Steve Earle, IshDARR, I Am Chris Farley, and more of the best stuff in Madison this week.
THURSDAY AUGUST 6
We live in a time when books are adapted for the screen with increasing abandon, their sequels sprawling into multiple films at an egregious rate (we’re looking at you, Katniss Everdeen!) so it’s a truly wonderful thing when you get the chance to, at a library of all places, revisit a film adaptation that manages to do justice to its source material. Directed by Terry Gilliam, 1998’s Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas really manages the tricky (trippy?) feat of squeezing all the druggy depravity out of Hunter S. Thompson’s nightmarish, searingly funny masterwork, while leaving the post-Altamont boomer depression intact. (Thompson himself makes a quick cameo if you know where to look.) It’s absolutely true that the whole film would’ve fallen apart without Johnny Depp sinking his teeth so deeply into the role of Thompson stand-in Raoul Duke, but the casting of all the bit players is crucial as well. From Cameron Diaz and Christina Ricci all the way down to Gary Busey and Verne Troyer, it’s arguably one of the more bug-nuts insane collections of random actors ever shot, and surprisingly not the only appearance of The Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea in a release from Criterion Collection.
What started out 65 years ago as a Friar’s Club tradition, the art of the Roast, gleefully insulting “the ones you love,” has become a big money maker for Comedy Central, gleefully bloodying the waters with the pop cultural chum of Justin Bieber and Charlie Sheen, among others, in recent years. Believe it or not, some of the middling celebrities on the dais **cough SNOOP DOGG cough** don’t write **cough MARTHA STEWART cough** their own barbed material. Who writes it, you may ask? More often than not, it’s Jesse Joyce, a talented comedian in his own right, who’s been in that writer's room off and on for almost a decade, helping to sharpen the pikes upon which we offer up the flesh of middling celebrities to the gods. Don’t expect Joyce, currently a writer on @midnight, to bust out his roast material, but do leave any sense of easily offended political correctness at the door. Jono Zalay features, and Madison’s own Nick Lynch hosts.
IshDARR’s 2015 album Old Soul Young Spirit introduces the 18-year-old Milwaukee MC with a set of nimble, focused songs, working that increasingly porous seam between rapping and drizzly crooning but usually favoring his versatile flow. From the mildly drill-channeling “Twelve” to more congenial and bouncy tracks like “It’s Like” and “For You,” there’s a sense here that IshDARR not only is a canny and skilled rapper but, also that there’s a nuanced persona taking shape in his work. He shares the bill here with fellow Milwaukee MC WebsterX (who collaborated with Madison producer Chants on a recent track) and Chicago rapper Noname Gypsy, who’s promising to release a new mixtape soon and threw down promising feature verses on both of Chance The Rapper’s releases so far.
Musician and noted Middletonian Tom Wincek leads Madison experimental-pop hybridizers All Tiny Creatures, plays in Volcano Choir and has recently served as a touring member of Field Report, but he’s also kept on making more abstract, deconstructed stuff off by his lonesome. In a new live solo setup that gets its Madison debut here, Wincek will be improvising with two synths, a sequencer and layers of his own heavily processed vocals. The show also boasts a set from Louisville electronic project Shedding—read more about him in our interview this week—and a solo set from Madison bassist Rob Lundberg.
FRIDAY AUGUST 7
On this year’s Vacant, Nick Stanger—the mastermind behind Minnesota-based one-man black metal band Ashbringer—offers a collection of refreshingly dense and dynamic dirges that combine tortured vocals, bleak atmospheres, and cold progressions that could just as well please an Emperor worshiping die-hard as it could serve as a great entry point for a metal-curious kid trying to escape the formulaic confines of metalcore in search of something psychologically heavier. Through the epic pairing of “Ethereal Aura” (parts one and two), Stanger enters with baritone croons over a strummy and textured neo-folk backdrop, before erupting into a punishingly nasty doom crawl. And while the tried-and-true post-metal dynamics are heavy within this outing, explosive black metal opus “Lucid” and the cinematic, synth-laden ambiance of “Lonesome,” as well as the album’s surprisingly polished production, show that Stanger has bigger ambitions and the means to realize them.
