blues X Man”), reminding the faithful and educating the unfamiliar that, without JSBX, bands like The White Stripes and The Black Keys might not have the foothold they enjoy within circles of cool today. Toward the end, Spencer opted for a full-on theremin freakout. Hey, as long as does that, he can yell “Blues Explosion” start to finish for all I care. —Spencer Patterson

Perfume Genius: Singer-songwriter Mike Hadreas had the unfortunate task of performing right after the high-octane The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. In fact, PG’s set placement was downright bizarre, considering that Hadreas’ songs are spare and painfully introspective—and the JSBX is, well, not. All things considered, the band’s short, twenty-minute show was affecting and sincere. Choirboy vocals and precious piano—at times recalling the mystical solemnity of Sigur Rós or the hazy melancholy of newer chillwave acts—created ghostly, hymn-like shimmers. Hadreas and another co-vocalist/piano player occasionally shared a piano bench while performing together (a somewhat-cutesy gimmick), although when they stuck to separate instruments, the music had more power: A plush synth underbelly pushed forward droning piano melody on “When,” while the moving “Mr. Peterson” felt overwhelmingly sad. —Annie Zaleski

Cat Power

Cat Power

Cat Power: Cat Power’s set was just as low-key, although not in a good way. To the delight of the crowd, Chan Marshall curtsied and then began the show solo on guitar, picking out a haunting version of the Stones’ “Satisfaction.” She continued playing alone to start “Good Woman,” as her backing band—which included Judah Bauer from The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and Dirty Three drummer Jim White—gradually entered the stage and joined her. But the rest of her performance was very hit-or-miss, with an emphasis on the latter. The night felt like a bluesy soul revue at a stodgy lounge: Marshall didn’t play guitar on any other song, and the setlist was dull and skewed heavily toward covers. The Jackson Browne-penned “These Days” had tasteful, jazzy drumbeats, while bluesfunky keyboards drenched an unrecognizable rendition of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams.” More disappointing, Marshall preferred to let her powerful band dominate the set: Although her smoky, midnight alto sounded impeccable, her stage movements were tentative and shy. She minced around the stage with doe-eyed grace, singing with her hands clasped behind her back or soft-shoe pawing at the ground. While she’s a notoriously reticent performer, the show would have improved with the presence of more of her own compositions—for instance, a warped version of fan-favorite “I Don’t Blame You” ended the show. (See setlist below) —Annie Zaleski

Superchunk: This was the best performance of Matador at 21’s first two days, plain and simple. I liked it so much I very calmly placed my pen and notebook in my back pocket, dove into the throng half-moshing near the stage and pogoed throughout closer “Precision Auto.” I’m still winded.

Superchunk

Why was Superchunk so good? The quartet of 40-year-olds rocked harder than any other band at the fest so far. Okay, Fucked Up and Guitar Wolf might have technically rocked harder, but no one’s been as tight as Superchunk. Not by a long stretch. And the sound—so perfect you could hear every word from frontman Mac McCaughan, every guitar lick from McCaughan and Jim Wilbur, every bass bounce from Laura Balance and every beat from drummer Jon Wurster.

Also: the setlist. So good. Two songs from seminal 1991 Matador LP No Pocky for Kitty to start (“Throwing Things, “Skip Steps 1 & 3”), then a mixture of classics (“Seed Toss,” “Mower,” “Cast Iron”) and songs from last month’s Majesty Shredding, the group’s first album in nine years, that sound like they could have been recorded during the No Pocky sessions. Yeah, they’re that good.

Of course, Superchunk played “Slack Motherfucker,” the ultimate crowd sing-along in this depressed job market or any other. And then the band ended with “Precision Auto,” and my favorite—and most physically taxing—three minutes of Matador at 21 thus far. Deep breath. (See setlist below)

Spoon

Spoon

Spoon Spoon’s set appropriately began with “Mountain to Sound,” the first song from its Matador-released Soft Effects EP. The wiry, gnarled aesthetic of that song permeated the first part of the band’s set. Surrounded by several strings of Christmas lights—which flickered on and off, creating ominous shadows—the band reinvented its strutting soul as discordant grunge swirls. Clipped drums and echoing vocals marked “My Mathematical Mind,” while strobe lights, falsetto vocals and prominent piano drove “The Ghost of You Lingers.” Spoon is known for using strident musical repetition to create tension; last night, its askew piano, extra percussion and strutting rhythms were particularly effective.

A faithful cover of Jay Reatard’s “No Time”—surprisingly, one of the few mentions of the late musician this weekend so far – signaled a stylistic turning point in the set. The older “Car Radio” was a Jonathan Richman-esque burst of garage-pop; a horn section with baritone saxes, trombones and trumpets appeared for “Stay Don’t Go,” the Joe Jackson-like “You Got Yr Cherry Bomb” and post-punk/’80s rock workout “Jonathon Fisk.” At the end of Spoon’s set, vocalist/frontman Britt Daniel thanked label co-head Chris Lombardi, who was sitting in the right-balcony VIP section, and blew him a kiss from the stage. Daniel also displayed similar gratitude earlier in the night: He thanked Matador for being “the first label to put out our stuff” and said that gesture “gave us a lot of faith in ourselves.” (See setlist below)

Belle and Sebastian

Belle and Sebastian

Belle and Sebastian: Belle and Sebastian went on an hour late, causing its closing set to turn into an unofficial after-hours dance party. The Scottish troupe made the most of its late-night timeslot, however, with an 80-minute set full of well-orchestrated hip-shakers. Although the keyboard-heavy set-opener “I Didn’t See It Coming” was an odd choice—it’s a new song due on the forthcoming B&S LP, Write About Love—follow-ups “I’m a Cuckoo” and the flouncy flute/French horn-augmented “Step Into My Office, Baby” riled up the audience.

