Tastefully silly stand-up from Rory Scovel, the Judy Garland musical the world has waited to see again, humid cocktails and beats with Queer Pressure at Olbrich, Klingon for victory at the Nerd Spelling Bee, and more events of note in Madison this week. | By Emili Earhart, Scott Gordon, Edwanike Harbour, Chris Lay, John McCracken, Mike Noto, Grant Phipps, Henry Solo
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THURSDAY JANUARY 25
There are a handful of comics who come through Madison every year or so like clockwork, and in that list of names there are some worth catching each and every time. At the very top of that list is Rory Scovel, who draws on a bottomless pool of absurdist riffs that zig and zag across the lines of any sense of rational joke structure. If you don't believe me, check out his Netflix special from last year, Rory Scovel Tries Stand-Up For The First Time, which opens with an extended riff on anal sex that's somehow more silly than scandalous. Ping-ponging wildly from topic to topic with anarchic glee while somehow never losing control of the audience, Scovel is one of the most talented comics out there these days, and a dark comedy club is the best place to see him do his thing. Zach Martina features and the host is TBD as I write this. —Chris Lay
A perennial critic's favorite, Meet Me In St. Louis (1944) embodies everything one could want in a movie musical, harkening back to a simpler time in Americana when the entertainment selection may have been limited, but the productions were big and bold. Five years after becoming America’s sweetheart in The Wizard Of Oz, Judy Garland stars here as Esther, one of four sisters from St. Louis' well-to-do Smith family. They are experiencing life, love, and self-discovery as Esther falls in love with a boy next door who hasn’t quite taken notice of her just yet. The Smith patriarch might be taking a job in New York, which only serves to complicate matters. The film was directed by Vincente Minnelli and introduced him to Judy Garland. Their marriage went on to produce the Queen of Showbiz herself: Liza Minnelli. This screening isn't part of, but serves as a good prelude to, UW-Cinematheque's upcoming series focusing on the Hollywood innovations of the 1940s, curated by UW-Madison film professor David Bordwell. —Edwanike Harbour
FRIDAY JANUARY 26
The literary scene in Madison is an ever-evolving beast. While there are events and spaces to host literary readings, there seem to be few places to promote emerging writers. Enter Yucky Poetry, a continual reading series founded in Madison that collects poets and writers from the Midwest and gives them a place to grow. In Yucky Poetry's second reading event, writers from both Milwaukee and Madison join together. Reid Kurkerewicz is a poet, novelist, and journalist (alongside being a Tone Madison contributor) who is working on a novella about a boy who is convinced his dad is Brett Favre. His writing is often surreal, and focuses on using everyday mediums like writing predictive speech on an iPhone to fuel poetry. Annie Grizzle is a multimedia artist from Milwaukee whose work focuses on the space between mediums and intersectionality. Her poem "Ladyboy Idiot Silence" reads like a technical pamphlet that dissects memory, sexuality, and the speaker's ability to confront themselves. Chelsea Tadeyeske is a poet and performer from Milwaukee who operates pity milk press. This press publishes short-run chapbooks and edits online and print journals. Her work focuses on unpacking personal relationships and bending literary forms. —John McCracken
The Wailers have lasted in some form or another since 1963, when the group was a vocal trio consisting of Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, and Bunny Livingston. But the group in its current form has been a longstanding touring act since Marley's death in 1981, led by the internationally celebrated bassist Aston "Family Man" Barrett. Barrett's deliberate feel, melodic ingenuity, huge sound and flawless timing were, and still are, incalculably enormous influences on reggae and dub bass playing. He's frankly inextricable from the genre, since he played on what must easily be hundreds of recordings aside from Marley's work: bassists from the great session player Robbie Shakespeare (who Barrett taught) to British postpunk musician Jah Wobble all acknowledge Barrett's importance. His brother Carlton (murdered in 1987) made a similarly immense contribution to reggae drumming, and it isn't a stretch to say that Barrett is one of the most renowned reggae musicians still alive and working today.
