Madison calendar, April 25 through May 1
The return of Old Time Relijun; new Madison music from Miyha, Mal-O-Dua, and Cave Curse; and more events of note in Madison this week. | By Scott Gordon, Katie Hutchinson, Grant Phipps, and Shaun Soman
Sponsor message: The weekly Tone Madison calendar is made possible with support from Union Cab of Madison, a worker-owned cooperative providing safe and professional taxi services.
THURSDAY APRIL 25
Mal-O-Dua, the acoustic duo of Cedric Baetche and Chris Ruppenthal, has been playing a mix of Django Reinhardt-style swing, country music, French pop, and fluttery Hawaiian slack-key guitar for more than a decade. If the combination is slightly novel on paper, the pieces fit together with ease, thanks to Baetche's sly, rugged vocals (in a combination of English and his native French) and the pair's deceptively relaxed-sounding displays of skill on both guitar and ukulele. Ruppenthal can play dizzyingly fleet and complex guitar leads and is a serious disciple of Reinhardt's guitar style, as anyone who's seen him play in Caravan Gypsy Swing Ensemble can attest. And sure, Mal-O-Dua has its share of impressive flourishes—the name is a play on a French phrase for "aching fingers"—but Baetche and Ruppenthal place them in a context that's all about helping people kick back and warm up over a few drinks. Which is good, because the Madison-based duo has a regular happy-hour gig at Mickey's Tavern, so the music needs to embrace the noise and chatter of a crowd, rather than fight it.
Take "Nuages," from the new release Au Nouveau Chat Noir, which the duo will celebrate with this show. Mal-O-Dua's take on this Reinhardt composition (with lyrics later written by French singer Jacques Larue) begins with a ripple of descending arpeggios, then gradually saunters its way into a swooning groove under Baetche's vocals. "Je Me Suis Fait Tout Petit," one of two songs here by French singer-songwriter Georges Brassens, takes a bit more of a raffish twist, with Baetche singing in his most suave baritone and Ruppenthal getting in lots of brief, prickly fills. On the whole, Au Nouveau Chat Noir emphasizes Mal-O-Dua's French influences, though the Hawaiian steel guitar slides to the fore on an instrumental rendition of "Beautiful Ohio" and the duo gets into more of a full-on exotica zone with "Keep Your Eyes On The Hands." Elsewhere, on "Song For Patrick" and "18 Rue Borda," Ruppenthal and Baetche let a little extra virtuosity shine through, but never disrupt the easygoing charm that makes Mal-O-Dua such an enduring gem in Madison. The duo will play two sets here at the Ohio, the first comprising the new record in its entirety. —Scott Gordon
"I'm a disco ball," sings Priests' Katie Alice Greer during the bridge of "Carol," a boppy track that heralds a new direction on the band's latest release, The Seduction Of Kansas. When the Washington D.C. act released Nothing Feels Natural a week after Donald Trump's inauguration, their angular post-punk felt momentous. At the time, Katie Alice Greer's off-kilter delivery and Taylor Mulitz's rumbling bass propelled the group's sonic diatribes. Now, with Mulitz having left the band, Priests have taken a few cautious steps into art-punk territory. Primary recording bassist Janel Leppin thrills on "I'm Clean," which is more danceable than anything (except "Suck") from Nothing Feels Natural, while the title track evokes a sugar-free Tacocat with its sinister disco vibe — even album-opener "Jesus' Son" offers an accessible, surfy groove. Despite the album's overall success in this area, Priests are at their best when they use dance rhythms sparingly. For example, the incohesive "68 Screen" initially sounds like The Slits or Demon Days-era Gorillaz imitating LCD Soundsystem before G.L. Jaguar's shoegazey guitar line aimlessly wanders over the song's last forty seconds. In contrast, the relatively basic new wave structure on standout track "Good Time Charlie" has enough of a groove to keep listeners dancing even as they focus on Greer's incisive lyrics. —Shaun Soman
FRIDAY APRIL 26
Madison-based hip-hop artist Red The Bully has tried on a variety of styles in his approach to both rapping and the sorts of songwriting/production modes he'll pair with his vocals. And so far this works for Red, real name Andrew Jackson. He's engaging in the kind of experimentation that suits a young but undoubtedly skilled MC, from the gritty swagger of "From The Core" and "Spartans” to the woozy R&B of "Easy Does It." Another of the many one-off tracks he's released over the past few years, "Hello," finds rapping in quick triplet phrases to enhance the gradual buildup of the verses—a detail that shows you his technical ability, but also his ear for the song as a whole. I've also seen Jackson play fiercely present and amped-up live sets, and he'll be using his upcoming performances to roll out some new material. He says listeners can expect "chill but upbeat instrumentals, and crazy lyrics surrounded by layers and really nice melodies." He shares the bill here with Chicago rapper Sage The 64th Wonder and Madison MC Keyz. —Scott Gordon
