A “comics slam” at Everyday Gay Holiday, sprawling electronic adventures with Randal Bravery, the end of Micro-Wave Cinema Series, and more events of note in Madison this week. | By Ian Adcock, Scott Gordon, Reid Kurkerewicz, Grant Phipps, Joel Shanahan, and David Wolinsky
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 26
LA's No Age builds noisy indie-rock numbers with whining pop-punk vocals and droning guitars reminiscent of My Bloody Valentine. They've been champions of the DIY movement in LA for a decade, having helped lay the groundwork in a now infamous venue, The Smell, that other communities later often intentionally emulated. The band's latest album, Snares Like A Haircut, furthers the sonic maturation already apparent on the somber, dark An Object, which is the kind of punk album that will make you very sad. The vulnerability in the lyricism of a song like "Cruise Control" barely survives alongside multiple catchy hooks, buried beneath layers of distortion and abrasive tones. In some ways, Haircut is a return to their energetic, optimistic energy of their 2010 breakthrough, Nouns. The album is addressed to "the misfits that 2017 couldn't kill," which signifies a refreshing forward momentum for a band that could have coasted on early success. They're joined here by fellow LA band Behavior, Madison rock trio Cool Building (comprising members of Proud Parents, The Hussy, and Coordinated Suicides), and far-reaching Madison DJ Evan Woodward. —Reid Kurkerewicz
Chicago-born trumpeter and composer Marquis Hill has used his youthful perspective (he is 31) to carve out a porous pathway between jazz, hip-hop, and R&B. Hill's collaborators within jazz alone have included long-confirmed greats like pianist McCoy Tyner and younger adventurers like bassist/composer Matt Ulery and drummer/composer Makaya McCraven, and his 2014 release Modern Flows EP Vol. 1 has an almost mixtape-like quality, sequencing lush, meditative, horns-and-vibes-driven instrumentals including "White Shadows" next to more brash and punchy numbers that feature MC Keith Winford and spoken-word artist Tumelo Khoza. Hill takes that omnivorous approach to a bigger scale with 2016's album The Way We Play, which also threads in new interpretations of material by Herbie Hancock, Thelonious Monk, and Horace Silver. At this show, part of a four-day visit to the UW-Madison campus, Hill will take his virtuosic fluidity to yet another dimension, playing a set with four seasoned jazz musicians on the UW music faculty: saxophone player Les Thimming, bassist Nick Moran, pianist Johannes Wallmann, and drummer Matt Endres. —Scott Gordon
Less a man than a living brand for the multiscreen generation, self-proclaimed king of nerds Chris Hardwick is a prime example of how far you can take the American belief that we get to reinvent ourselves. Since the early 1990s, the Louisville-born comedian has evolved and iterated on himself so many times it's unclear which appositive is best applied: XFINITY disciple? Braying AMC aftershow host? Motivational speaker? Game-show host? Singled Out alum? Musician?
The truth is it's probably none of the aforementioned, because Hardwick's strongest identity is an uncritical diplomat of nerd culture as it's become more mainstream: He loves the intersection of pop culture and nerd shit with childlike glee, apparently unaware the stuff he's aggressively championing in 2018 is no longer as fringe or under attack as it was in 1978. As he cheerleads every new comic-book movie and gadget, Hardwick misses the opportunity to use his proximity and influence to impact something in this sphere's growing influence other than blind boosterism of consumerism.
There's a tension deep inside Hardwick, something he's acknowledged in countless interviews as he overcame alcoholism and has expressed awareness and gratitude for his luck to continue and prosper in entertainment—but it's possible the vapid fanboyism that's buoyed him has cost him something deeper. Most of his stand-up consists of self-deprecation through sigh-inducing terrain, like mocking how he lost his virginity (supposedly to a blow-up doll). On the 2016 stand-up album Funcomfortable, he branches out to showcase his French accent, do imitations of Batman villains, and ponder deep stuff like how fetishists tell their children how babies are made and the craziest thing nurses pull out of butts. —David Wolinsky
FRIDAY APRIL 27
The Sacrifice is Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky's final film, which he made while in Sweden as an expatriate after he was censored by the Soviets. He shot it on the beautiful Swedish island of Narsholmen, and his trademark long shots make the somber, wide-open fields of the coast feel simultaneously infinite and claustrophobic. Likewise, The Sacrifice, released in 1986, is as much about a family on a tiny sliver of the Earth as it is about international politics.