It's worth it alone to see a genuine icon at work in a live setting, but the group also currently includes Junior Marvin, who played with the Wailers both with and without Marley for decades. (Note: He is not the same person as Junior Murvin, who wrote and recorded the deathless reggae classic "Police And Thieves.") This group also consists of what is as close to the actual Wailers as possible; an ensemble led by late-period guitarist Al Anderson and no other Marley-associated members, confusingly called the Original Wailers, also toured recently. Nevertheless, the Barrett/Marvin Wailers will certainly do justice to Marley's justly famed songs, and it's an opportunity to see some living legends play the music they helped bring to global attention. —Mike Noto
A progenitor of the French New Wave and one of the most accomplished living filmmakers, octogenarian Agnès Varda has not only left an indelible mark with the innovative and arresting narratives of Cléo From 5 To 7 (1962) and Le Bonheur (1965), but she's also vividly explored the documentary format for 50 years. A decade ago, she produced her own autobiography with The Beaches Of Agnès (2008) in Belgium, and her passions have also carried her abroad for a kaleidoscopic portrait of Los Angeles' street art in Mural Murals (1980). The latter seems relevant when reviewing her latest award-winning venture, Faces Places, which kicks off the spring 2018 UW Cinematheque calendar (in shrewd documentary tradition) with its Madison premiere on Friday and bonus encore screening on Saturday at 5 p.m. A spiritual evolution of Mural Murals in both name and premise, Faces Places finds Varda collaborating and finding friendship with enigmatic young "photograffeur" JR as they embark on a rollicking road trip through rural France. Inspired by the working class in their travels, the unconventional duo turns the citizens' likenesses into lavish, loving large-scale art installations on public and private structures like barns, apartment buildings, and even shipping containers by means of JR's distinctive photobooth van, which is decorated to look like a single-lens reflex (SLR) camera. The charming, episodic film has earned strong reviews for its simultaneously relaxed rhythm and attentive eye. Faces Places can be appreciated as a sort of travelogue, a magnetic look at the intersection of two artistic mediums, but also as a meditation on the grand function of art and changing face of Europe's working population. —Grant Phipps
Madison's Queer Pressure is a DIY collective that prides itself on hosting and creating dance, art, and music by and for queer-identifying people. The collective moves into Olbrich Gardens' pleasantly humid indoor Bolz Conservatory for a night of cocktails and music from QP leaders and mainstays DJ Boyfrrriend and DJ Sarah Akawa. DJ Boyfrrriend's work is bombastic and often full of samples from popular artists alongside thumping house beats, as showcased in her expansive mix "Dark Start From Loose Cannons." Akawa's mixes are full of chill, minimalistic samples; in recent production work under the Saint Saunter moniker, Akawa spans from moments of intense panic to down-tempo, head-bobbing vibes. The venue will be wheelchair-accessible and have gender-neutral bathrooms. —John McCracken
Charlie Berens is a man who knows his market. Each episode of his Wisconsin-focused and Wisconsin-satirizing YouTube show Manitowoc Minute functions like a segment of SNL's Weekend Update but for, you know, Wisconsin. Like comedy-news anchors before him, Berens tackles a curated assortment of national, local, and Midwestern news items from the week, but makes fun of them through the lens of Wisconsidenity and, of course, with an exaggerated Wisconsin accent. (While wearing a camo-print jacket in place of the usual news-anchor sport coat) But Berens is far funnier than anything Weekend Update has done post-Seth Meyers. Instead of laboring jokes to prove how funny he is, Berens restrains himself and lets the absurdity of news events—ranging from Bill O'Reilly's allegations of sexual assault to spear-hunting frogs in Michigan—speak for themselves with the aid of quick, snappy one-liners. How these minute-ish long segments will translate to a live setting is unclear. But at least audience members will be able to repeat Berens' signature catchphrase—"Keep 'er movin'!"—alongside the man himself all night long. —Henry Solo
