Review and photos – Cat Power, Sonic Youth, Pavement and at the Pearl Concert Theatre, Las Vegas, 2010
– text by Shawn Conner/photos by Robyn Hanson
It’s Sunday Oct. 3, the last day of the three-day 21st anniversary party for Matador Records, the New York-based record label that, in the ‘90s, set the bar for indie imprints. When it’s over, the Palms Resort and Casino, where the shows are being held and where most of us are staying, will not miss us.
Posters in the elevators trumpet the Oct 20 Las Vegas stop of the Jagermeister Music Tour, featuring Anthrax, Slayer, and Megadeth, playing the Pearl Concert Theatre at the Palms Hotel, the same place the Matador shows are being held. Flyers advertise the appearance next weekend of Sasha Grey, porn star, almost-legit actress (The Girlfriend Experience, Entourage) and current Playboy cover model; she’ll be signing copies in the magazine’s comedy lounge. And the bouncers guarding the elevators at night can go back to hassling people for whom the Palms is more than just a skanky, too-rich-for-our-blood clip joint. Except for a few exceptions, the indie-rock brigade I’m sure is not spending their hard-earned sheckles at the slots and gaming tables.
Meanwhile, though, we’re all having a gas, quite delighted to be in the heart of American sleaze wearing our favourite-band T-shirts and other member-of-the-tribe signifiers. The choice of Vegas in general, and the Palms in particular, seems to be fostering a kind of us-vs-them mentality, and we’re all quite comfortable slipping back into our immature music-induced snobbery, like an old flannel shirt. There’s nothing like seeing the dead stares and vacant looks around the slot machines to make you feel better about your own life choices.
The scene around the pool yesterday was particularly funny. Music fans whose skin hasn’t seen the sun since Sonic Youth headlined Lollapalooza read Ibsen and Richard Yates (Revolutionary Road) while tan, sculpted body-beautiful types flex their pecs and show off their boob jobs; the speakers pump out the most awful club-bangers at volumes loud enough to shake the palm trees. Pauly D, of the reality show Jersey Shore, is here with his posse, hanging out at a poolside bungalow. I believe he is here, ostensibly, to do a “DJ set”, though what this might entail I have no idea. (For a good laugh, visit the DJ Pauly D website. Motto: “Being a guido is a way of life.”)
Which isn’t to say the Palms is completely ignoring our presence. The marquee says “Matador 21 – Sold Out”. And at various times throughout the weekend I’ve heard Yo La Tengo and Guided by Voices mixed in with the casino’s more standard Top 40 fare. And was that Owl City I heard while getting a coffee this morning? I hope not.
The Pearl Concert Theatre itself is a pretty great place to see a band. With a capacity of 2,100, it’s the perfect size for this kind of thing, with crisp, clear sound (especially from the seats) and a large floor area. So far though I have to admit I have been a bad and less-than-responsible music correspondent, having seen only a few full sets and otherwise just biding my time for the main event, which is tonight’s set by the reconstituted “classic lineup” (always in scare quotes – it just seems right) of Guided by Voices.
What I can say about what I’ve seen is that on the first night, Guitar Wolf did absolutely nothing for me, but Chavez picked up steam as they rolled along. Sonic Youth dipped into the Way Back Machine for “Schizophrenia”, which sounded brilliant, and Pavement too were great in their Pavement-y way; this marked their last North American show, perhaps ever (they have one gig in South America coming up and then that’s it, apparently). Sadly, because we’re Canadian so we should probably be representing, we missed Fucked Up entirely. But I don’t feel too bad, ‘cos I think they’re kind of lousy, though maybe I need to see them live. (Also, to be fair, lead singer PinkEye did have a funny take on Matador 21 in Las Vegas Weekly, where he said he’d like to see a festival of forgotten Matador acts like Non Phixion.)
On night two, last night, we caught the last part of Girls’ set, including their semi-hit “Lust for Life”, and a couple of numbers by the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. That band’s funky white blues shtick sounds no more interesting to me now than it did in its heyday, but I have to admit Spencer doesn’t look any older than he did, either. So good on him.
I keep hoping Cat Power will be brilliant, and last night she came close, although I have to say that her technique of covering classic songs and denuding them of any personality is a bore and a pain. For instance, her cover last night of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” doesn’t really sound any different from her version of the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction”. She does have a beautiful voice and a charmingly awkward stage presence, and her band is as good as they come, at least in indie-rock circles.
It is with much embarrassment that I admit I was passed out in my seat for almost all of Belle and Sebastian’s set, which is a shame considering the Scots don’t make it over here all that often and I don’t think Vancouver is scheduled for a tour stop. In my defense it had been a long day and theirs was the last set of the night. Also, thanks to Scott from the Vancouver band the Salteens for coming round to my seat a couple of times to try to revive me with some Red Bull. (While I’m at it, thanks to Blaine and John from the New Pornographers for letting me catch a ride with them from the airport.) What I did manage to rouse myself for sounded absolutely wonderful, and I counted at least 12 members onstage, unless I was seeing double.
The highlight for me though was Superchunk. The North Carolina band poured more energy into its half-hour set of older songs (“Precision Auto”, “Cast Iron”, “Slack Motherfucker”) and new (“Learned to Surf”, “Digging for Something”) than anyone else I’ve seen so far. But then again, I love just about all their tunes, and probably still will when Matador celebrates its 33rd year in Cancun or Monte Carlo.
Next: The New Pornographers, Yo La Tengo, Guided by Voices, Liz Phair and a few others I can’t recall.
Photo gallery – Matador 21 (Cat Power, Girls, Pavement, Sonic Youth):
Photo gallery – Superchunk