Ex Hex, Thee Tsunamis, The Appleseed Cast, and more of the best stuff in Madison this week. | By Scott Gordon, Chris Lay, and Joel Shanahan
THURSDAY JULY 16
Madison band Faux Fawn’s most recent album, Lonesome Loon, made it onto our best local albums of 2014 list with its deliberate, melancholic and narratively twisty folk songs. Until last year the band was called Paul Otteson And Faux Fawn, and leader Paul Otteson’s songwriting and high, scratchy vocals are still central, but Lonesome Loon really expands on what they can do as a group, with arrangements spanning from the ominous “Poor Babbitt” to the meditative “Little Falls.” The band has enough of a light touch to make this High Noon patio show work, but this is definitely one for quieting down and soaking up some subtle emotional depth. The band recently added a new multi-instrumentalist, Doug Brown, and Otteson says they’ll be putting some older songs back into the set this time as well as playing some new ones.
Not that we’re hurting for straightforward, bar-friendly rock bands, but Madison out TightTigher’s self-titled debut EP, celebrated at this show, makes a warm and congenial addition to that category. The band as a whole moves easily between burly rockers like opener “Come On In” and gentler numbers like the easy-swinging “Around The Block,” and guitarist Brian Knapp and drummer/keyboard player Ginny Kincaid top things off with a vocal pairing that strikes a nice balance between rough edges and brightness.
We’ve already talked a whole lot about the wonderful universe of films that feature Orson Welles as a sideman, but here’s yet another oddball gem in the bounty that has been laid before us by UW Cinematheque’s Welles centennial series. For anyone who’s ever wondered if a spaghetti western would benefit by adding Welles into its cast (and making him up to look more than a little like an awkward Asian stereotype), here’s your answer in the form of 1969’s Tepepa. Welles was apparently something of a pain in the ass on set (shocking, we know) and called his co-star, western film legend Tomas Milian, a "dirty Cuban" at one point, which is just the thing to really brighten up a film shoot. The overall resulting film (directed by Giulio Petroni who only two years before this turned in the much better Death Rides A Pale Horse) is far from terrible, but is more for Welles and/-or spaghetti western diehards only.
You know what? It’s hard to make rodents scary. Sure, in real life, one little mouse runs across the floor and the next thing you know everyone’s standing on chairs and screaming, but in movies, that’s a tougher sell. In the history of film we’ve got The Princess Bride’s R.O.U.S.’s, Monty Python And The Holy Grail’s Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog, the mutant rabbits of Night Of The Lepus (totally a real movie somehow), and finally, thanks to steroid-contaminated corn grain, we get the over-sized rat things terrorizing Toronto in Robert Clouse’s 1982 film Deadly Eyes, which screens here as part of the Madison Public Library’s Bad Cinema series. Our unlikely heroes are college basketball coach Paul, and local health inspector Kelly (something about that coupling is just so perfectly Canadian), who have to save the day against sharp-toothed backpack-sized animals (dogs in costumes as often as not, apparently) flying towards them in a manner that suggests someone just off camera is maybe tossing them into frame. This is easily the worst Bad Cinema selection yet, if not the most obscure. Fans of better horror films will recognize Scatman Crothers, who played Danny’s shine-pal Dick Hallorann in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.
It is no small thing to be able to balance a sincere Midwestern “aww shucks” sweetness with the toothy bite needed to get jokes to work in comedy clubs, but Minneapolis-based comedians Mary Mack and Tim Harmston have managed that feat and know just how to leverage their abilities to crush a room. The husband-and-wife duo are co-headliners for this show, but it isn’t any kind of a stunt act, with both performers more than seasoned veterans of “the road”. While Harmston took his hard-earned Menomonie, Wisconsin accent all the way up to Letterman a couple of years ago, our favorite thing about this duo is that Mary Mack makes sure to include in every show description that her mandolin skills got her onto Minnesota’s Polka Spotlight. Formerly local (and currently Minneapolis-based) comic Andrew Wegleitner hosts.
FRIDAY JULY 17
We don’t hear the sturdy, joyfully scuzzy hard rock of Madison band The Arge very often lately, with several members either laying low or being pulled one way or another (drummer Zac Schroeder has been living in Antarctica off and on for the past few years, for instance). And as for recordings, the band released a self-titled album in 2007 and it’s not available online. But The Arge are really quite glorious in their Mudhoney-channeling way, pulling off sets that threaten drunken collapse but yield fiercely catchy songs about booze, drugs and the history of Metallica bass players.
Since the late ’90s, California duo Faun Fables have drawn on heady folk and a bit of founder Dawn McCarthy’s theater background to create a long run of melodically and conceptually rich albums. McCarthy and partner Nils Frykdahl have slowed it down a bit since 2010’s album Light Of A Vaster Dark, mostly to focus on raising their young family, but as McCarthy told us in an interview this week, they’ve been gradually working on a new studio album and plan to break out a lot of new material at this Mother Fool’s show.