Buoyed by a four-member string section, the occasional cello line, plenty of keyboards and other assorted instruments, older songs such as “Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying” and “The State I’m In” sounded jaunty. The newer songs were immediate and also benefited from the instrumentation: “I’m Not Living in the Real World” was a bright, Pogues-esque rock lilt featuring Stevie Jackson on lead vocals, while “Write About Love” had a Motown vibe and fleshed-out funk keyboards.

As always, Murdoch is a diminutive but charismatic front man. He danced around stage during the bubblegum soul number “Sukie in the Graveyard” like an awkward toddler on a sugar-high, and also wondered if any members of Sonic Youth were there, and then told a hilarious story about interviewing the band in 1989. Calling himself a “shit interviewer,” he said that Thurston Moore yawned in his face after one question. Later, he poked fun at Belle & Sebastian’s twee-ness by noting that at Matador, “the guys at the label are more rock & roll than the guys in the band.”

Murdoch tossed autographed Belle & Sebastian footballs into the crowd and later, brought five dancers onstage to shake their tailfeathers during “There's Too Much Love” and “The Boy With The Arab Strap” (and then handed them gold medals for their moves). Even as it neared 2 a.m., the set-ending “Sleep the Clock Around” was loud, bright and energetic. The feel-good vibes continued to the Bowie-soul encore of “Me and the Major,” which Murdoch said the band only performed after it was told: “You can do one more [song] if you do it really fucking fast.” —Annie Zaleski

Late-night: Esben and the Witch was scheduled to go on in the Palms Ballroom at 1:30, but Belle and Sebastian ran so late in the Pearl, the British trio wound up starting closer to 2. That could have been bad news for the next two acts, Cold Cave and Dead Meadow, if Friday’s late-night attendance was any indication. But Matador came up with a sure-fire way to maintain a crowd: offer free beer. The bars in the Ballroom were stocked with boatloads of Miller Lite, all of which was doled out free for the remainder of the show.

It worked. Esben, a haunting female-fronted outfit from Brighton, played to a mostly full room, even though its dark, experimental-leaning music was about as wrong for a late-night Vegas party as one could imagine. Cold Cave, on the other hand, kept the audience moving on the hardwood dance floor beneath its feet. Wesley Eisold and the rest of the New York-based foursome rolled out a collection of catchy yet noisy dark-wave mini-epics, to the delight of beer-swilling revelers. Word had it the festival’s karaoke throwdown—relocated from Little Budha to the Palms Lounge—drew the likes of Ted Leo and Chavez’s Matt Sweeney, and ended with a wild rendition of Pavement’s “Summer Babe” that had Leo crowd-surfing. But much of the Ballroom stayed put for, well, professional singing, from Dead Meadow’s Jason Simon, who led the psych-rock trio through a bluesy psych-rock set starting around 4:20 a.m. The D.C. band played with original drummer Mark Laughlin, back with Simon and bassist Steve Kille for just the second time in eight years. —Spencer Patterson

Cat Power setlist:

01 “Satisfaction” (Stones cover, on guitar)

02 “Good Woman”

03 “Dreams” (Fleetwood Mac cover)

04 “These Days” (Jackson Browne cover)

05 “Lost Someone”

06 “Lord Help the Poor and Needy” (Jessie Mae Hemphill cover)

07 “Silver Stallion” (Lee Clayton cover)

08 “Don’t Explain” (Billie Holliday cover)

09 “I Don’t Blame You”

Superchunk’s setlist:

01 “Throwing Things”

02 “Skip Steps 1 & 3”

03 “My Gap Feels Weird”

04 “Digging for Something”

05 “Detroit Has a Skyline”

06 “Seed Toss”

07 “Mower”

08 “Learned to Surf”

09 “Cast Iron”

10 “Slack Motherfucker”

11 “Precision Auto”

Spoon

01 “Mountain to Sound”

02 ?

03 “Don’t Make Me a Target”

04 “My Mathematical Mind”

05 ‘The Ghost of You Lingers”

06 “Got Nuffin”

07 “No Time” (Jay Reatard)

08 “Everything Hits at Once”

09 ?

10 “Car Radio”

11 “Stay Don’t Go”

12 “You Got Yr Cherry Bomb”

13 “Jonathon Fisk”

14 “Black Like Me”

Belle and Sebastian setlist:

01 “I Didn't See It Coming”

02 “I’m a Cuckoo”

03 “Step Into My Office, Baby”

04 “The State I Am In”

05 “I'm Not Living in the Real World”

06 “Piazza, New York Catcher”

07 “Write About Love”

08 “Sukie in the Graveyard”

09 “There's Too Much Love”

10 “The Boy With the Arab Strap”

11 “If You Find Yourself Caught in Love “

12 “Get Me Away From Here, I'm Dying “

13 “Sleep the Clock Around”

encore

14 “Me and the Major”

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