Madison calendar, July 19 through 25
An album-release celebration with Proud Parents, readings on the Great Lakes and Wisconsin’s political transformation, exemplary footwork from DJ Earl, and more events of note in Madison this week. (Photo: Proud Parents, by Jennifer Bastian.)| By Ian Adcock, Scott Gordon and Joel Shanahan
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 JULY 19
One of the greatest French crime films ever made, Rififi was ironically directed by an American director. Jules Dassin had created some of the darkest and most cynical films of the postwar noir cycle culminating in 1950’s Night And The City, but was blacklisted in 1952 after refusing to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Down on his luck and living in France, Dassin was offered work on a low-budget gangster film, and the result was such a massive international hit that it revitalized Dassin’s career and influenced pretty much every heist film made since. From the highly stylized crime films of Jean-Pierre Melville and Michael Mann to the Ocean’s Eleven franchise and Reservoir Dogs, it’s hard to name a heist film that hasn’t borrowed from Rififi in some way.
Rififi centers around Tony le Stephanois, an aging professional criminal released from prison. Tony plans an elaborate jewel robbery with some old friends and an overly romantic “specialist” safecracker (played by Dassin, filling in for an actor who dropped out at the last minute). Though they manage to steal the jewels, it’s after the robbery that things start to go horribly wrong. The highlight of the film is the now-legendary robbery sequence, which methodically depicts the heist in near-silence without music or dialogue for 28 minutes. A masterpiece of suspense, it’s truly one of the great scenes in cinema. The rest of Rififi is expertly filled with noir fatalism, sadism, and 1950s tough guy cool, elevating a genre film to a classic. At Cinematheque, Rififi will be preceded by Tex Avery’s cartoon short Deputy Droopy, also released in 1955, which takes the idea of a silent heist in a much sillier direction. —Ian Adcock
Dan Egan, who has worked since 2003 as a reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, published one of the era's defining works of environmental journalism in his 2017 book The Death And Life Of The Great Lakes. The Laurentian Great Lakes—Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario—collectively form one of the world's most bounteous and coveted supplies of freshwater. Tens of millions of Americans and Canadians depend on this resource for drinking water and their livelihoods, in industries from farming to shipping. But as massive as this ecosystem is, it is also incredibly fragile, and human beings have subjected it to quite a few risky experiments since Europeans arrived in the region. People have stocked it with non-native salmon for sport fishing, unwittingly introduced invasive sea lampreys, and used Lake Michigan's water to flush Chicago's shit down the Mississippi River (you're welcome, St. Louis!), to name just a few things. On top of all that, the fight over who gets to use the water for drinking, industry, and agriculture will rage on for generations to come.
This gives Egan a lot to unpack, as he chronicles two centuries in which industry and governments played rather fast and loose with this incredible resource and then, over the last 40 years or so, tried to turn things around with stricter environmental regulations and a U.S.-Canada pact that governs access to Great Lakes water. Egan's book lays out the astonishingly complex weave of environmental, political, and economic factors at work on the lakes, and places it in a scientific and historical context. Most importantly, Egan makes all this approachable and tells us why the lay reader should care—something that only someone who's put in years of research and writing can pull off. The Death And Life Of The Great Lakes was recently named the 2018-19 book for UW-Madison's community reading program Go Big Read. Those who miss Egan's visit to Room of One's Own can catch him at the Union Theater on October 18. —Scott Gordon
FRIDAY JULY 20
When legendary Chicago footwork innovator DJ Rashad died suddenly and tragically in 2014, both the late producer/DJ and footwork itself seemed to be at a peak. What had once been an incredibly niche genre of bass music designed for competitive Chicago dance crews now had incredible international reach, with new crops of footwork producers popping up everywhere from the UK to Japan and DJ Rashad and fellow pioneers like DJ Spinn and Traxman suddenly touring all over the world. The crossover owes both to how refreshing the urgent grit and acrobatic rhythmic programming of the music itself was, but also to the work put in by μ-Ziq mastermind Mike Paradinas. The UK-based IDM legend had been releasing a series of compilations of footwork tracks from then-unknown producers like Jlin, DJ Nate, and more called Bangs And Works on his own imprint Planet Mu, and eventually began releasing full-length albums for them.
Before DJ Rashad passed away, he co-founded Teklife with DJ Spinn and designer-photographer Ashes57. Teklife which continues to function as both a label and a crew of producers, DJs, and dancers. Chicago-based producer DJ Earl—née Earl Smith—was still in high school when he began working with Teklife and is currently one of the freshest voices the genre has to offer. Smith's elegant blend of hammering polyrhythms and smoked-out, psychedelic flare continues to push the music forward in DJ Rashad's honor.