The film begins with Alexander, a former actor who is now a writer and lecturer, spending the day with his temporarily mute son "Little Man," before celebrating his birthday with family and friends. Alexander often philosophizes on the nature of his life, declaring to his toddler that there is no such thing as death. When the group hears a radio broadcast about the possibility of impending nuclear warfare stemming from World War III, the once-idyllic bourgeois world is thrown into chaos. The action of the characters is often interrupted by flying jets that shake the foundation of the house, and the psychological state of the family disintegrates, leading to a captivating final scene. This screening wraps up UW Cinematheque's series of Tarkovsky masterpieces, which also includes sci-fi thrillers Solaris and Stalker. —Reid Kurkerewicz
Ralph Shively is an owner of Lakeside Printing Cooperative and a WORT volunteer who suffered serious injuries after being struck by a car in January. Members of the Madison community have responded with a successful fundraising campaign to support his recovery. This benefit is one in a string of other fundraising efforts, including a GoFundMe that met its goal and continues to accept donations.
The lineup for the benefit is mostly made up of local musicians. The Hussy is a garage-punk trio whose deceptively simple songs are as chaotic as they are catchy. Wood Chickens mix Midwestern folk music and country stylings with a punk attitude to uniquely charming effect. Educational Davis is a new-wave, post-punk solo project that makes great use of electronic elements like synthesizers and drum machines. The Minneapolis-based band Battlerat provides out-of-town support with jazz-infused chamber-pop music. —Reid Kurkerewicz
Chicago band Trio Mokili blend musical traditions from Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, and other points abroad with American jazz styles. Their expertly crafted instrumentals feature drums, guitars, and stand-up bass weaving in and out of each other in introspective jams usually centered on a catchy theme, as captured on a set of demos recorded at Chicago's Electrical Audio a few years back. The band is a collaboration of three musicians with extensive backgrounds in jazz and various styles of music from around the world, and the three experts trade-off center stage throughout the songs. Nathaniel Braddock plays guitar, and has been a music lecturer for years, teaching classes on topics from Sufjan Stevens to popular African guitar styles. His performance work in jazz and contemporary African music has taken him across the world. Drummer Makaya McCraven describes himself as a "beat scientist," and is known for imbuing live jazz performances with hip-hop production techniques on his solo albums In The Moment (2015) and Highly Rare (2017), which also feature Trio Mokili bassist Junius Paul, another expert improviser. McCraven and Braddock also play together in Occidental Brothers Dance Band Int'l, which offers a more festive take on African music, namely soukous and highlife. Trio Mokili play here as they work on wrapping up their first studio album. —Reid Kurkerewicz
MMOCA is celebrating color with a night of interactive exhibits featuring artists and designers pulled from around the Midwest. You'd think sight would be the focus here, but all five senses are covered, with DJs (including local standouts like Glynis and the Queer Pressure crew), colorful food, and interactive exhibits (of the "please touch" variety). One wonders if there is also some extra stuff to smell. According to a MMOCA press release, each "chromatic environment" at Chroma will be dedicated to a single color.
One artist, Jan Brugger, who has a BFA from UW-Madison and teaches art at Purdue and the University of Chicago, will present an green-screen installation "somewhere between a creative, DIY television studio and a bright, interactive photo booth." The space around participants will dissolve into the green, surrounded instead by one of Brugger's animations. Another artist involved is Ben Orozco, who worked with neon to create a minimal but tropically serene environment in a recent solo show at the Memorial Union. Guests are also encouraged to design and wear a costume based on a color of their choice, with a contest and prize for each of the primary colors on the rainbow spectrum. It is not yet confirmed if Roy G. Biv will be in attendance. —Reid Kurkerewicz
SATURDAY APRIL 28
Iranian auteur Abbas Kiarostami is unanimously regarded as a significant cinematic innovator of the 20th century, best represented by formative award-winning documentary-fiction hybrids like Close-up (1990). Before his unfortunate passing in 2016, Kiarostami began to shift his focus abroad with thematic takes on malleable identity with Certified Copy (2010) in Tuscany and Like Someone In Love (2012) in Tokyo, which confirm the universality of his artistic language. Kiarostami's final film, 24 Frames, presented here as a conclusion to the spring 2018 "Premiere Showcase" series at Cinematheque, is a reflective return to his roots and autobiographical interdisciplinary memoir that unites his career in film with his passion and professional proclivity for photography. Kiarostami transparently accomplishes this through digital animation, as he applies musical scores as well as subtle, deliberate movements and dynamic weather effects to transmute 23 of his own black-and-white still-life and landscape photographs into short films that comprise a kind of singular anthology. In addition to those, he introduces the film with Bruegel The Elder's most recognizable painting, "Hunters in the Snow" (a lingering, indelible image in Tarkovsky's Solaris, also recently a part of campus programming), thus augmenting this clever self-reference (23 photos + 1 painting) with the speed of film at 24 frames per second, establishing a layered meditation on the mediums simultaneously. While typical essay-films may be characterized by certain didacticism that accompanies voiceover, Kiarostami reaches for a more transcendental sensibility, perhaps akin to the aforementioned Tarkovsky. 