SATURDAY APRIL 27
On Madison band Miyha's first EP, 2017's Happy Birthday, Nick, guitarist and vocalist Alejandra Perez sang bluntly of romantic euphoria, sadness, conflict, and downright abuse, treating it all as part of one big messy continuum. The full-length album Miyha will celebrate at this show, World's Biggest Crush, gives the band yet more room to wrestle with those vivid highs and lows. Perez's vocal melodies and guitarist Mike Pellino's versatile leads ground the music in plenty of bright, accessible hooks, sure, but the lyrics create a space where tenderness and generosity bleed right into life at its most petty and cruel: "When I wake, and winter rears its ugly head / oh I feel frozen inside and it's best to / keep your mouth shut or else he'll / toss you out with the trash / and when I think on back all I can see is Mayweather fighting on a screen / and him," Perez sings on "Mayweather."
I was a big fan of the EP, but its production sounds a little tinny compared to the warm and well-defined guitar sounds that tangle together on World's Biggest Crush opening track "Good Enough" and the slow-burning "Lake Tahoe." Drummer Erik Fredine and bassist Kyle Kohl come through with satisfying punch, enhancing the wildly shifting emotional range that's written right into this band. Four of the 10 songs on Crush were also on the EP—"Sommer Summer," "92/69/39," "Viroqua," and the wrenching closer of both releases, "Raspberry Kombucha." They're all better off for the new treatment they get here. And the new tracks, at their best, bring a richer palette of images into Miyha's songwriting and find the band taking more time and space to build up and layer its sounds. "Palm Trees" has an especially thoughtful flow of small dynamic tweaks, from slow, reflective pauses to the achey overdriven guitar leads. Miyha shares the bill here with playfully scathing power-pop outfit According To What and with CNL, the solo moniker of Proud Parents singer-guitarist Claire Nelson-Lifson. —Scott Gordon
SUNDAY APRIL 28
Madison musician Bobby Hussy (The Hussy, Fire Heads) initially started Cave Curse as a solo project in 2014, and over time it has developed a concussive mix of glitchy darkwave and synth-driven punk. Throughout 2017's introspective Future Dust, a loose concept album that followed the death of Hussy's mother[ Hussy and drummer Will Gunnerson crafted a sound at once emotionally jittery and irrepressibly danceable. Since then, Gunnerson has departed and drummer Ben Brooks, keyboardist Emili Earhart, and bassist Tyler Spatz have joined Hussy to expand the band's sound, and that lineup will play here to celebrate the release of a new 7-inch for Italy's Goodbye Boozy Records. (Full disclosure: Earhart is a Tone Madison contributor.) Hussy's opening riff on A-side "Buried" roots the track in glimmering post-punk, while Spatz's chugging bass line cuts through the noise. Later, Earhart's synth conjures fantastic visions of King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard on a dungeon crawl in space as Brooks anchors the (still-accessible) cacophony. On B-side "Trash People," Cave Curse hints at a sprawling psych-rock epic over the track's final third before the jam session slowly fades away. While it retains the stylistic core of Future Dust, this forthcoming 7-inch suggests Cave Curse would feel comfortable growing in a few directions. Joining Cave Curse for this show are the stylistically diverse Madison-based rock quartet Wash, Milwaukee new wave duo Genau, and Madison-based electronic musician Tarek Sabbar. —Shaun Soman
TUESDAY APRIL 30
Neko Case got her start as a drummer in the DIY scene of Vancouver BC, and by the late nineties and early aughts, she had become a creative force in the alt-country world, a realm she quickly outgrew. Her earlier career was more towards the honky-tonk end of the spectrum, garnering comparisons to folks like Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn. Though she dropped the “Neko Case And Her Boyfriends” moniker after her sophomore effort Furnace Room Lullaby, Case is no stranger to collaboration. She was in The Sadies, put out an album with k.d. lang and Laura Veirs a couple years back (released as case/lang/veirs), and still tours with The New Pornographers. Her most recent record, last year’s Hell-On, features a collage of collaborators as well: Mark Langean and Beth Ditto, to name just a couple.
