Psychic Drag, Rebirth Brass Band, "Magnolia," Venereal Crush, and more events of note in Madison this week. | By Emili Earhart and Scott Gordon
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THURSDAY JANUARY 4
Blessed with a teetering ensemble cast (which would have aged better if it weren't so overwhelmingly white for a film set in Los Angeles), 1999's Magnolia is one beautifully arrogant crescendo of a film. Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson threads together a whole sprawl of storylines in a way that at once makes one admire his stylistic daring and makes one grateful for the more centered structures of films like The Master and There Will Be Blood. All of Magnolia's threads point toward catharsis and/or crisis and everyone ends up singing that Aimee Mann song. It can be a tough film to grapple with as a whole, but it's still a treasure trove of performances—Philip Seymour Hoffman as a tender home-care nurse, Tom Cruise as a vacantly spiteful pickup guru, John C. Reilly as an earnest cop, Melora Walters as a tormented cocaine addict, Jeremy Blackman as a put-upon game-show prodigy, and so forth. Does all this belong in one film? Maybe not, but it's magnetic anyway. —Scott Gordon
One of many projects of avant-music journeyman Bob Bucko Jr., Dubuque five-piece Venereal Crush play murky, improvised pieces that veer between free-jazz dissonance and cavernous, doom-y drone. Venereal Crush's Bandcamp catalog of inscrutably numbered albums and tracks offers a sampling of the scratchy but dynamic music the band creates with percussion, synth, bass, and guitar, but doesn't quite capture how loud and overpowering the live sets can get. Expect an improvised set that's as thoughtfully textured as it is unsettling. Venereal Crush shares the bill here with Louise Bock (the solo project of Spires That In The Sunset Rise member Taralie Peterson) and Madison noise project Scaroth. —Scott Gordon
FRIDAY JANUARY 5
Nick Brown Band, Evan Murdock And The Imperfect Strangers, Josh Harty Band, Wrenclaw. High Noon Saloon, 9 p.m.
Madison-based singer and songwriter Nick Brown has developed a songwriting voice that has its share of wry humor, but doesn't shy away from tenderness or vulnerability. He made his solo debut in a restrained, sparse mode with 2013's Slow Boat, but in the years since has expanded to a full band with a warm, electric country-rock edge, as captured on 2017's Contender EP. The EP's title track is right in the zone where Brown does his best work, portraying a character of both admirable spirit and perhaps foolish tenacity: I'll put my shit up against anybody's in this town / 'Cause I'm a contender, that's what I am / Throwing my punches with bandages on my hands." Brown and band headline here and share the bill with several other solid Madison songwriters working in the country and folk realm: Josh Harty, Evan Murdock, and Wrenclaw's Dan Walkner. —Scott Gordon
Madison's Psychic Drag perform playfully ruthless post-hardcore that balances hints of Fugazi worship with sassy attitude and timeless energy and aggression. Frontman Alex Seraphin, who can be seen playing bass in Proud Parents, trades off his voice's distinct personality with that of vocalist and guitarist James Runde (of The Smells), as bassist Ross Adam (of Exploration Team) provides creative counter melodies, giving the project some pop qualities. The band exhibits their shameless, snotty sassiness right off the bat on the first track of their self titled debut, released this past June. Madison's Claire Nelson-Lifson (also of Proud Parents) plays solo here behind a loaded two-song release from this fall that captures their earnest songwriting and a particularly expressive vocal performance. Madison/New York trio Billy Sunday plays here as well, featuring members of Fire Heads, Giant People, and Human Kindness. —Emili Earhart
SUNDAY JANUARY 7
Founded in 1983 in New Orleans, the Rebirth Brass Band has made a formidable contribution to that city's ferment of multi-generational jazz outfits. It's about what you'd expect—rollicking parade-bred rhythms, dense and exuberant horn arrangements with lots of room for fiery sax and trumpet solos, gospel-fueled group vocals. The important thing is in channeling all that rich history into something that feels alive, and Rebirth does so on albums like 2014's Move Your Body, from the funky attack of "Your Mama Don't Dance" to the Latin influences of "Rebirth Groove" to the roiling interplay of "Texas Pete." This show was scheduled to be the first in several years at the Orpheum's Stage Door, a smaller theater behind the Orpheum's main room, but has been moved to the Ruby on University. —Scott Gordon
Matt Fanale is Madison's reigning industrial-music imp, blasting out gleefully profane and violent songs under the name Caustic and developing a pretty strong online following for his troubles. But there's more to the long-running project than fractious beats and screamed, hardcore-influenced vocals. The recent EP Stimulation, for instance, explores the more atmospheric and melodic side of Caustic's production work, and Fanale recently teamed up with Null Device founder Eric Oehler to form the playful synth-pop project Klack. At this show, Fanale will celebrate the release of some new, under-wraps Caustic material, playing a live set with help from Oehler and drummer Emily Mills (Damsel Trash, DJ Millbot, etc.). Caustic shares the bill here with three other local acts: Sludge-metal band Seisma, intriguing psych-rock duo Gods In The Chrysalis, and keyboard-driven rock trio Dear Violence —Scott Gordon
WEDNESDAY JANUARY 10
Chicago noise-rock band Salvation functions like a machine that's been stripped to its most essential parts of out of sheer spite, emitting high-pitched squeals and unfiltered filth but still running just fine, thank you very much. On the 2017 album Sore Loser, bassist Victor Riley and drummer Santiago Guerrero lay down greasy, surging rhythms and guitarist Jason Sipe's figures lean toward cutting trebles. For all its steel-wool abrasion it's a smartly crafted record, from the queasy lurch of "Cleansing Of The Mind" to the baleful, cathartic closer "1984." And the band is better than most of its noise-rock peers at using the quieter end of its dynamics, as demonstrated on opening track "True Romance." —Scott Gordon