G Herbo, Cameron Esposito, Doomtree, and more of the best stuff in Madison this week. | By Mike Noto, Chris Lay, Scott Gordon, Joel Shanahan
THURSDAY DECEMBER 3
G Herbo has always exhibited much more technicality as a MC than many others in Chicago's drill movement, a scene that's not always been noted for lyrical virtuosity (which in itself is a frequently empty concept translating to "wordy wordiness" in hip-hop). Add to that his shockingly low-pitched and gravelly groan of a voice, and you're some way to understanding the 20-year-old rappers’ appeal. Previously known as Lil Herb, he first made his name off of many frightening and compelling collaborations with fellow Chicago rapper Lil Bibby—2012's "Play They Role" is still one of the most steamrolling individual cuts that's ever come out of drill. On recent single "I'm Rollin'," Herbo even takes the rare step of rapping in athletic double-time over a barely-there bass drum pulse during the verses. While Herbo is still putting together his own personality—"Peace Of Mind" takes audible inspiration from fellow Chicago rapper Lil Durk's sing/rapping blueprint, albeit without the autotune that has made Durk's sound so coldly robotic—the charisma and skill are both already there. The Kingston-via-Atlanta rapper Zuse is also performing here, and his enormous roar is the type of voice that immediately dominates everything else around him sonically. Zuse seems to have combined Buju Banton's huge dancehall growl with Jeezy's unforgiving approach to trap music, and though he doesn't have the monomaniacal conceptual torque around cocaine and street-level motivation that made Jeezy so influential, he's certainly unique enough to keep an eye on as he develops artistically.
Even though Jim White has released several albums on David Byrne’s Luaka Bop label and won the coveted Pushcart Prize literary award in 2014 for a short story, he’s never really seemed to get his due for the stirring and distinct voice he contributes to folk music. On albums like 2001’s No Such Place and 2007’s Transnormal Skiperoo, the Pensacola, Florida native (not to be confused with the Jim White who plays drums for Australian band Dirty Three) writes and sings with an approach that’s both gentle and tremendously captivating. Songs like “Corvair” and “Plywood Superman” build on mundane subjects—a decaying car, a drugstore display—and subtly far-reaching arrangements, but the way White unrolls his images with a humble awe that tugs at the listener. This intimate basement show at east-side house venue Kiki’s is open to the public, but space is limited so it’s worth making a reservation (info in the Facebook event linked above). It’s also worth showing up in time for an opening set from Minneapolis’ Paul Fonfara, best known for his resourceful, Balkan-tinged project Painted Saints.
Cameron Esposito is coming to Madison! Yay! Oh no, she has to cancel! Booo! Oh hey it’s cuz she’s gonna be in a movie! Yay! Oh, it’s the next “holiday” movie from Garry Marshall. Mehhhh??? But... she rescheduled! Yay! Comedy podcast nerd have known about Cameron Esposito, a bright and energetic stage presence with charmingly folksy delivery, for a little while now. Her “Put Your Hands Together” show, where comedians try out relatively newer material in front of a live LA audience, has been pretty damn popular for a while now, and shows no signs of slowing down. Other folks might remember Esposito from her network TV debut on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson where she deftly dealt with getting heckled by Canadian tuxedo aficionado Jay Leno. Or maybe someone in your Facebook feed shared one of the multiple-million-viewed “Ask A Lesbian” clips she’s been doing for BuzzFeed. Any which way, it’s only going to be a matter of time until her explosive energy and well-crafted material wins you over, so get ahead of the curve and catch one of her shows at The Comedy Club On State this weekend. Dusty Slay features and Patrick Tomlinson hosts.
FRIDAY DECEMBER 4
It’s fitting that Richard Thompson will be playing both solo and trio sets at this show—the songwriter, singer, and guitarist, distinguished by his rounded baritone and knack for gracefully sliding an insane degree of harmonic nuance into his songs, has kept on stalking a wide range of territory on his last three releases. For 2013’s Electric, Thompson showcased the twangy sting of his electric-guitar work, even pulling out some relatively scathing rockers in “Stuck On The Treadmill,” “Sally B,” and “Good Things Happen To Bad People.” He offered solo-acoustic reprises of favorites from across his discography (“1952 Vincent Black Lightning,” “Shoot Out The Lights,” etc.) on last year’s Acoustic Classics. Finally, this year’s Still balances acoustic contemplation with gently varied arrangements on highlights like “Josephine” and “All Buttoned Up” (though, at risk of being humorless, we must say that the gimmickry of closing track “Guitar Heroes” is a bit beneath an actual guitar hero). He’s obviously got no shortage of great material to draw on here, but the important thing is that he’s still clearly excited about exploring a broad spectrum of folk and rock sounds.
