Matador at 21 Night 3: Guided by Voices gives the festival a salty salute


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Funny thing about Matador at 21: After three days and dozens of diverse bands, it turns out everyone was pretty much there to see Guided by Voices. The ‘90s lo-fi heroes, who reunited to play the festival (and stop in L.A. Monday night), headlined the event’s final night, hitting the stage around midnight and playing past 2 a.m. -- to a nearly capacity crowd. If Matador at 21 were a game, Guided by Voices would’ve won -- they earned the most encores, the most fist pumping, the most singalongs, the most pushing against the stage and the most chanting of the whole weekend.


The night’s other acts were a mix between the label’s future and its refreshingly relevant past. Shearwater, a recent label addition whose work draws on the atmospherics of Talk Talk with more dark drive, opened the evening to a mostly empty audience (the rest were off seeing the Clean headline a matinee show upstairs). They were followed by Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, the longtime semi-punk act who made their Matador debut earlier this year. Leo got a lot of shine this weekend, joining fans at Saturday night’s karaoke after-party to sing a version of Beat Happening’s ‘Cast a Shadow,’ taking the stage to serve as the butt of jokes on Sunday night from MCs Jon Wurster and Tom Scharpling and even introducing and later dueting with Liz Phair. The singer earned it. His set was as high-energy as a case of Red Bull.

Finishing up the ‘00s acts were the New Pornographers, at full strength with members Neko Case and Destroyer’s Dan Bejar, who sang three songs and was otherwise curmudgeonly. The group’s banter was almost as funny as Scharpling and Wurster’s (who should’ve MC’d the whole weekend), but their power-pop anthems were even better. Then the evening turned toward the ‘90s: Liz Phair, in a cut-up Belle & Sebastian shirt, took the stage with a guitarist and his-and-hers Fender Stratocasters. Though the songwriter’s music (and reputation) has taken a number of strange turns in recent years, on Sunday night she stuck to the classics, closing with a song we can’t print the name of in a family blog but which turned from lament to anthem.

Yo La Tengo, who have nearly as many albums as the endlessly prolific Guided by Voices, preceded the headliners, playing a jumpy set that ranged from raucous experimental sprawls (what Phish fans call ‘jamming,’ we hear) to the pop tenderness of ‘Our Way to Fall’ and ‘Mr. Tough.’ On ‘You Can Have It All,’ drummer Georgia Hubley stepped out from behind the kit to sing lead, while frontman Ira Kaplan and bassist James McNew abandoned their instruments for a charming set of choreographed moves.

Then came Guided by Voices, and the crowd pushed toward the stage with an intensity not seen all weekend. It wasn’t that love was lacking for the festival’s earlier acts; they just weren’t Guided by Voices. It was a special end to a weekend full of impressive moments and, for all the surreal Vegas backdrop, a long-overdue outpouring of emotion for the indie label. Long live Matador Records; now can we do this every year?

-- David Greenwald

Photos, from top: Guided by Voices’ Robert Pollard and his band headline Matador at 21; Shearwater’s Jonathan Meiburg; Ted Leo and the Pharmacists; the New Pornographers’ Neko Case; Liz Phair; Ira Kaplan of Yo La Tengo. Credit: David Greenwald / for the Times