Vancouver-founded band The New Pornographers have at least two damn-near unassailable classics, 2000’s debut Mass Romantic and 2005’s Twin Cinema, and a distinctive power-pop approach that works in all manner of elaborate arrangements and puzzling lyrics without tripping up a wealth of gleaming, gratifying melody. And if last year’s Brill Bruisers and 2010’s Together rank a bit lower, they still boast lovely ensemble showcases like “Wide Eyes” and “Crash Years,” respectively. At any given New Pornographers show it’s never entirely clear whether members Neko Case and Dan Bejar will play—and it really is better with the whole crew, making the live translation of the band’s vocal arrangements all the more euphoric, and then there’s the added amusement of Bejar drunkenly skulking around between his own songs (but still coming off as more focused than he does in his solo project Destroyer). A concert review from earlier this week suggests they won’t be along. But the core five-piece version, with mastermind A.C. Newman and keyboardist/vocalist Kathryn Calder up front, still pulls off powerful renditions of the band’s infectiously labyrinthine songs.
No idea if this was scheduled to drop right around the time Scott Walker (or Donald Trump) tossed his hat into the ring, but it’s a genius move if so and lovely serendipity if not. In 1969’s Mr. Freedom, the second feature film from famed fashion photographer William Klein, the title character (John Abbey), in an effort to keep France from falling under the sway of the communists, decides to throw the baby out with the bathwater and decimate the entire country. If you’re looking for the anti-Avengers summer blockbuster, the pitch-perfectly mindless violence perpetrated by this Captain America-by-way-of-a-bad-acid-trip will more than suffice. A truly overlooked gem, Mr. Freedom is the kind of dark and bleakly cynical satire that you’d be hard-pressed to find these days. A few years back this was packaged up by Criterion with Klein’s other feature films, Who Are You, Polly Maggoo? and The Model Couple, which are also both well worth searching out.
Sassy garage-pop has been an overcrowded ballpark for a long time, but somehow Bloomington, Indiana’s Thee Tsunamis have found a fresh, refined way to present their snotty marriage of nasty proto-punk with ’60s girl-group hooks. On the new album Saturday Night Sweetheart, Thee Tsunamis employ enough fuzzy chords, swaggering yelps, and tasteful back-up vocals to do justice to their leather jackets and cherry-red lipstick. From the ’50s channeling, vibrato-soaked progression of “I Know” to the muddy nastiness of “Drag,” Thee Tsunamis aren’t exactly doing anything radical with the medium, but their tightly written tunes and dedication to the aesthetic make them worth checking out in the live setting.
SATURDAY JULY 18
For its second installment of the year, the Strollin’ jazz series moves to Park Street for the first time, with a slightly different setup from Strollin’s previous incarnations downtown, on Monroe Street, and the near east side. Things will start closer to where South Park meets the Beltline, with afternoon performances the Villager Mall, the south-side police station, and the Urban League of Greater Madison’s headquarters. We’re kinda bummed no one’s playing at the UW Space Place for this, but anyway, highlights for this part of the day include Afro-Peruvian jazz trio Golpe Tierra, driven by Peruvian box drum and flowing acoustic guitar melodies, the Black Star Drum Line and the Rick Flowers Quartet. At 7 p.m., the event heads north to the cozy craft-beer bar The Mason Lounge, where modern-jazz outfit bpmTrio and wide-ranging Mason regulars Five Points Jazz Collective will close out the night.
For the past few years, East Side living-room venue The Cult House, despite its sparse programming, has hosted some of the most intriguing experimental, abstract electronic, and psych-folk shows in town of recent memory (appearances from Weyes Blood, MV&EE, and Scout Pare-Phillips come to mind). We’re very bummed to see that this will likely be The Cult House’s final show, but at least the space is going out with a memorable showcase of Madison weirdos. In addition to a set from Julian Lynch, who we’ve thankfully been seeing a lot more of lately, rare treats include sets from prodigal avant-classical composer and sound designer Troy Schafer, a solo set from Schafer’s Kinit Her bandmate and Circulation Of Light mastermind Nathaniel Ritter under his new Rettir Leinahtan handle, and former Wife vocalist-guitarist Brian Steele doing a performance-art piece as his character The Olive Lady. We’ve also been told that this will be the final performance from Madison avant-music veteran Tony Endless (also of drone outfit Drunjus).
