FOLLOW US ON: follow us in feedly
GET THE NEWSLETTER
CONTACT US
Liz Phair, Jon Spencer, Yo La Tengo and more in hilarious fake kids’ show ‘What’s Up Matador,’ 1997


 
In the ‘70s, Warner Brothers records released an amazing series of compilations. They were officially dubbed the “Loss Leaders” for exactly-what-it-says-on-the-box reasons; for a paltry $2, you’d get a double LP (some were single-platter, at least one was a triple), packaged with an ample book of liner notes and stuffed with songs from superstars, cult artists and new signings alike. The idea was that though you bought it for the huge hit or rare track by Neil Young, Fleetwood Mac, Rod Stewart, or whoever, you’d also end up hearing left-field stuff by the Fugs, Deaf School, Talking Heads, Wild Man Fischer, Captain Beefheart, et al ad infinitum. If any of the lesser-known tracks connected with listeners, that would translate into more records sold at full price. They made dozens of those comps, and a great many of them were compiled and liner-noted by Barry “Dr. Demento” Hansen. They were available by mail-order between 1969 and 1980, when the campaign abruptly and sadly ended.

(It merits mentioning here that the final Loss Leader, 1980’s Troublemakers, features Gang of Four, PiL, DEVO, Wire, and John Cale, and so might be of extremely high interest to a hell of a lot of this blog’s followers. I’d even venture to guess that that very comp could be the very record that made a few of our readers realize they were mutants to begin with.)
 

 
Warner resurrected the “Loss Leader” idea in name only for a couple of giveaway comps in 1995 and 1999, but the cheap-o label sampler idea was such an obvious winner that indie/underground labels began to take up that torch the ’80s, and some of those collections have become legendary. In 1997, Matador records released a ridiculously generous 2XCD comp called What’s Up Matador, which sold at a very low retail price. The idea was the same; Teenage Fanclub, Pavement and Guided By Voices would sell the comp to people who would hopefully then get hip to quality lesser-knowns like Bardo Pond, S.F Seals, and Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 (and by the way, getting hip to Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 wouldn’t be such a terrible use of your time), and hopefully those smaller bands enlarged their audiences.

That comp came out when I was neckdeep in my college radio years, and naturally it got a ton of spins during my airshift, but what I wasn’t aware of—because I was a dumb dipshit who never even once bothered to read the liner notes—was that What’s Up Matador was also a completely bonkers video compilation. No mere digest of promo clips, the video was shot as a fake children’s TV show, with preposterous “educational” segments by the label’s roster of weirdo musicians, hosted by the then-renowned TV smiler Bill Boggs (I recognized him from a late night satellite dish infomercial). Segments include a pedalboard demo by Yo La Tengo’s Ira Kaplan, a marvelous storybook history of Matador illustrated by Railroad Jerk’s Marcellus Hall, a damn near obscene theremin demonstration by Jon Spencer, and a hilariously stilted fake interview with Liz Phair. The video was written and directed by Clay Tarver, guitarist for the Matador band Chavez (one of my top-tier favorite overlooked ‘90s bands, as it happens), who was kind enough to take some time to talk with me about it.

CLAY TARVER: I had been doing some video work, and when Matador was going to put together this compilation, I pitched this video idea because I wanted to do more of that. I really racked my brain about what would be the most ridiculous thing to do, and the idea I started with was to do a sort of Reading Rainbow type show. It seemed funny to me to have someone like Jon Spencer sitting down reading to a bunch of kids, but to do it in a way that made more fun of Jon Spencer than it did the kids. Then it all came together when we cast Bill Boggs with the idea to make it as straight as possible. The guiding creative principle was to make it not winking or campy, but to do it like a real show. Bill knew Matador was a hip thing, and while we didn’t want to fuck with him or make him the butt of the joke, we also didn’t want to correct him in those moments when he wasn’t entirely clear on how sarcastic this would be, that we were making fun of indie music as much as we were making fun of kids’ shows.

