People sometimes celebrate birthdays in strange ways. For Matador Records, marking its 21st year with a "Lost Weekend" at the Palms Hotel in Las Vegas, the party began Friday on a basketball court. In a luxury suite fitted with its own regulation half-court, dozens of indie rockers, label staff and guests simultaneously fired bricks, airballs and perfect shots at the rim as Matador exec Gerard Cosloy manned the turntables.
The party was a preamble to three promising nights of classic indie rock, grunge, post-modern soul and wild avant-noise at the hotel's Pearl Theater. As Cosloy spun vintage vinyl (featuring terrific obscurities like T. Valentine's "Lucille Are You a Lesbian?" and "Car" by Matador's own Come), bearded, burly singer Damian Abraham of the band Fucked Up stripped down to his shorts and splashed into the indoor hot tub right next to the label chief's personal record collection. A few minutes later, Abraham slapped new artist Kurt Vile right in the balls.
"They flew the whole staff out here," said Christy Newman, former Matador employee (she's also married to New Pornographers mastermind Carl Newman). "It's all the same people I used to work with, and I left in 2007. I was there for nine years. Matador is that kind of place. You don't want to leave."
The weekend was mainly about the music Matador has represented since 1989, with a seemingly miraculous lineup that includes bands that were either broken up or on indefinite hiatus. The party coincided with Pavement's reunion tour after 11 years of silence, and Belle & Sebastian ending a long break. For the classic lineup of Guided By Voices, Cosloy said,only half-joking, that it amounted to "essentially us saying 'viola, the bag of money. Would you like to play?' Luckily, because they gleefully accepted the bag of money they're now able to play in cities that they haven't played in a zillion years."
Cosloy hoped the Lost Weekend would be less about the star power of old bands than a chance for fans to discover the label's newer acts, from Vile to Perfume Genius. "I do hope that it's not a mere nostalgia exercise," he said. "We're trying to entertain and educate at the same time — and get paid — in equal doses."
The crowd on day one was a healthy mix of original fans, from Nineties devotees to the likes of 17-year-old Theodora Shure of Seattle, waiting in line Friday for an autograph signing with Sonic Youth. She was there with her brothers, aged 11 and 15. "They were so good. I felt some sort of religious experience," Shure said after the band's blistering set. "These bands will never play all together again. I feel real lucky to be here."
For some older fans, it inevitably is about nostalgia and a community. Dan Cortez, 45, is a self-described GBV fanatic, who has traveled across the country to see the band whenever it is in action, and not just for the music. "My wife doesn't understand it, but I get to meet guys that I've known for 20 years, and we've all gone to the same shows, and I get to hang out with them. The bands are important, but the relationship with the guys is even more important."
Carl Newman kept running into old friends, and was unsure how many acts he would actually see, before his own set with New Pornographers on Sunday. "When I was 20, I could go, 'I'm going to watch three hours of music for three straight days!' But now I just think, I can't take it," he said. "Now I'm too spoiled: Am I allowed backstage? Are there free drinks? Will I get to sit down? But there's s lot of bands I want to see. I'm going to try and see a couple of bands a day."