Madison calendar, December 6 through 12
Punchy stand-up from Dana Gould, the return of MC Rich Robbins, a plugged-in Richard Thompson show, and more events of note in Madison this week. | By Jason Fuhrman, Scott Gordon, Edwanike Harbour, Chris Lay, 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 DECEMBER 6
Everybody needs to see Being There. Based on the satirical Jerzy Kosinski 1970 novel of the same name, this 1979 Peter Sellers-starring dramedy adaptation chronicles the improbable ascent of a humble gardener to an in-demand political pundit. The how and why of this transformation are best left to experience the first time you see the movie, but there's a trajectory and momentum ratcheted up as more and more people mistake Sellers' simple adages as profound insights into political policy and life itself. In the age of social media, 24-hour news, and growing exhaustion with "takes," director Hal Ashby's slow-burn approach is as refreshing as it's ever been. Ashby (The Last Detail, Harold And Maude) lifts the curtain on how much of our culture and species is, well, really an experiment. The result is at once understated and haunting. Being There doesn't tell you what to think or how to feel about the delicate soft-tissue inertia guiding the philosophy in all the systems and structures impacting each of us daily, but boy does it give you something to ponder. —David Wolinsky
Dana Gould started performing stand-up around Boston in the very early 1980s at the age of 17, moving soon after to San Francisco, where he helped plant the seeds of "alt comedy" alongside Patton Oswalt, Janeane Garofalo, David Cross, and Margaret Cho. He was a writer on The Simpsons in the aughts, but more recently he splits his time between his podcast, The Dana Gould Hour (which I highly recommend), masterminding his IFC show Stan Against Evil, and turning Rod Serling's first draft of Planet Of The Apes into a comic book. That he finds time to tour and put out albums is a impressive. A solid craftsman, Gould's delivers jokes that have a little more punch than most. Whether it's a short little one-liner or a long walk of an expertly paced premise, there's guaranteed to be some tightly coiled twist or other waiting at the end. His most recent album, Mr. Funny Man, dropped last year on Kill Rock Stars (bundled with a set of fake mustaches), so I'm anticipating some newer, less-polished material at this weekend of Comedy Club on State shows, but honestly I'd be perfectly happy to hear his impression of Don Knotts making obscene phone calls for the umpteenth time. —Chris Lay
FRIDAY DECEMBER 7
If you enjoy musical numbers with big, theatrical spectacles and zany mishaps, UW Cinematheque's 35mm screening of Irving Cummings' 1940 film Down Argentine Way will be a great way to slide into the holiday season. Starring Don Ameche and Betty Grable, this film goes from one flashy sequence to the next with memorable performances from the iconic Carmen Miranda and the physics-defying tap dancing of the Nicholas Brothers. Quintano (Ameche) travels from Argentina to New York to sell some of his father's prize race horses. He was strictly forbidden to sell them to any members of the Crawford family after a long-standing feud in which the father insisted Binnie Crawford's (Charlotte Greenwood) brother swindled him. The suave Quintana finds himself falling for Binnie's niece Glenda (Betty Grable), and initially agrees to sell her one of the horses until he finds out that she is a Crawford. He then backs out of the sale. Not to be outdone, Glenda pursues Quintana when he hurries back to Argentina with Binnie in tow. Maybe it's Miranda's rhythmic gyrating or maybe Quintana and Glenda just get caught up in the rumba, but they manage to overcome the feud and fall in love.
This film is being shown as part of a short series on Miranda, and has been rescheduled to accommodate UW-Madison Professor Kathryn Sanchez's pre-screening talk and discussion of her book, Creating Carmen Miranda: Race, Camp, And Transnational Stardom. This promises to be an interesting discussion given that Miranda was a Portuguese-born Brazilian singer, and served as an all-encompassing version of what Americans envisioned a citizen of an exotic locale of Latin America to look like in the 1940s, with her copious jewelry and a fruit bowl on top of her head. Even dated entertainment has its moments, and Miranda is quite dazzling in Technicolor. Even Charlotte Greenwood manages to throw in some high kicks with her long, statuesque frame which, brings some light-hearted comedy to this film. —Edwanike Harbour
The annual Wintersong concert raises money for the Second Harvest Food Bank of Southern Wisconsin with generous helpings of folk music and holiday whimsy. Singer/multi-instrumentalist/songwriter Anna Vogelzang, who organized the first Wintersong while living in Madison, will return from her current home base of LA to play the event's sixth edition. A bunch of Madison-based artists will join Vogelzang here, including standbys like Nick Brown, Josh Harty, and Faux Fawn. You can expect most of the performers to have prepared some special seasonal material for the occasion, and they're likely to collaborate amongst each other, joining some not-yet-announced "surprise guests" in the process. Previous editions have ended with big group sing-alongs, and there's generally some playful humor in the mix as well. The event has grown from its beginning at the Gates of Heaven, moving up to the Majestic and then the Barrymore, so it's safe to say Wintersong has become a local tradition of holiday celebration and giving. —Scott Gordon
During the time he spent in Madison, studying in UW-Madison's First Wave program and sticking around a bit after graduation, Rich Robbins developed a rich conceptual voice as an MC and songwriter. His second album, 2016's All.This.Gold, found him threading his heady rhymes through a variety of approaches, including the austere thrum of "Down To Start A Riot" and the lush, meditative groove of "H.o.V." He's since moved back to Chicago, which is one of a few places he thinks of as his hometown, as he explains on "Growing Pains," the second track of his 2018 album Red Butterfly. The song's first lines touch on the time he spent in Philly and the Chicago area as a child, and the formative imprint of his time here: "West suburban done made me / Them Philly boys done raised me / Madison done changed me / Now Chi city finna pay me." From this simple autobiographical start, the song's lyrics expand into a self-aware look at the constant flux of relationships with others and with himself: "The point is, you can't touch everything," he says at one point. Other tracks on Red Butterfly feature collaborators with artists Robbins met in Madison, including Dequadray White, Chris LaBella, and fellow Chicago native Broadway. —Scott Gordon
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 8
A dazzling, elusive, otherworldly gem of a film, Jacques Rivette's 1976 experimental fantasy noir Duelle appears to be a slow-burning murder mystery for nearly half of its running time, until the film suddenly reveals itself to be a labyrinthine supernatural drama. The plot centers on the rivalry between Viva (Bulle Ogier) and Leni (Juliet Berto), goddesses of the Sun and the Moon, respectively, who descend to Earth in search of a precious stone that will allow the victor to remain on the planet and enjoy its temporal pleasures. Rivette lures viewers into a lush, dreamlike parallel world, presenting a striking, strangely seamless succession of shifting atmospheres as several mortals become entangled in the dueling deities' intricate web of subterfuge, machinations and secrets.
