Twenty-one years. If that's 147 for dogs it's surely twice that for independent record labels in the midst of a massive industry collapse. Perhaps it's fitting, then, for Matador Records to blow out its 21st birthday candles in the very un-indie setting of a Las Vegas casino. Or maybe, any way you look at it, it's incredibly bizarre that this weekend's Matador at 21: The Lost Weekend celebration will be rocking deep inside the Palms. Either way, it's going down in our town, so you won't find us complaining.
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Well, actually, locals have kvetched plenty, about the availability of tickets, the price of tickets, the lack of individual-day tickets ... somewhere around here, somebody's surely griping that Guitar Wolf's 40-minute set-time is a total screw job. Bottom line: With any event this exclusive and tricky to plan, feelings are bound to get hurt. "I feel good that we did what we could to address the fact that there are music fans in Vegas," Matador co-owner Gerard Cosloy says. "If there is anyone who couldn't get a ticket to this, I obviously regret that, but there are people in other parts of the world who couldn't get tickets either. Those are the breaks, as they say."
Those who do find their way inside the Pearl Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights will bear witness to the greatest indie-rock bill ever to grace this city: the recently reunited Pavement, the reunited-for-this Guided By Voices, Sonic Youth, Belle and Sebastian, Cat Power, Yo La Tengo, Spoon, Superchunk, Liz Phair and more than a dozen others. The bands are coming to pay tribute to Matador, the New York-based label founded by Chris Lombardi in October 1989. Cosloy signed on the following May, just after the release of Matador's first record, H.P. Zinker's ... And Then There Was Light. By the mid-'90s, Matador had become a name to know in underground music, thanks to such seminal albums as Pavement's Slanted and Enchanted, Liz Phair's Exile in Guyville and Guided By Voices' Alien Lanes. "We try to concentrate on what we like, as opposed to what we think the rest of the world is gonna like," Cosloy says. "On enough occasions it's turned out that our tastes and the rest of the world's have intersected."
It's happened enough to help Matador survive, and in its way thrive, through the halcyon '90s and more treacherous '00s. "It's an extremely difficult business. To be around this long is nothing short of a small miracle," Pavement's Stephen Malkmus assesses. Yo La Tengo's Ira Kaplan says Matador succeeds by combining "a love of music with some notion of keeping a business together, without ever making [business] the primary focus. It's not like you can isolate a moment where Matador started signing groups because those groups would make them a trillion dollars, even if the music did nothing for them."
That music-first approach has fostered credibility among the buying public—"The people buying our records are not so different from us," Cosloy says — and created a sense of community among the label's roster ... to an extent. "It's not like these bands all live in a big clubhouse, and I know for a fact a few of them don't like each other, but there is a lot of mutual respect," Cosloy says. "Some of these bands literally grew up with each other. There are members in common. They've toured together. They've collaborated. So there's an awful lot of cross-pollination."
Jon Spencer, whose Blues Explosion spent most of the '90s on Matador, speaks particularly fondly of his time there. "I love that label," he says. "I totally trusted them and always felt that they had my back. I felt very much at home."
For Carl Newman, leader of The New Pornographers, that love goes even further: His wife is a former Matador marketing manager. "Matador was always the No. 1 label we wanted to be on," Newman says. "And then they signed us and that became my career, and my wife worked at the label and that's how I met her. So, yeah, Matador Records has played a pretty huge role in my life, perhaps more so than anybody else has."