Madison calendar, February 28 through March 6
The return of Teenage Fanclub, dark techno from IVVY, short films from Ephraim Asili, and more events of note in Madison this week. | By Scott Gordon, Katie Hutchinson, Reid Kurkerewicz, and Grant Phipps
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 FEBRUARY 28
The Mills Folly Microcinema series celebrates Black History Month with a triptych of filmmaker Ephraim Asili's most recent experimental shorts, which blend documentary approaches with poetic essays. American Hunger (2013), Kindah (2016), and Fluid Frontiers (2017) collectively characterize a cinematically underrepresented black beauty, erudition, and expression through moving portraiture but also the sonorous language and African-American music that has boldly enriched the American landscape.
Asili's methods are most evocatively harnessed in the contemplative warmth of American Hunger, elicited through the lovingly observational camera, softly washed-out cinematography, and thought-provoking speeches that blur the boundary between the spiritual and political. Immediately, the aesthetic evokes ethnographic filmmakers Ben Russell and Khalik Allah, whose work has recently screened in Madison as part of WUD Film's Starlight and Micro-Wave Cinema Series, respectively. Still, Asili's intimate but panoramic framing here allows his generally concise scenes to take on a more profound sensibility. It's as if he's capturing a unique verisimilitude and ephemeral beauty on the modern streets of Philadelphia and shorelines of Ocean City, with contextual juxtapositions against harsher histories both in the US and abroad in Accra, Ghana.
Fluid Frontiers further complements and explores the lyrical elements of American Hunger within the specificity of location, on the border of Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, for its literal and metaphorical connections to the Underground Railroad. In 23 minutes, the short film oscillates between local denizens/activists standing and facing the camera resolutely while reading black literature/memoirs and a 1975 analogue recording of Margaret Walker giving unwavering clarity to her own "Harriet Tubman." Asili's distinctive and cumulative emphasis on the black experience and the visceral effects of our language are perfectly suited to the inclusivity of the ALL space. —Grant Phipps
FRIDAY MARCH 1
Diamantino, the 2018 film by co-directors Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt, is a surreal parody of Cristiano Ronaldo's stardom. This version of the Portuguese soccer legend, reimagined as the boyish Diamantino (Carloto Cotta), hallucinates Pekingese puppies when he's about to score, and he loves the puppies. Unfortunately, the afternoon before a match, Diamantino and his father spot refugees from their yacht. After rescuing the raft of people, the image of a woman crying about her dead child replaces the puppies during his all-important illusion, leading to Diamantino's failure on the world stage.
The rest of the movie is Diamantino's moral and political odyssey, as government agencies investigate his wealth and an ascendant conservative movement leeches off the symbolic power of his manhood. Liberal spies want to topple Diamantino as a symbol of decadence, while the "Make Portugal Great Again" types trick him into acting in propaganda modeled directly on Brexit commercials. At the same time, Diamantino adopts a refugee who's really one of the spies in disguise as a young boy. Completing the web of Diamantino's illusory life, his financially vampiric twin sisters gladly betray him to the right-wingers, who have more nefarious plans for the athlete's body.
Diamantino himself glides through this politically uncanny valley with the literal innocence of a child, as he confronts 2018 like a recently awoken Rip Van Winkle. The star is ignorant and impressionable, but his naivete and love for people around him give the film the idealistic power of a folktale. Special effects are heaped on like spoonfuls of sugar, and the stilted performances have a live-action cartoon quality. —Reid Kurkerewicz
SATURDAY MARCH 2
Seattle-based producer Madison Levine, who performs a live-PA set here under the name IVVY, specializes in the darker reaches of techno. On the 2016 EP Diamond Eye, Levine harnesses the music's ability to staple the listener into stark grooves with just the right balance of abrasion and polish, and no matter how aggressive things get, tracks like "Motion" and "Celebrate" always find space to incorporate a whisper of sinister atmosphere. On "Level 106," Levine puts aside their elegantly sculpted percussion sounds almost entirely, and delivers a pulsating slab of what's basically dark ambient music. IVVY's work took on even more vivid texture with 2017's Sheet Pan, dialing in a kick-drum stutter on "Royal Blue" that honestly kind of hurts—but absorbs in equal measure. The night will start off with DJ sets from Madisonians Jared Perez and NLP. —Scott Gordon
TUESDAY MARCH 5
Teenage Fanclub was not always the jangle-pop rock act with tight, anthemic melodies that Liam Gallagher once called "the second-best band in the world." The Scottish band's origins were a little more noisy and disorderly. Catholic Education, Teenage Fanclub's 1990 debut, had a heavy grunge feel to it (think somewhere between Sonic Youth and Spacemen 3), and the band followed it up the following year with The King, which, according to singer and guitarist Norman Blake, was recorded in one night as a drunken improvisational experiment. In 1991, Bandwagonesque thrust the band into the limelight and mainstream success. Aside from maybe Thirteen—the darker, heavier fourth release in '93 that, while sonically excellent, seemed to abandon Teenage Fanclub's newfound pop sensibilities, which most critics couldn't forgive—Bandwagonesque signalled a maturation from angsty, chaotic imitations to a structured, melodic eagerness that the band has managed to keep for nearly 30 years.