I also got an illuminating earful from Matador label honcho Gerard Cosloy…

GERARD COSLOY: We wanted to do a Matador compilation similar to things like the Warner Brothers Loss Leader comps, Blasting Concept, Wailing Ultimate, as a cheap introduction to the wonderful world of Matador, and we needed a concept. We had the idea to do an accompanying video just cobbling together a bunch of videos from the period, but that wasn’t very ambitious, so we wanted to have a narrative to it. We kept thinking about infomercials and instructional films, and we also thought about very awkward situations, like how this could be for children, like a child’s primer on the world of Matador, or record manufacturing and whatnot, just to add to the incongruity of the whole thing. Clay understood the idea right away. Some of the vague inspirations included the WOR TV show Wonderama, Uncle Floyd, Major Mudd, these sorts of kids shows with very poor production values, that are a little too earnest and a little wrong.

We were initially thinking of going for the laugh factor instead of playing it deadpan, and one of us—meaning me—had my heart set on Richard Bey, who was a shit-TV fixture on the East Coast from that era, who had a very exploitative, silly show. I thought he’d be perfect because he was so smarmy and creepy and weird, the least hip human being in the entire world. Having him in front of a room full of kids talking about music would be wrong in every conceivable way. His casting agency wanted some astronomical amount of money for him, they wanted something like $15,000. I think we budgeted something closer to $3,000. The agency suggested Bill Boggs, which was kind of incredible, because in a lot of ways he was a much bigger coup with a way more respected resume. He’s hosted daytime TV, he had a late night show in New York, I think he was the original executive producer of The Morton Downey Jr. Show. His credentials a both a totally generic host and as a guy who’d worked on really wacky TV was impeccable. He was just perfect for the job, because he was so deadpan that it made for much better comedy. Bill gave it a measure of gravitas—and it doesn’t make any sense, because there’s no way you could watch this and think it was real!

In conjunction with the launch of a new “This Day In Matador History” web site that seeks to engage music fans with the label’s now 27-ish years of output, the What’s Up Matador video is being released online for the first time ever today. Until now, it’s been a VHS collectable, and it was bundled as an add-on to the later Everything Is Nice DVD. As it happens, the mechanics of the cassette format led to a fucking hilarious manufacturing error in the video’s initial run.

Here’s that story in Gerard’s words, it’s pretty amazing:

GERARD COSLOY:The video duplication company that was in charge of manufacturing and packaging the VHS tapes was also handling the Michael Flatley Lord of the Dance videos, which were very very popular, he sold hundreds of thousands of those—God knows to who. There was a manufacturing error, and I don’t know exactly how many, but a good portion of the early shipments of What’s Up, Matador, people got their videocassettes, put them in their VCRs, and instead of seeing Bill Boggs, Ira Kaplan and Liz Phair, they were seeing Michael Flatley dance routines! We had a number of kinda angry consumers, and I hope that we got them all the right videotapes once the dust eventually cleared, but it was a long time ago. There was some ill will over that which probably cost us some word-of-mouth. I think we tried to explain to people that the Flatley tape was like $60 and they only paid $15. Our customer service back then wasn’t very sophisticated.

 

Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Yo La Tengo’s delightful cover of The Cure’s ‘Friday I’m In Love’
Black Devil Disco Club returns with Nancy Sinatra, Afrika Bambaataa, Jon Spencer & more
Guided by Voices’ Robert Pollard: College baseball stud pitches no-hitter

Posted by Ron Kretsch
|
01.26.2016
09:16 am
|
One of a kind 45s by Yo La Tengo, Guided By Voices & more to benefit Surfer Blood’s Thomas Fekete
11.13.2015
08:59 am
Topics:
Tags:


 
Anyone following indie rock in the last decade is surely familiar with Florida’s Surfer Blood, if not for their music, then for the dramatic roller-coaster of their career. They came out of the starting gate in 2010 with Astro Coast, a debut so widely acclaimed it landed the college kids in the band a world tour, and a run of opening slots for The Pixies. I saw one of their pre-fame shows, and while the music wasn’t 100% my zone, I totally understand the appeal. Despite the club being dead empty, they put on a show so affable and fun it felt like they could have been playing to a packed house party full of their best friends.
 