The whimsical power-pop shapeshifters and meticulous songwriters of NRBQ have been kicking around since the ’60s. Last year’s Brass Tacks resembles the classic blend of power-pop and Steely Dan that populated the grooves of albums like 1972’s Scraps and 1978’s At Yankee Stadium. Blending nerdy romance (“Sit On My Lap,” “Waitin’ On My Sweetie Pie”), pop tunes that every bit as angry as they are full-on cheesy thanks to an insistence on rhyming every last couplet (“Fightin’ Back”), pop-rock, and even some of NRBQ’s distinctive, chordy jazz-pop excursions (“Places Far Away,” “Getting To Know You”), Brass Tacks feels a bit like a victory lap, with novelty almost overtaking the youthful, almost testy spirit of NRBQ’s best albums. Despite Terry Adams seeming to be the last remaining original member, NRBQ are known for their loose and off-the-cuff live performances, often performed without a setlist, so maybe go in without expectations.
Sonny Knight And The Lakers are the kind of band that makes sense at a big outdoor whoop-de-do like Live On King Street: Knight, who’s previously had an obscure, on-again-off-again music career, is now in his mid-60s, and with his Minneapolis-based band he rips through varied sets of catchy R&B with a nice dash of funk and grit. The band’s proper debut, 2014’s I’m Still Here, captures Knight’s voice in clear form—more than capable of carrying a strong melody—and the new live album Do It Live channels a more road-grizzled, growly side of the band in a generous set of originals and shrewdly chosen covers including the giddy obscurity “Sock A Poo Poo,” The Beatles’ “Day Tripper,” and Rodriguez’s “Sugar Man.” (They also covered “Sugar Man,” pretty brilliantly, on I’m Still Here.) If you’re going, make sure to catch a set from the more somber and ruminative Mississippi band Water Liars.
SATURDAY AUGUST 8
Madison native and tragically lost comedian Chris Farley finally comes home after a fashion, as the subject of the new documentary I Am Chris Farley. Through interviews with his famous friends, Brent Hodge and Derik Murray’s film documentary charts Farley’s meteoric rise from his local roots up through the Chicago improv scene, SNL, becoming a leading man in feature films, and eventually his death at the age of 33. The filmmakers did their homework and logged the mileage needed to get some great footage (Kevin Farley driving around Madison and doing a set at Comedy On State!) and some genuinely unguarded moments from their subjects (Bob Saget sheds some tears). Even though it’s been almost two decades since he died, the senseless loss of the real talent Farley was shaping up to be is presented well, so expect the hometown crowd to need a hankie or two. Read more in our review of the film.
Alt-country before alt-country existed and could be used as a lazy point of reference to describe a country artist that’s usually prefaced in conversation by “I normally hate country music, but I sure love _____,” San Antonio-based country legend and songwriter Steve Earle has pushed his unpretentious blend of moody confessionals and upbeat, almost anthemic country jams forward since 1982. The current arc of Earle’s career finds the beardo troubadour and outspoken death penalty opponent sliding slightly out of his country roots and deeper into the dirty, shuffling blues-folk of this year’s Terraplane—Earle’s 16th album. While tunes like “Gamblin’ Blues,” “King Of The Blues,” and “Baby Baby Baby (Baby)” showcase a far more relaxed, detached, and almost caricature “man-of-the-blues” version of Earle, he also reliably comes through with raw, soul-baring moments in songs like ballad “Better Off Alone” and fuzzy shuffler “The Tennessee Kid.”
Two sturdy, no-nonsense, and lovably humble singer-songwriter dudes with Madison ties reconnect at this show. John Statz, who used to live in Madison and currently lives in Denver, headlines here behind his 2015 album Tulsa, and he’ll share the bill with Josh Harty, who divides his time between Madison, his native North Dakota, and the road. Harty has been at work on a new record since 2011’s Nowhere, so we’re hoping he breaks out some new solo material here. But the two also plan to perform some material together at this show, reprising their 2014 collaborative album 12 August, which nicely plays off the contrast between Harty’s weathered baritone vocals and Statz’s high and reedy singing.