On this year's W3RK DAT, Smith's first full-length since 2016's Open Your Eyes, he continues journeying deep for illuminating sonics, hidden grooves, and pummeling bass tones. "Digital Rise," a collaboration with NYC-based producer Suzi Analogue, is a frantic and playfully ominous dance cut with what sounds like an 8-bit tornado siren ascending over the bass-powered backdrop. A few other huge highlights arrive in the future-juke stylings of "Make It Hurt," the creepy industrial-juke cocktail "Wall Of Sound," and the stoner-synth haze of "Off Kush Boaa." Smith is pretty prolific with his solo material, remixes, and collaborations (often with other Teklife members), so his DJ set on the Terrace may be a perfect opportunity to hear a wealth of unreleased material, as well as a history lesson from one of footwork's most studied proteges. —Joel Shanahan
Madison band Proud Parents began playing their friendly but punchy power-pop in 2014, and quickly became a refreshing addition to Madison's fertile circle of younger rock-n-roll bands. That's thanks in large part to Claire Nelson-Lifson (also of Cool Building and more recently a solo performer billed as CNL) and Tyler Fassnacht's (also of Fire Heads and The Hussy) genuinely affectionate exchanges of verses and incisive, jangling guitar figures on songs like "Something To Talk About" and "Follow Thru," both highlights of the band's debut album, 2015's Sharon Is Karen. Drummer and vocalist Heather Sawyer (The Hussy, Cool Building, Heather The Jerk) also writes and sings lead on several of the band's songs, in addition to providing the band's rumbling, playful foundation.
Over a couple years, Proud Parents' frequent live sets began to feel more and more dynamic and assured, without sacrificing the band's initial scrappiness. The three singers/songwriters each began to take on a more defined role, while still joining each other in a lot of back-and-forth and harmonies. All that progress comes through on the band's new, self-titled album for the now Madison-based Dirtnap Records, which they'll celebrate at this show. Fassnacht unpacks the anxiety of young adulthood on the almost-frantic "Ducktales," with snappy "whoo-hoo" vocal interjections from Nelson-Lifson and Sawyer. Nelson-Lifson takes the lead on one of the record's most charged-up tracks, "Dead Wrong," and on the more reflective, wistful "2 Fast 2 Serious." Sawyer and Fassnacht trade off some of Proud Parents’ catchiest vocal lines on "Hypnotoad," and two Sharon Is Karen songs, "Something To Talk About" and "Take My Hand," get new treatments here. It's a record that captures the band's early promise, but also how much Proud Parents have expanded their instrumental and emotional range. Maggie Denman (also of Once A Month, Margerat Dryer, and According To What) recently joined the band on bass, replacing founding bassist Alex Seraphin (also of Psychic Drag); Fassnacht and Nelson-Lifson play bass on the new album.
Austin trio Xetas, the one out-of-town band on this show, play combustive punk with the snarled edge of noise-rock and the ferocity of a thrash-metal band. Its 2017 album, The Tower, is a grisly epic that finds bassist/vocalist Kana Harris, guitarist/vocalist David Lee Petro, and drummer/vocalist Jay Dilick shouting their hooks into a gale of filth that shifts between stomping hardcore ("The Burden"), lean post-punk ("The Gaze") and chunky yet dissonant noise-rock riffs ("The Future"). Xetas are releasing another album soon, so here's hoping the band's set at the Crystal includes some new songs. —Scott Gordon
SATURDAY JULY 21
A team of four Madison-based artists and musicians announced in March that they planned to take over a vacant storefront/warehouse on Milwaukee Street and turn it into Communication. The vision? An all-ages, community-driven venue with live music, a retail space for Madison-area artists to sell their work, and all manner of workshops and even kid-friendly events. They're not quite finished renovating, but the space began hosting shows in May and already has a storefront filled with local art. Communication's leadership—musicians Tessa Echeverria and Spencer Bible and artists Jennifer Bastian and Mollie Martin—are still fleshing out their programming, in part because they want to learn more about what the neighborhood around the space wants from a multi-faceted DIY arts incubator, rather than just push preconceived ideas. (Full disclosure: Tone Madison is working on some programming in partnership with Communication.)
This day-long grand opening celebration will touch on a few aspects of Communication's planned M.O. Jesse Laz-Hirsch, best known as a singer and guitarist for perky Madison power-pop band Locksley, will kick things off at 10 a.m. with a set of kids' music. Illustrator Rachal Duggan (who is a Tone Madison contributor) will host a 2 p.m. drawing workshop titled "Illustration Therapy for Artists." At 4 p.m., Bastian will unveil an art show that draws on responses from a survey she's been conducting about the role of art in Madison communities.