 
They were riding so high from that impressive beginning that on their tour for their second album, Pythons, they topped the bill over the venerable and respected indie stalwarts …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead. But their second album was derailed, both by being less impressive than Astro Coast, and by a nasty and well-publicized domestic battery incident in which their their singer, John Paul Pitts, was the aggressor. After Pitts sought anger-management therapy, the band sought redemption with 2015’s respectable 1000 Palms, but they’ve been derailed again:

Thomas Fekete, Surfer Blood guitarist for 6 years, has been sidelined while undergoing treatment for a very rare and aggressive cancer (a sarcoma).  Although Thom has health insurance, which has covered more than six months of chemotherapy, his experienced team of doctors are confident in an alternative treatment plan, that unfortunately is not covered by insurance.  As he’s no longer able to tour and make a living, we hope and appreciate if you can help with a donation of any size, and help spread the word by sharing on social media. Thank you so much for the love and support!

 

 
A GoFundMe campaign to help Fekete came and went last spring, but there’s still a need for more money (fighting cancer is one of the most damnably expensive goddamn things on this Earth), so the band has contrived a novel fundraising idea. Bands including Guided By Voices, Yo La Tengo, Lou Barlow, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, and unsurprisingly, Surfer Blood, have donated unreleased tracks, and each track has been lathe-cut by hand into a single record, each one-of-a-kind and accordingly numbered 1/1. All one of these unique, hand-made records are on eBay right now, through the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund. For a lower premium, the band offers a download of all the donated tracks in MP3 format. The minimum donation for that compilation is $10.

More after the jump…

READ ON
Posted by Ron Kretsch
|
11.13.2015
08:59 am
|
Yo La Tengo have started a Spotify playlist of the songs they’ve covered
08.04.2015
12:05 pm
Topics:
Tags:


 
It may be impossible, I suspect, to fully catalog every song that Yo La Tengo has covered. Between their legendary request sets during WFMU’s frequent telethons (call in and pledge a donation and they’d play, live on air and on-the-spot, whatever song you asked for) and their 12-year run of guest- and covers-heavy Hanukkah shows at the late lamented Hoboken venue Maxwell’s (so it’s clear: the Hanukkah shows were for all eight nights of the holiday), the number of covers they’ve done in their thirty-some-odd years of existence surely must run over a thousand.

And yet, the band has begun a Spotify playlist to collect, in once place, the songs they’ve covered. These are mostly the originals, not YLT’s versions, with the exception of their new version of the Cure’s “Friday I’m in Love” (we told you about that one not so long ago), so they’re limited by what’s even on Spotify to begin with, and they’ve got a long way to go. The list currently stands at only 56 songs. To illustrate how ridiculously short that falls of the band’s actual covers repertoire, the 2006 album Yo La Tengo is Murdering the Classics alone sports thirty covers, plus a medley of 8 more. Eleven of the sixteen songs on their classic album Fakebook are covers. And well over half of the forthcoming Stuff Like That There…. you get the point, right? So I’m assuming the playlist is a work in progress. By all means give it a listen and have fun cruising the series of tubes for YLT’s versions. It’s a worthwhile timesuck if you like rock music—you like rock music, right? Meantime, I’m going to a share few YLT covers that I consider essential but are absent from the list.

Their WFMU cover of Daniel Johnston’s “Speeding Motorcycle,” with Johnston himself literally phoning in the vocals, is still legendary after 25 years. It even got a painfully limited 7” release once. It’s easier to come by on the album Genius + Love = Yo La Tengo. Or you could just check it out right here.
 

 
A whole lot more music after the jump…

READ ON
Posted by Ron Kretsch
|
08.04.2015
12:05 pm
|
Yo La Tengo’s delightful cover of The Cure’s ‘Friday I’m In Love’
07.14.2015
03:27 pm
Topics:
Tags:


 
Yo La Tengo have just released a video for their cover of the Cure’s “Friday I’m in Love.” The song will appear on the album Stuff Like That There, due out late in August. It’ll feature plenty of covers besides “Friday,” including tunes by the Parliaments, Hank Williams, and the Lovin’ Spoonful.

Their version crushes the 1992 original, which has long been fanbase-breaker in the Cure’s oeuvre—mawkish, histrionic, popular as hell, but considered sub-par by just as many as those who adore it. It’s a love-it-or-hate-it song, and I’m pretty squarely in the hate-it camp. But Yo La Tengo’s version strips away all the Cure’s standard affectations, and the sincere, unpretentious rendition by YLT’s drummer Georgia Hubley reveals the lovely little song it could have been if the Cure hadn’t Cured it up quite so much. For revelatory covers of overblown pop songs, this ranks with Richard Thompson’s “Oops, I Did it Again.”

