The best (indie) birthday . . . ever 

Label celebrates birthday during ‘Matador at 21’

The Rebel Yell 2010

While the fight for the Fremont Cannon was going on Saturday evening, day two of the biggest birthday celebration and music festival Las Vegas has ever seen was well underway at The Palms.

Anyone who walked into the popular casino during the three-day venture witnessed a culture shock like no other as hundreds of well-established, middle-aged rockers filled the building to see label legends Sonic Youth, Pavement, Belle and Sebastian, Guided by Voices and more. Performing inside the small and intimate Pearl, most of the bands were playing in Vegas for the first time.

“It has run smoothly but with a lot of help from the staff and all the people that are working for us,” said founder of Matador Records, Chris Lombardi. “It’s come together. We were very conscious of all the potential snafus that could arise and so far it’s been fun.”

Potential snafus were rife but any real problems were kept to a minimum during the first two days, besides Pavement’s performance on Friday. Having paved the way for some of the most well-known artists of our generation, (think Weezer and Ben Kweller), the ‘90s rockers had continuous difficulties with their sound that caused problems both onstage and offstage for the band.

But that didn’t seem to faze the crowd, which was made up of fans from all over the world, all who were more than ecstatic to see their favorite Matador artists.
The festival went so well, actually, that it’s kind of surprising.

Considering how upset Las Vegans were about the limited amount of tickets sold to the city’s residents, little to no animosity was felt inside The Pearl.

“I think it says something, that Vegas seems a little bit of the ignored child,” Lombardi said about the public outcry from locals. In an attempt to acquiesce to concerns, the Matador staff increased the allotment of tickets sold at Zia Records from 50 to 100.

Just over half were sold.

Pavement headlined the event on Friday as the last stop of their 2010 reunion tour. Courtesy Photo.

“I’m sure there’s a ton of great music fans [here], but the fact is they only sold 60 tickets [here] meanwhile we were sold out everywhere else,” Lombardi said.

And while it may just be that we don’t foster the kind of indie-environment other cities do, owner of The Palms George Maloof hopes that Matador 21 can change that.

“This is the first real indie festival that we’ve ever had that had significance,” Maloof said. “Quite frankly, I think it’s been the best three days in the history of Las Vegas for music. It’s just been incredible.”

Sonic Youth tore up the stage during the second to last show on Friday with an explosion of noise and guitars. Dressed in gold lamé, singer/bassist/guitarist Kim Gordon yelled out heavy vocals a la Patti Smith, jumping her way through the set, while singer/guitarist Thurston Moore howled and writhed on the ground, scratching his guitar against the amps at the end of the show.

Amazingly, the band performed as if they were all still in their 20s, and unless you were up front, it was hard to tell that they had even aged at all.

Saturday night was a mix of old and new. With a set from Come and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion during the earlier part of the evening, more recent bands closed the night. Releasing his first album on Matador Records in June, attendees had the opportunity to hear the emotionally charged and beautiful sounds of Perfume Genius, as well as femme fatale Cat Power, Spoon and the charming Belle and Sebastian.

“It’s crazy. I’m sleeping really weird,” said Mike Hadreas, the man behind Perfume Genius jokingly.

Not a stranger to Las Vegas, Hadreas’ 20-minute set was enough for him to stand out as one of the most heartfelt talents since Antony and the Johnsons.

“I spent a rough Christmas two years ago here, kind of a solitary marathon Christmas session,” Hadreas said.

“But this is a nice, healthy, productive return. I haven’t been doing this for [very long] so I’m nervous, [but] everyone’s been really gracious and nice.”

Cat Power took the stage playing a cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” and followed up with “Woman.” Running behind on time, her set was cut short for Spoon, who is now with Merge Records.

About an hour off schedule, Belle and Sebastian took the stage, naturally charming the audience with their Scottish accents and by being ridiculously adorable. And of course they put on an amazing performance. Playing favorites like “Step Into My Office, Baby” and “Sukie in the Graveyard,” lead singer Stuart Murdoch invited four young fans on stage to dance with him, creating one of the most laid-back and happy atmospheres of the night

The collective of artists that performed at Matador made for one of the best festivals that die-hard music fans could ever see. And luckily, Las Vegas has the honor of being able to call Matador 21 ours. Granted, we cried and, yes, we got a little pissy. But there’s a reason why this city was chosen to host one of the most meaningful festivals in indie-music history. And there’s a liveliness here that will continue to grow in the influential wake of Matador.

“Thing is, its awesome that it’s still fun,” Lombardi said about the 21st anniversary of his label. “When I first put out those first couple of records, it wasn’t meant to be like a full -fledged record label. The fact that it’s gone on for 21 years is something that I never ever, ever imagined.”

Thankfully for us, it did.