Madisonian DJ and dance community lynchpin Nick Nice’s legacy stretches pretty far back, as in way before he stopped spinning vinyl and became best known for DJing massive (and admittedly gimmicky) parties—with concepts ranging from 80s Vs 90s to LCD Soundsystem Vs Daft Punk—at the Majestic, in addition to his busy schedule of gigs at venues including Maduro, Natt Spil, and Merchant. The massive record-head and former owner of the now defunct Nice Musique record store spent a chunk of the ’90s based in France and operating as an international DJ. Nice’s long out of commission Cardinal Bar residency, Butter, has lived on in legend as the ultimate testament to Nice’s impeccable taste, crowd-reading skills, and breadth of knowledge toward disco, house, and everything in between and beyond. As of now, this reprise of Nice’s Butter party is a one-time thing in honor of Cardinal owner Ricardo Gonzalez’s 69th birthday and the venue’s 41st anniversary. We aren’t sure if he’ll be dusting off his records for the occasion, but we do know that this will be a great opportunity to catch him when he’s truly in his element.
Loaded with sprawling, progressive, and uneasy movements (aside from the swinging lounge-cheese of “End Begins”), warped Milwaukee post-rockers Evacuate The Earth’s 2013 (and most recent) album, This Is Not A Test, still has us pretty enamored. In particularly nuked tunes like “Warnings” and “End Of The World,” the urgent saxophone wanderings of Erin Brophy both contort and flutter over pounding rhythmic trudges and fractured free-jazz explosions alike. Try to imagine the legendary Oil Tasters’ “That’s When The Brick Goes Through The Window” thrown into a high-speed industrial fan, being shredded on impact, and then hastily pieced back together by some 8-year old puzzle savant. Teetering between the down-tempo proto-grunge vibe of “Wade In The Water” and modern post-punk fluidity of “The Kiss,” Minneapolis’ Ego Death will also appear, likely boasting tunes from this year’s super solid self-titled full-length.
This year’s The Southern Surreal finds vocalist J.D. Wilkes and his band Legendary Shack Shakers backing just a bit further away from the gruff and unruly rockabilly presence of 2004’s much-lauded Believe. This move, in all likelihood, was to make room for more detailed and cohesive songwriting and bigger vocal hooks. The Kentucky band’s warmly polished production, which cleverly masquerades as‘’60s garage-rock rawness, has been present through most of the Shakers’ 20 year lifespan, but it surprisingly settles in best when the quartet eschews a bit of the coarse, chromatic, and bluesy ominosity that they’ve continually fallen back on, and replaces it with bizarre pop oddities like sax-laden, honky-tonk ska tune “Young Heart, Old Soul” or infectious, minor-key stomper “Cold.” Fans of the Shakers’ old sound shouldn’t be too freaked, though. Wilkes wails as hard as ever in the cow-punk backdrop of “Mud” and the harmonica-powered, shaky, and shuffling blast of “Christ Almighty.”
The UW Cinematheque kicks off its triple-shot of screenings (stretched across this and the next two Fridays) of Indian master Satyajit Ray’s landmark of world cinema, The Apu Trilogy, with 1955’s Pather Panchali (Song Of The Little Road). Taken as a whole, the three films tell a good chunk of the fictional Apu’s life story, from his youth, his adolescence, and on up to fatherhood in his mid-20s, with Pather Panchali settling in on his early childhood. The film introduces us not only to Apu—born the son of a poor Brahmin family in Bengal, one of the most densely populated regions on Earth—but also to the members of his family who will mold and shape him over the course of the trilogy. It truly is a marvel that these films exist in the quality they do, since the original negatives were more than a little singed in a massive nitrate fire in London, so enjoy these gorgeous films as restored one frame at a time by the Academy Film Archive at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
On the surface, the playful and dramatic tone of Group Of The Altos and Death Blues collaborator Marielle Allschwang’s latest effort, Dead Not Done, could easily blend into the indie-folk playlists that quietly hums below the espresso machines of a thousand coffee shops. But give it a deeper listen, and the Milwaukee-based musician resoundingly dismantles that initial perception. Just listen to the floating, odd-tempo finger picking in the title-track, the droning and angled guitar lines in “Golden,” or the slow-burning progression of “Submit.” Not to mention the dynamic and delicate songwriting of beautifully and minimally orchestrated tunes like “Aquarium” and “Your Mother,” which make as much use of silence and space as they do of the gorgeous and tasteful horns that weave in and out of the arrengements. Beyond the album’s thoughtful songwriting chops and impressive cast of backing musicians (which includes Volcano Choir guitarist Daniel Spack, Group Of The Altos guitarist Ken Palme, and several other collaborators), the highlight is clearly how Allschwang’s powerful and soaring vocals rise and fall with their sonic surroundings with ease.
SATURDAY DECEMBER 5
This will be Minneapolis hip-hop crew Doomtree’s second group show in Madison since releasing this year’s full-crew album All Hands, a record that brings out the members’ collective dark and brooding streak—to the point that it almost feels heavy-handed—but without smothering the distinct personalities and approaches at work. Doomtree producer Lazerbeak also plays here in Mixed Blood Majority, a trio with MCs Crescent Moon and Joe Horton, behind the new album Insane World, which naturally shares the moody, synth-driven touch Lazerbeak brings to Doomtree’s beats, but boasts its own strain of warped and eerie lyricism. Providing a bit more contrast here is Fort Lauderdale, Florida rapper Bleubird, with his flamboyant, nasally flows and bass-swollen beats.