And the video is just wonderful. It features Hubely walking through the streets of Hoboken singing the song, apparently completely unaware that her singing is attracting giant exploding hearts to rain on the Earth. And as things get worse, the band’s sense of humor comes more and more to the fore.
 

Previously on Dangerous Minds:
The drummers from Oneida, Yo La Tengo and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs really tore it up on Record Store Day
Adorable Yo La Tengo dolls, designed by Jim Woodring!

Posted by Ron Kretsch
|
07.14.2015
03:27 pm
|
The drummers from Oneida, Yo La Tengo and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs really tore it up on Record Store Day


 
Fans of avant-rock percussion should already know the name of Kid Millions. It’s the nom de rock of John Colpitts, best known as the drummer for the long-running, krautrock-influenced NYC band Oneida, who became notorious in 2002 for the 14-minute, one-note song “Sheets of Easter” from their essential 2xCD Each One Teach One. Millions’ uncannily metronomic timing, enviable stamina, and the fact that he’s one of the nicest guys on Earth has made him a sought-after percussionist, and he’s served stints with Ex-Models, Spiritualized, and the terrific Marnie Stern. He’s currently on tour with his recurring heavy-friends project Man Forever, whose new LP is Ryonen, a collaboration with Sō Percussion. From MF’s FB:

Man Forever is actually a band. It’s not a statement about men. It’s a compositional vehicle that tends to have a lot of drums but sometimes it doesn’t.

I’ve seen Man Forever three times, and I’ve yet to see them sans a lot of drums. The first show I caught had pounding from the likes of Obnox honcho Bim Thomas and Call of the Wild’s scary-good Allison Busch. The second time, Millions recruited local musicians at every tour stop to perform a drums-and-drone composition. But last Saturday, Man Forever were in Cleveland, and members of Yo La Tengo were also in town, doing a DJ set for Record Store Day. And so it came to pass that that night, YLT’s Georgia Hubley became a part of Man Forever with Millions, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Brian Chase, and Amy Garapic of the percussion ensemble Tigue. Shame there was apparently only a hi-hat available for Hubley to play, but then Garapic made just a snare go a pretty darn long way.

It merits mentioning that Millions had played with Hubley before—he was one of the supporting drummers in Yo La Tengo’s Late Night with Jimmy Fallon appearance in 2013, along with with Portlandia’s Fred Armisen. The clip, sadly, has been nuked from NBC’s website and Hulu, but if you’re really jonesing to see it, there’s a vid posted by someone who shot it off his TV screen here.

Here’s the video of Kid Millions’ ability to make drum circles cool again. I only got a few minutes of the set before my phone’s memory filled up, because I suck at phones. Additional footage comes courtesy of Jon Morgan and Lou Muenz.
 

 
More after the jump…

READ ON
Posted by Ron Kretsch
|
04.25.2014
02:00 pm
|
Adorable Yo La Tengo dolls, designed by Jim Woodring!
10.14.2013
04:36 pm
Topics:
Tags:

Yo La Tengo, Tree
 
Yo La Tengo has teamed up with renowned comix practitioner Jim Woodring, author of The Frank Book and other light classics, to present a swell collection of cute soft-vinyl dolls for those who pre-order their new DVD Tree, available in “late November 2013.”

The three dolls represent the three members of Yo La Tengo: “The ecstatic creatures that inhabit ‘The Tree’ are the 3 beings blessed by the god of music.”
 

This product is a set of DVD and 3 soft-vinyl dolls. The DVD contains an original animation (5:20 minutes) of a mind-blowing colorful dream world that centers on “the Tree” and the 3 whimsical characters. It is made by a Japanese production company that specialize in hand-drawn animation: drop. And of course, All NEW music by Yo La Tengo! The 3 colorful soft-vinyl dolls were sculpted by Japanese master sculptor: Tomohiro Yasui. Beautiful packaging design by Jim Woodring with a bonus comic on the back.

 
The DVD and the dolls together cost $40. The set will also be available in limited quantities on their coming European tour.

Here’s a video snippet presenting the three characters, although it is inexplicably without audio.

Posted by Martin Schneider
|
10.14.2013
04:36 pm
|