Teenage Fanclub's 10th and most recent full-length, 2016's Here, is more hushed and understated than much of what came before. It has its share of shimmery, blissful crescendos and guitar shredding, and, gratefully, we're still treated to those gorgeous, soaring Big Star-esque three-part harmonies. However, the instrumentation takes a more introspective, ruminative approach, which the band has arguably been edging towards since 2005's Man-Made. We enjoy more than a few moments of meandering psychedelia sprinkled throughout, and "Connected To Life," the last track on the record, begins with the quiet strumming of an acoustic guitar. The lyrics express a humble wisdom that comes with age, less concerned with conviction and more so acceptance of circumstances, good and bad, and something else: finding real joy. "I'm In Love" is at first listen a typical love song, but a closer look reveals a reckoning with the finite, sometimes cruel nature of life, and love experienced not only in spite of that fact but because of it: "Well, it feels good / When you're close to me / That's enough, that's enough / We will fade into history / I'm in love with your love." The dream-like "Steady State" invites us to, by example, practice non-attachment: "Erase what I've become /And let myself become / To feelings of love / Oh my love."
Some of the borderline hippie/new-age sentiments could sound prescriptive, but it comes across as sincere. And when TF speaks, folks have a tendency to listen. The music has a rare blend of consistency and unity, seen in bands like Guided By Voices or Yo La Tengo, that remind us of being, well, teenagers, when most of us fell in love with rock and roll. They remind us why we should still love rock and roll now.
Some fans are deeply saddened that TF has parted ways with co-founding member, songwriter, and bassist Gerard Love, save for a few dates in the UK, reportedly due to a disagreement about tour scheduling. But on the Facebook event page for this show at the Majestic, Teenage Fanclub released this statement to let fans know what they can look forward to: "You can expect us to do what we want, but what we want to do at the moment is dig a bit deeper into the back catalogue and play songs we haven't played for years, so expect to hear things in the setlist beyond what you might have heard in recent years." So, even though the band just released a single ("Everything Is Falling Apart") and it's likely the show will feature its share of new tracks, fans can expect to hear plenty of older, well-loved material. —Katie Hutchinson
WEDNESDAY MARCH 6
Director Jeremy Earp's 2018 documentary about recent tragedies surrounding the internet and democracy, Digital Disconnect, featuring media critic and University of Illinois professor Robert W. McChesney, is at the very least cheaper and shorter than a journalism major. McChesney, author of a 2013 book of the same title and many articles with bleak headlines like "Farewell To Journalism," narrates initial prophecies of the web's liberating powers and its fall into the hands of a few monopolies and cartels like Google and AT&T, who now effectively write legislation through intense lobbying. It's like if Werner Herzog's somewhat similar 2016 internet documentary Lo And Behold: Reveries Of The Connected World had no pseudoscience about Web 2.0 as an expression of Satan and included up-to-date data. McChesney's crash course through the military's development of computers, and that plucky group of San Francisco gentrifiers, catches us up to where we are today, with net neutrality destroyed and internet advertisers making life objectively worse for literally everyone. That is, everyone except the portion of the population left behind in the rush to digital literacy, who are, in a fundamentally online society, effectively illiterate. Also, fair warning: The documentary includes footage of New York City police killing Eric Garner and other violent incidents.
This is the kind of documentary that might be shown in public schools once we've learned our lesson and somehow escaped or mitigated the stultifying powers of a capitalistic internet, but here we are, more vulnerable to hacking and under broader surveillance than ever before. The documentary offers little hope besides an invocation of the democratic muse through the Occupy Movement, and the popular backlash to the FCC's anti-egalitarian media stance. Hopefully this showing, followed by an in-person discussion with McChesney, reignites these conversations in Madison, a city whose local press is lucky in that some small publishers scrape by in the wake of digital news. I don't know. Maybe reader-supported and cooperatively-minded local media outlets are the answer ;) —Reid Kurkerewicz