WORT FM has now spent 40 years providing a wealth of programming spanning music, news, and underrepresented voices from across the community. The scrappy non-profit station—which mostly depends on donations and volunteers—celebrates here with mostly local acts including raucous Madison-based New Orleans-style jazz outfit Mama Digdown’s Brass Band, young guitar-pop standouts Modern Mod, and garage-soul outfit Cowboy Winter. The $20 suggested donation benefits WORT and also includes food from New Orleans Take Out and cake.
Tony Castañeda plays a few important roles in Madison—including as a Latin-jazz percussionist and bandleader, host of WORT’s endearingly chaotic Thursday-morning show, boisterous smartass-about-town—and he’ll be celebrating his 60th birthday with this show at the Harmony. The evening will feature Castañeda’s own Latin Jazz Superband (hopefully a big all-in configuration of the many lineups he’s led over the years), style-spanning Latin dance band Edi Rey Y Su Salsera, birthday cake, and a free tequila toast.
SUNDAY DECEMBER 6
Funny Bunny is the second feature directed by Alison Bagnall, who co-wrote Vincent Gallo’s Buffalo 66 and whose first film, The Dish & the Spoon, starred understated new-indie royalty Greta Gerwig. So inevitably it’s gonna be a bit of a millennial twee-fest of a film (one of the characters here is a teenager named “Titty” who lives in a mansion and another, Ginger, who is is dealing with the manic-pixie-dream-girl-level problem of needing money for her sick rabbit), but don’t write off Funny Bunny so fast. Despite some of the privilege-laden trimmings, by all accounts, this film is getting called out with solid regularity as being affecting and funny, to say nothing of easy on the eyes. In all honesty, of the Micro Wave Cinema series films, this is looking like at least one of the safest bets in their lineup this season, if not out and out one of the most rewarding.
From the blacklisted duo of writer Dalton Trumbo (Spartacus, Roman Holiday) and director Joseph Losey (La Crosse’s own!), 1951’s The Prowler is a long lost noir classic that’s well-worth the glorious 35mm restoration it’s received from the Film Noir Foundation (which, thankfully, is totally a real thing). It stars Van Heflin (Shane, 3:10 To Yuma) as a bad cop who’s gone crazy for Evelyn Keyes (The Seven Year Itch) after their brief affair—which starts when he answers a routine call to check on a peeping tom at her place (talk about a meet-cute!)—and John Maxwell as her husband, who’s eventually targeted by Heflin who sees him as a potential insurance windfall. Corrupt cops, infidelity, peeping toms, insurance related murder plots... The Prowler hits a lot of buttons all in one taut little black and white package. The print that will be screened by the UW Cinematheque for their 35mm Forever series comes to us courtesy of the UCLA Film & Television Archive.
TUESDAY DECEMBER 8
Remember Arthur, that pint-sized every-man of an aardvark that we as kids could all relate to? He was pretty much Doug Funnie but for a slightly younger but still buttoned-down PBS audience. While it might not have been the iconoclastic children’s cartoon of a generation (yes, we know it was a kids book series first, but we all know that the cartoons had a... *slightly* larger reach), it still left a psychic mark on kids who are hitting college age these days, so getting Marc Brown, the dude behind the books and show, to stop by for a distinguished lecture series makes perfect sense, and hopefully someone will ask him about all the cool memes his creation has been involved with over the years. Brown has a new book out, The Little Shop Of Monsters, that he wrote with R.L. Stine (of Goosebumps fame), so expect to hear some stuff about that too.
While the details surrounding ’80s hip-hop pioneer Kurtis Blow’s upcoming appearance at the Memorial Union Play Circle Theater are disappointingly vague, we do know that it will serve as part of the culmination of Buena Vista Social Club guitarist, vocalist, and percussionist Juan de Marcos González’s UW-Madison residency and Music Production: Afro-Cuban and Hip Hop Music class. Expect performances from some of González’s students, as well as appearances from the UW School Of Music’s Latin Jazz Ensemble, World Percussion Ensemble, and Jazz Orchestra as they perform pieces written by González himself. Oh yeah, and it’s free! Don’t miss this one.
Our friends at Madison film blog LakeFrontRow have been teaming up with the Madison Public Library to put on a series of screenings highlighting short and feature-length works from independent filmmakers around Wisconsin. They’re free, usually feature in-person talks with the filmmakers, and, like LakeFrontRow’s coverage and handy social-media accounts, offer a window into some corners of Wisconsin film that otherwise are neglected in local media. This fall’s leg of LakeFrontRow Cinema closes out with Milwaukee writer/director Kyle Arpke and his feature-length debut Catalyst, a drama about two children coping with matters of faith and family in the wake of their parents’ divorce.