Originally, the film was intended to be the second part of a series called Scenes de la vie parallele ("Scenes Of A Parallel Life"). All four films were to take place within a fabricated mythological framework and each feature was to be in a different genre. Rivette explained, "The ambition of these films is to discover a new approach to acting in the cinema, where speech, reduced to essential phrases, to precise formulas, would play a role of 'poetic' punctuation."
Alas, the director was only able to complete Duelle and Noroît (a gender-bending pirate adventure, also from 1976) before suffering a nervous breakdown and abandoning the project. Nevertheless, with its elliptical narrative, exquisite visual design, meticulous mise en scène, and fluid, elegant cinematography, Duelle remains seductive, riveting, and unpredictable to its very end. —Jason Fuhrman
Solid Freex has been writing, evolving, and playing live sets of multi-hued punk at a furious pace in its first two years as a band. A trio comprised of longtime Madison musician Steve Coombs on drums and two of his sons, bassist Evan Coombs-Broekema and guitarist Josh Coombs-Broekema, Solid Freex swerve between early hardcore and more jagged, abstract post-punk, often in the space of a single song, like "Teenage Evil," from the band's debut album, 2018's Peeled Guest. It helps that the younger Coombses are very good young musicians—"Rabit Die Form" is a killer example of using catchy melodies to pierce through raucous noise thanks largely to Evan's nimble ascending bass lines, and "It Hurts" builds on Josh's volatile but tensely controlled chords. All three members share vocal duties in an often playful call-and-response, and the Steve Coombs bashes away on drums with an abandon that suggests he's enjoying a break from the multi-tasking of his singular post-punk solo project Trin Tran. A second album is already in the can and due for release in early 2019. Solid Freex shares the bill here with Madison synth-punk project Cave Curse, heady local newcomers Wash, and Indianapolis band Service, which features members of We Are Hex and Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. —Scott Gordon
MONDAY DECEMBER 10
In his second book, the recently published Ripe, Madison-based writer Alan Semrow uses a barrage of short letters to unpack the complexities of sex and connection with other gay men. Semrow, a poet and fiction writer whose first book was a 2016 short-story collection called Briefs, gives us 40-odd vignettes, written in second-person, that eventually start to reveal a bigger picture of a tireless search for human companionship, in often brief but meaningful form. Semrow isn't shy about the sex itself, but what mostly comes through is a genuine fondness for these men, sometimes tinged with sadness. "This will end and both men will go back to their lives," Semrow writes in the midst of the chapter "Dear Desert Guy," noting later in that letter, "By not making any promises, we could put insurance on our perfection." Instead of regretting the brevity of this particular encounter, Semrow cherishes its concentrated intensity. Balancing frankness with sprightly prose, Semrow shows how two people can find something profound and lasting in each other, even if what they share on the surface amounts to a casual hookup or even less—even just charged eye contact and a wink across a room. —Scott Gordon
WEDNESDAY DECEMBER 12
It's nice that we hear from Richard Thompson as often as we do—he was last in town for a pair of fall 2017 acoustic shows at the Stoughton Opera House—because the British folk-rock eminence still manages to flex a lot of different muscles, while maintaining his distinctive baritone vocals and a tasteful virtuosity as a guitarist. He plays here behind the 2018 album 13 Rivers, recorded with drummer Michael Jerome, bassist Taras Prodaniuk, and guitarist Bobby Eichorn. Like 2013's Electric, this record mostly foregrounds Thompson's sharp, springy approach to the electric guitar, and he never has to strong-arm a solo to make it work, whether it's over the baleful shuffle of "The Dog In You" or the aching sway of "My Rock, My Rope." And he's still just as engaged as a songwriter, exploring human frailty and doubt on "The Rattle Within" and the tumult of romance on "Do All These Tears Belong To You?" On "Bones Of Gilead," Thompson declares, "What's my name? My name is trouble / Trouble of the tender kind," a phrase that suits the raw yet warm sonics of this album. It's plenty easy here to kick back and enjoy all those things people have always liked about Richard Thompson, but Thompson also sounds determined to inhabit the present moment. —Scott Gordon