Hell-On tracks like “Last Lion Of Albion,” “Halls Of Sarah,” and “Winnie,” with their soaring vocals, perfectly wrought lyrics, and twangy bent, would be at home on almost any of her past releases, particularly Fox Confessor Brings The Flood and Middle Cyclone. But there are always surprises with case. There are, for instance, surprisingly solid '80s vibes on this record. The instrumentation on “My Uncle’s Navy,” with its flashing guitars and prominent synths, is almost reminiscent of some of the brighter moments of Cocteau Twins’ Heaven Or Las Vegas. This new angle is not gimmicky. On the contrary, it seems the entire thing sprang out fully-formed, cohesive and complete, the new residing comfortably alongside the well-worn. Hell-On makes it clear that, more than 20 years into her solo career, Case is just as bold and uncompromising as ever.
Shannon Shaw may be a little newer to the game but is no less of a powerhouse. The lead singer of doo-wop/garage act Shannon And The Clams released a transcendent solo debut last year on Easy Eye, the Nashville-based label of Dan Auberbach (Black Keys), who also put out the Clams; latest release, Onion. Shannon In Nashville is a straight-up beautiful, dramatic body of work. With her tremendous voice, it’s no stretch to compare her to both classic artists like Aretha Franklin or Leslie Gore and more contemporary acts like Amy Winehouse, but Shaw is in a league of her own. —Katie Hutchinson
WEDNESDAY MAY 1
Olympia-based mixed media artist and musician Arrington de Dionyso (Old Time Relijun, Malaikat dan Singa) has become something of a revered figure in the past few years for his 2016 essay about getting wrapped up in the bizarre Pizzagate conspiracy theory when right-wing trolls baselessly claimed his sexually charged paintings were linked to sex trafficking in D.C. Dionyso firmly concluded that he would stand against their intimidation by continuing to create uncompromising art that draws from dreams and mythology, and by fostering "safe environments where people can explore new ways of organizing expressive sound.”
Perhaps as a formal response to the ordeal, Dionyso re-ignited the fires of Old Time Relijun, his avant-blues/art punk band that went on hiatus in 2008. Now touring in support of its first release in over 11 years, See Now And Know, the reformed group boasts its grooviest and tightest rhythm section ever. No doubt refined from Dionyso's time in Malaikat dan Singa, an offshoot band that borrows from Indonesian music traditions in addition to Tuvan throat singing and avant-garde jazz, Old Time Relijun's new face boasts some of its catchiest and most immediate material, largely contained in three-minute bursts.
EP opener "Jeremiad" radiates a full-throttled energy from Aaron Hartman's upright bass before Germaine Baca's drum fills interject and collide with Dionyso's angular two-note guitar chord and an impassioned, elastic, quavering wail that's comparable to the legendary Captain Beefheart. The song's second verse vibrantly buzzes as bass clarinet mingles with Benjamin Hartman's saxophone skronk, which blooms into full-on jazz phrasing on "Dragon Juice" and even psychedelia on standout track, "Crows In A Row" with its discordant organ sounds. The danceable Spanish language track "El Naranjo Gritando" (or "The Screaming Orange") mocks our infantile, treasonous President, giving Dionyso's most unorthodox endeavor a newfound satirical grandeur. —Grant Phipps