Cincinnati trio Us, Today have explored intricate but also minimalist-leaning instrumentals since 2010. Vibraphonist Kristin Agee, guitarist Joel Griggs, and drummer Jeff Mellott share a flowing interplay that gives disparate ideas drawn from jazz, electronic music, and post-rock space to gel. Perhaps that’s why band’s latest, this year’s T E N E N E M I E S, feels like a natural progression despite the fact that much about it is new for Us, Today—especially the fact that the tracks are more through-composed and less improvisational than their previous work, and that additional players and a spoken-word artist come in to flesh out the ideas on certain tracks. Even when Mellott kicks up a lusty gallop on “Long Since Forgotten,” the band as a whole crafts its songs with an unforced, eerie fluidity.
SUNDAY JULY 19
Down to one original member in vocalist-guitarist Christopher Crisci, Lawrence, Kansas-based quartet The Appleseed Cast are currently touring behind the 15th anniversary of Mare Vitalis, a collection of gorgeous, guitar powered, and Fugazi-informed emo tunes that pretty much set the tone for the overwhelming emo takeover of the aughts. Sure, during that takeover, the many endearing aspects of emo that Mare Vitalis represents—sing-scream dynamics, wonky chord voicings that are somehow gorgeous and dissonant at the same time, slanted rhythms with gratuitous and jazzy fills, and of course the Latin album title—were pile-driven into the ground and exploited by Hot Topic in every possible way, but we shouldn’t let that cheapen Mare Vitalis’ genuine charm. The explorative, organ-laden “...And Nothing Less” and the rimshot-happy rhythm and lush guitar harmony of “Fishing The Sky” don’t sound like a band that’s reaching to cash in on a trend, it sounds like a bunch of dudes lovingly jamming ‘til they catch the feeling, which makes this album hold up to this day.
In an era where criminally overusing reverb and automation is in vogue nearly across the board in electronic music, it’s easy to be immediately taken aback by the naked emotional and sonic delivery of Ratchet, the debut full length from Las Vegas-based pop-R&B vocalist Shamir Bailey. Minimal synth arrangements and and rhythms dryly stick to the surface as Bailey’s self-described “countertenor” voice—which somehow owes as much to electro-pop crafters (tune-whittlers?) like Of Montreal and Robyn as it does to the soulful and singular croonings of Prince and Nina Simone—cruises over an array of infectious and gradual grooves. While Bailey’s soaring vibrato holds up well throughout the album, it works best in the slow jams like longing ballad “Darker” and the sunny shuffle of album-opener “Vegas,” where there’s plenty of space to explore. Unfortunately,, when Bailey gets trapped in the four-on-the-floor cage, the results are mixed, especially in the innocuously sassy rapping of “Make A Scene” or “On The Regular,” both of which disturbingly channel Kesha.
MONDAY JULY 20
Avant-garde rock trio Jobs formed in New York City in 2008 (then under the name Killer BOB), but its membership has scattered, with bassist Rob Lundberg now living in Madison. Jobs play here behind the just-released new album Killer Bob Sings, on which they expand on their strangely catchy math-rock abrasion, in part by incorporating vocals for the first time. The vocals, from band friend Daniel Ellis-Ferris, prove just as unpredictable as the other instruments (bass, drums, guitar), at times drawing out Jobs’ tender, pop-informed side (“Fed Well” and “Esmerelda, The Last Queen Of Fire Island”) and elsewhere joining in on the technical pummeling (“Rhythm Changes”). Ellis-Ferris isn’t playing live with the band, so here Lundberg, guitarist Dave Scanlon and drummer Max Jaffe are dividing up vocal duties live. We’ll have an interview with Jobs up later this week as part of our weekly Tone Madison/WORT-FM podcast.
TUESDAY JULY 21
Mary Timony has embraced a great variety of sounds as a solo artist and with her meandering ’90s project Helium (and other projects including the awesome but short-lived Wild Flag), so it’s surprising but rewarding to hear her focus in on sharp, playful power pop with her new trio Ex Hex. The band’s first album, 2014’s Rips, keeps things pared-down but still has an unabashed sparkle, with drummer Laura Harris and bassist Betsy Wright kicking in vocal harmonies and Timony playing concise, glammed-up guitar solos. Standout tracks like “Beast,” “Radio On,” and “Everywhere” show that Timony is just as versatile and witty in a stripped-down setting.
WEDNESDAY JULY 22
It’s been a little over a year since Madison band Dolores played their first show and became Madison’s newest mild-mannered musical darlings (in the footsteps of Phox and Count This Penny and whatnot), and they were just starting to grow on us with the gently funky pop of their recently released album Peach Fuzz. But it turns out a couple of members will be moving away soon, so the band are calling this their last local show for the time being. In addition to bopping around to playfully produced and subtly cracked pop tunes like “Oh No” and “Messin’,” you can look forward to sets here from smart young Madison guitar-pop outfit Modern Mod and Chicago’s The Walters.