New York City trio Forma comfortably straddle a few different realms of tuneful, synth-driven music, from sumptuous ambient textures to the cheerful efficiency of Krautrock. As enveloping as Forma's music can be, it's almost always working with just a few simple elements. "Descent," from the 2016 album Physicalist, uses a few moody arpeggios, a couple of incisive synth leads, and sparse but driving drum patterns to create something that feels vast and layered—which speaks to the band's patience as composers and their precise sense of how a few sonic elements can fit together into powerful, uncluttered structures. These strengths also come out in Forma's live performances, which are very much hands-on and incorporate a lot of improvisation. —Scott Gordon
SATURDAY JANUARY 27
Immediately following an encore screening of Agnes Varda's Faces Places (5 p.m.) at Vilas Hall, UW-Cinematheque is showcasing a beautiful new 4K restoration of Daughter Of The Nile (1987), directed by another icon of New Wave Cinema, Taiwanese auteur Hou Hsiao-hsien. This decade, Hou may be most widely known for his moody art-house period piece, The Assassin, which claimed the top spot in Sight And Sound's 2015 year-end poll. But the filmmaker found his creative footing in the 1980s with the historically reflective A Summer At Grandpa's (1984) and two subsequent coming-of-age dramas that fulfilled a trilogy. Daughter Of The Nile expands upon the aforementioned template in a contemporary urban setting as an affectionate tale of youthful ennui and escapism.
Guided by Hou's steady hand and oblique style, the film's resigned heroine, Lin Hsiao-yang (pop singer Yang Lin), attends night school while working long daytime hours at a Kentucky Fried Chicken in Taipei to support her troubled family. Attempting to mitigate turmoil at home with an absent police officer father and petty criminal brother (Kao Jack), she develops an impossible crush on one of her brother's cronies and seeks solace in the time-traveling romance of the titular manga in which a young American woman is transported to ancient Egypt.
In its mesmerizing depiction of teens' struggles with disaffection and disillusionment, Daughter Of The Nile bears striking similarity to Tsai Ming-liang's Rebels Of The Neon God (1992), another classic of the Taiwanese New Wave that also saw a restoration screening in Madison last spring. Hou's tragic chronicle rather embraces the female perspective, and it is perhaps even more evocatively empathetic in tone. —Grant Phipps
The Fire Ball initially grew out of the dear departed Madison news website Dane101, which had a creative sideline in events. But the Fire Ball's winter bacchanal of freaky delights outlived the website itself, offering a distinctive mix of dress-up dance party, burlesque show, and bizarro circus. (It's strange to think now that it started partially as a youthful and more affordable response to the Overture's swanky annual Frostiball benefit.) Each year has had a different theme, and this one is "Apocalypse"—probably because it's the 10th and final installment, and maybe also other stuff. DJ Boyfrrriend will be spinning throughout the evening, and performers include the Cycropia Aerial Dance company, Strongman Tulga and Mr. Spring, bellydancers, and a range of burlesque acts. —Scott Gordon
Chicago improvisers Julian Kirshner and Gerrit Hatcher, while relatively up-and-coming in the context of that city's deeply rooted improvisation scene, play with vigor and acute expressiveness as a duo. On the percussion-saxophone outfit's 2017 album, Five Percent Tint, Kirshner and Hatcher hone in on explosive free jazz, while breaking down their sound to display the subtleties of timbre and dynamics in their playing.