24 Frames is at once an accessible entry point for the unfamiliar, and a nostalgically thoughtful coda to a true visionary. —Grant Phipps
Madison's annual zine festival is in its fifth year under the Print & Resist name (it has a long and winding history that goes back much farther, but these days the event feels rejuvenated and a lot more stable), and boasts a huge lineup of experimental printing artists and community based publishing groups. Participants in Print & Resist will be able to peruse vendors' crafts and artists' works, and are also invited to take part in educational workshops and activities. From the well-established radical political art and printing collective justseeds, to emerging local artists like Selia Salazader, whose print work explores the idea of body image, the fest will showcase a diverse spectrum of local creativity. If you can't make it to the event, the Print & Resist blog has an extensive list of the participating artists' online presences, which is a handy tool to browse if you're in need of inspiration, or you want to find new local artists and craftspeople to love and support. —Reid Kurkerewicz
The last weekend of April is a great one for scrappy, against-the-grain print-media culture in Madison. In addition to Saturday's Print & Resist expo on Saturday morning and afternoon at the Central Library, the WUD Art committee is in the midst of a "Comics Symposium." That includes an art exhibit at Union South showcasing the work of independent comics trailblazer John Porcellino (best known for his long-running King-Cat series), and this "Comics Slam" event at one-of-a-kind Atwood Avenue studio Everyday Gay Holiday. It will involve 11 comics artists sharing their work in four- to six-minute bursts, with the aid of projected visuals, with "headlining" presentations from Porcellino (whose new book From Lone Mountain recently came out) and KC Councillor, who is an organizer of Print & Resist and is also about to release a new book, Between You And Me: Transitional Comics. The event will also feature work from Denise Makja, Izzy Fradin, Jason Kartez, Sydney Weiser, Xavier, Katie Armentrout, Emily Ugoretz, Hiwot Adilow, and Lillie Levin. —Scott Gordon
Australian comedian, TV host, and political commentator Jim Jefferies is a controversial comic, one who leverages his popularity to wade ever-further into touchy issues on-stage. For example, he has weathered protests about both his misogynistic humor, as well as his regular rape jokes. In his latest Netflix special, Freedumb, he includes five minutes of Bill Cosby material, then brings up a negative review, in which an Australian commentator transcribed his routine to point out how offensive he is. His response: "I'm joking!" He goes on to argue, "My whole skill in life is being able to say horrible things, and still seem likable," and then introduces his material with sarcastic trigger warnings. Jefferies makes the argument rather plainly, that it's the way he says horrible things in an obviously joking way that makes them O.K. Jefferies is therefore a good litmus test for where you land on questions of what's okay to say in jest and who can say it. When he's not digging himself into a hole in the name of defying political correctness, Jefferies does make interesting political arguments with an outside-of-America perspective, with legitimately funny points in favor of legalizing sex work and curbing access to guns. —Reid Kurkerewicz
SUNDAY APRIL 29
Appropriately, the farewell screening of Micro-Wave Cinema Series will be the most recent feature written and directed by series curator Brandon Colvin. Sabbatical, which had its world premiere at the 2014 Wisconsin Film Festival, is a somber film in the auteur spirit of Robert Bresson's ascetic minimalism.
Robert Longstreet stars as Ben Hardin, doctor of religious studies, who returns to his former home on leave from university to serve as a caregiver for his ailing mother (Rebecca Koon). While Ben is impelled by genuine feelings of love in his tending to landscaping and escorting her to and from church, the prevailing mood of the film increasingly leans towards vexing obligation and aimlessness as the professor struggles to re-assimilate and devote time and focus to academic writing. The disquieted dynamic is further compounded by the presence of Ben's ex-partner Sarah (Rhoda Griffis), who he initially (and mistakenly) seeks out for consolation, and his aloof younger brother Dylan (Kentucker Audley).
Amidst much tacit dysfunction, the director and cinematographer Aaron Granat go to great lengths to evoke the muted painterly aesthetic of Danish interior painter Vilhelm Hammershøi, not only through color grading but long camera takes and character framing.