This time around, the Central Park Sessions series attempts to cram in a dizzying variety of angles on Latin American music: Four Madison acts share the bill here with Vereda, Mexico band Los Cojolites and Angola-born, LA-based singer Ricardo Lemvo with his band Makina Loca. Lemvo and Makina Loca’s 2014 album La Rumba SoYo offers a polished, sharp look at Lemvo’s fluid blend of Congolese and Cuban musical traditions. Los Cojolites, meanwhile, start with the joyous thrum of Mexico’s Son Jarocho folk music tradition and weaves in African and Spanish influences that show through in the rhythmic variety and bright, prickly guitars of 2014’s album Zapateando.
SUNDAY AUGUST 9
It’s been a full year since the folks who run beloved local video rental spot Four Star Video Heaven bought the business from the former owner and became an employee-owned cooperative. If you wanna find out more about what that whole process is like, check out our pals LakeFrontRow’s excellent catch-em-up with the management. To celebrate the anniversary, the staff will be throwing a dance party on Sunday night at Genna’s Lounge, with music from DJ Carl Castle (no, not the Wait Wait guy...), local ghost stories from Madison’s Prove It! Paranormal Research team, with scenes from some mixed up crazy wack-a-doo flicks pulled from deep in their tens of thousands deep oddball collection playing on the TVs and on the walls and, we’d guess, wherever they’ll be able to point their projectors.
There was a stretch of time in the early ’60s where Frankie Valli And The Four Seasons were outselling The Beatles. Wrap your head around that. During said stretch, Valli’s seriously alien and flawless falsetto, backed of course by the mindblowing backup harmonies of his bandmates, blasted out some of the most massive and infuriatingly catchy vocal hooks ever laid to wax. OK, maybe we’re being a bit hyperbolic here, but if you look past the undeniable corniness of brain-staining smashes like “Cherry” and “Walk Like A Man,” there’s an earnestness and focus in those tunes—much to the credit of pop-wizard songwriters like Four Season Bob Gaudio (who no longer tours with the band) and Bob Crewe—that make them impossible to shake out of the listener’s skull. Valli trudged forward as the band would slip out of relevance and quietly release an admittedly underappreciated, Nuggets-worthy psych attempt in 1968’s Genuine Imitation Life Gazette and then trudge their way back to the top when they dropped 1975 disco-pop classic “December, 1963” from Who Loves You. Fast forward another 40 years—Valli is fucking 81 years old and still touring (albeit with none of the original Seasons) and still pretty much nailing his high notes. We don’t know how this is even possible or how much longer it could possibly last, so we’re definitely recommending you take this chance to catch Valli and formally forgive him for Jersey Boys.
MONDAY AUGUST 10
The small pond of the Madison comedy world is losing several of its biggest fish and brightest talents in Gena Gephart, Geoffrey Asmus, Toler Wolfe, and David Freeburg, all of whom are about to move to Chicago. If you have no idea these folks are, then you’re both sadly in the Madison majority as well as in luck, since this local comedy showcase offers one more chance to discover these comics before their Madison appearances, which were consistent highlights that raised the bar for quality across the board, become significantly less regular. On Monday night at The Rigby, you’ll get a high grade dose of brainy, silly, weird, and absurdly well-crafted jokes from all four of these folks.
WEDNESDAY AUGUST 12
Nashville’s JP Harris And The Tough Choices adhere to the stubbornly-honky-tonk, gritty-but-romantic, decrying-modern-pop-country school of country music, and the execution backs up the ornery stance. Last year’s album Home Is Where The Hurt Is boasts Harris’ weathered but still youthful baritone and swiftly grooving, skittering piano and pedal steel, on songs that range from the weary “Truckstop Amphetamines” to the swinging, fiddle-powered “A Breaking Heart.”