Kirshner manages to use his whole kit while balancing delicate snare rolls that seem hardly interrupted or undisturbed. As Kirshner introduces new sounds and rhythms, saxophonist Hatcher scrapes every surface of his instrument—spanning the extremes of range, color, and dynamics—occasionally including a melody or groove. The duo alternate between giving each other space and encroaching on each other's turn, sending the listener down a rabbit hole of new sounds and shapes. —Emili Earhart
The Exile Project is a loose gathering of Madison musicians who, for the past few Januaries, have put together shows covering canonical rock albums—so far, the Rolling Stones' Exile On Main Street, the Beatles' White Album, and the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds—in their entirety, through a rotating mix of solo and group configurations. The charm of it is in not tackling things head-on or attempting a "tribute band" type of format. Instead, participants pretty much draw songs out of a hat and go to town on their own distinct interpretation. This year, the project tackles its first-ever live album, Cheap Trick's 1978 power-pop masterpiece At Budokan. (Oddly enough, Cheap Trick have also gotten into full-album cover shows.) Participants this time around include folk-rock band The Fauxtons, country singer Jeff Burkhart, art-punk outfit Negative Example, and The Tiny Band. Cover band The Low Czars, who have some solid Cheap Trick covers already in their repertoire, will play an opening set. —Scott Gordon
SUNDAY JANUARY 29
Arthur Ripley's noir classic, The Chase (1946), will kick off a new 35mm Sunday series at the Chazen based around a new book, Reinventing Hollywood: How 1940s Filmmakers Changed Movie Storytelling, by UW-Madison film studies professor (emeritus) David Bordwell. A companion to 2016's The Rhapsodes (Bordwell's book on 1940s film criticism), the text examines the era's application and trend of narrative flashbacks as well as its influentially trenchant psychological profiles. Both of these factor in to Ripley's intriguing and suspenseful film, adapted from Cornell Woolrich's novel The Black Path Of Fear, which follows Chuck Scott (Robert Cummings), an unemployed veteran plagued by hallucinations of post-traumatic stress.
After returning a wallet to ruthless mob boss Eddie (Steve Cochran) and his right-hand man Gino (the legendary Peter Lorre), Chuck is lured in to their illegal activities by way of his recruitment as a chauffeur. He instantly falls for Eddie's tortured wife Lorna (French star of "Poetic Realism," Michèle Morgan) and becomes mixed up in a plot to escort her to Havana, Cuba, to start anew—only to find himself framed for murder.
If you're interested in hearing more revealing remarks beyond The Chase's seductive use of silhouettes by cinematographer Franz F. Planer and how the sinuous plot seems like source material for John Swartzwelder when writing The Simpsons episode "Bart The Murderer," this particular screening will be preceded by an hour-long lecture and discussion on this unique and sophisticated entry in the seven-film series (through March 11) by Bordwell himself. —Grant Phipps
Pianists Martha Fischer and Bill Lutes present their annual Schubertiade—a celebration of Romantic composer Franz Schubert—with a program of chamber music, songs, and piano duets. The duo collaborates with Mead Witter School of Music faculty and students, as well as guest mezzo-soprano Rachel Wood, professor of voice at UW-Whitewater. With several different performers taking turns sharing the stage, Fischer and Lutes' Schubertiade suggests a communal warmth that is only bolstered by the performers' deeply ingrained love for the composer.
Known for setting text (often by Goethe) to music, Schubert created programmatic narratives of tortured romanticism as well as playful charm, behind heartbreaking melodies and evocative interpretations of poetic imagery. His instrumental work is no less passionate, as in the wistful yearning heard in his "Fantasia In F Minor" for piano four-hands. —Emili Earhart
MONDAY JANUARY 29
What does it even mean to be a nerd anymore? Is it still a persona used to make one seem at home taking in late night DND sessions or World Of Warcraft raids? Is it being overly knowledgeable or obnoxiously quick-witted in the world of academia? Perhaps it is shelling out hundreds of dollars to play with piece of cardboard that will eventually consume every aspect of your life. Whatever it means, there is now a payoff. At this event, you can stand in front of a crowd of people and attempt to spell words that are related to, well, being a nerd. This particular night follows a theme near and dear to all classically-trained nerd species: Sci-Fi. Leave your photon-blasters and dictionaries at home as you attempt spell words like "cryostasis," "multiverse," "Asimov," "replicant," "frood," "precog," and many more. Hopefully the hours you've spent weeping over the never-used shooting scripts for the second season of Firefly can amount to something. Sign up for the event starts at 5 p.m. and combatants take the stage at 6 p.m. No matter the outcome, a night of nerds, spelling, and local draft beer is bound to be a Qapla'! —John McCracken