Colvin, of course, will be present to answer questions about the inspiration and process behind his sophomore effort; and he'll likely share what's next for him in Arkansas with his production company, Moss Garden, and the planning of a third feature, tentatively titled A Dim Valley. Also, be sure to thank him for his tenure and contributions to the local film scene as well as his national support of independently minded micro-budget cinema these past four years. —Grant Phipps
UW Cinematheque's series on Swiss director Alain Tanner continues with the film In The White City, a 1983 drama starring Bruno Ganz, who is better recognized these days as Hitler from the 2004 movie Downfall. We weren't able to see In The White City ahead of time for this preview because Tanner's films are rare in the US, which only makes this series more of a welcome offering in Madison's cinema calendar. (For example, the only available DVD on Amazon is $50 and doesn't work on American DVD players.)
In The White City centers on a thin, meandering plot that mimics the pointlessness of many of our lives. A sailor (Ganz) abandons his ship in Lisbon so he can spend a few days anonymously roaming the streets. He takes super-8 videos of banal events and sends these back to his wife, and while when his camera is off he flirts with his hotel maid. Tanner eschews cutaway shots and snappy editing, instead lingering on his subjects. Ganz's aimless wandering is highlighted when Tanner makes the camera itself seem detached from any straight line. —Reid Kurkerewicz
MONDAY APRIL 30
Kevin Morby has shown an aptitude for multiple genres in his stints with various New York bands. He was the bass player for the folk-rock band Woods until 2013, and fronted the garage-rock band The Babies along with his former roommate, Cassie Ramone, of Vivian Girls. His solo music eschews the lo-fi nature of both former outfits for higher-quality production that allows his songs to linger in patient quietude. On the title track of his latest album, City Music, Morby seems nostalgic for those old projects, singing with a philosophical twang over a glittering guitar melody. The rest of the album has Morby successfully employing Americana styles to flesh out his otherwise freewheeling approach. He can still launch into the guitar-solo jams that used to be the centerpieces of his songs, but these moments of tension work within an expanded landscape of his matured songwriting. —Reid Kurkerewicz
WEDNESDAY MAY 2
La Dolce Vita is one of Federico Fellini's most enduring films, a rambling journey through Roman society and an deeply personal search for meaning. Marcello Mastroianni plays Marcello, a tabloid journalist who roams through decadent Roman nightlife in search of salacious news while aspiring to become a serious writer. Though he craves bourgeois respectability he is still attracted to the hedonistic world of the rich and famous. Avoiding a traditional plot structure, Fellini instead creates a detailed character portrait of Marcello, showing us the contradictory elements of his nature that eventually lead to his self-destruction.
La Dolce Vita was controversial at the time of its 1960 release—in the US for its sexual themes and in Italy for its satirical barbs towards Catholicism. Though both seem tame by today's standards, Marcello's self-destructive attraction to "la dolce vita" still resonate in today's celebrity-obsessed culture. Fellini fills his sprawling film with dazzling black-and-white widescreen cinematography, making it an unforgettable achievement of 1960s European art-house cinema. Though it is primarily remembered for the iconic scene of Anita Ekberg wading in the Trevi Fountain, La Dolce Vita is filled with scene after scene of unforgettable imagery from the imagination of Federico Fellini. —Ian Adcock
Milwaukee producer Randal Bravery, real name Brandon Washington, has one foot solidly planted in hip-hop (he's a member of rapper Milo's Ruby Yacht collective), but that's never stopped him from spiraling out into ethereal psychedelic funk or spacey electronic abstractions. On Kala-Nemi, a 14-track collection released in March, Washington combines lush synth beds, crackling percussion, snatches of sampled dialogue, and a cavernous expanse of reverb. Tracks like "Song for Junpei Pt. I & II" and "Julian Lynch Flip" (apparently sampling the Madison-based musician) trick the listener into hovering somewhere between the solidity of the beat and the eerie calm of Washington's subtly twisting melodies. A pair of ambient tracks released in April is pretty unmoored from rhythm, opting instead for a deftly manipulated landscape of synth drones and staticky textures. Washington's broad sonic curiosity and ever-evolving setup also make Randal Bravery's live sets a chance to watch the whole project evolve in real time. —Scott Gordon
With the 2017 album Body Copy, Gel Set's first full-length since relocating to Los Angeles from Chicago, mastermind and synth-maniac Laura Callier offers the most sonically evolved version yet of her long-running, bizarro synth-pop project. The highlight track "Odds" is a solid example of what makes Body Copy such an enveloping listen. With a backdrop of subtle, stabby synth bass and sharp drum machine programming, Callier's playfully eerie synth designs weave in and out of the stereo field, as her heavily processed and breathy vocals lurk above. Body Copy certainly evokes the primal sonic charms of Chris & Cosey, but there's also a deep presence of something very rewarding and so purely Gel Set that Callier has been pushing toward for the last several years. —Joel Shanahan