Communication is also determined to fill the gaping need for more early shows in Madison, so the grand opening's main live-music portion will begin at 7 p.m. Denver singer-songwriter Esmé Patterson, whose 2016 album We Were Wild cloaks her tender vocals in brisk, warmly arranged folk-rock, will headline. Opening up is Madison's own William Z. Villain, an endlessly mischievous project that combines elements of jazz, Balkan music, bizarro art-rock, and sneering lyricism. —Scott Gordon
TUESDAY JULY 24
Dinosaur Jr. bassist and Sebadoh leader Lou Barlow has contributed a dense body of emotionally (and often sonically) raw songs to the American indie-rock canon since the late 1980s. While both are still going concerns, and Dinosaur Jr. is now four albums deep into a reunion period, Barlow has also spent a lot more time over the past decade or so touring and recording under his own name. Releases like the 2015 album Brace The Wave and 2016's Apocalypse Fetish EP find Barlow working in a spare, acoustic vein, and he'll also take that approach at this backyard show at a private residence in Madison. While Dinosaur Jr.'s still a very good live band, Barlow's own work is best suited for intimate settings, so this show should be a treat for those who appreciate his soul-baring lyrics and gift for melody. This show is open to the public, but the address will only be disclosed to ticket buyers. Madison duo Bent Antenna opens the show. —Scott Gordon
WEDNESDAY JULY 25
Republican Governor Scott Walker and his allies in the state legislature have so profoundly altered Wisconsin's political fabric, and at such an aggressive pace, that Wisconsinites have had little chance to really step back and consider what it all will mean in the long run. Dan Kaufman helps readers do just that in his newly released book The Fall Of Wisconsin: The Conservative Conquest Of A Progressive Bastion And The Future Of American Politics. Kaufman, who grew up in Madison and leads the New York City band Barbez, has covered different facets of Wisconsin's political shift for The New Yorker and The New York Times. He combines deep reportage with an unapologetically left-wing perspective—on Walker's ruthless gutting of labor unions, on the rollback of Wisconsin's environmental protections, and on the growth of corporate influence over state politics—but this book is no polemic. The Fall Of Wisconsin places the political battles of this decade in context, detailing both Wisconsin's role in shaping contemporary liberalism (from Fighting Bob to Aldo Leopold to the UW-Madison academics who first conceived of many New Deal programs to the first Republicans, who were abolitionists) and its susceptibility to extremist right-wing politicians (Wisconsin elected the Red Scare-stoking Joe McCarthy to the Senate twice, is the home of the John Birch Society, and provided a launchpad for segregationist George Wallace's 1964 presidential campaign).
Kaufman tells this story mainly through the eyes of people on the front lines, and generally the ones who've had to fight to be heard at all. As a journalist and author, he's been following the union activism of ironworker Randy Bryce, for instance, long before Bryce launched his campaign for Paul Ryan's House seat and touched off "IronStache" mania on the national political scene. Bryce plays a prominent role in the book, as do Native American leaders like Mike Wiggins of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. That's refreshing, because indigenous activists around the state and the country are leading voices on environmental issues, but often get overshadowed in the press by white activists and candidates. Kaufman peers into the halls of power, investigating how think tanks and the American Legislative Exchange Council (where legislators and corporate members work together to draft model bills) have turned Wisconsin into a living laboratory for a host of far-right policy priorities. Read more this week in our interview with Kaufman. —Scott Gordon
The Maltese Falcon has become such an ubiquitous piece of American culture that it's easy to forget what a rebellious film it was for the era. Dashiell Hammett's novel had already been clumsily butchered twice by Hollywood, but writer/director John Huston wisely chose to stick closely to the source, adapting Hammett's hard-edged repartee to screen. The hard-boiled story of detective Sam Spade going up against a trio of backstabbing criminals searching for a mysterious statue was a smash hit in 1941, despite its atypically unhappy ending and cynical outlook retained from the novel. The Maltese Falcon was Huston's first directed film, and he filled the film with bold camera angles and as much taboo material from Hammett’s novel as he could sneak past the censors. In a time where references to adultery, homosexuality and criminal activities were heavily censored, Huston managed to retain these more sordid elements through allusion and implication.
The Maltese Falcon also benefits from an ideal cast who were not only perfect for its parts but developed great chemistry together. Humphrey Bogart became an iconic star and the stereotypical noir detective because of this movie. Mary Astor's performance as the manipulative Brigid O'Shaughnessy was the most memorable role of her long career. Peter Lorre plays the slimy Joel Cairo through layers of innuendo, and 62-year-old cinematic newcomer Sydney Greenstreet's performance as Caspar Gutman is so joyously malicious it made him an in-demand character actor the rest of his life. The obvious rapport between the cast members helps pull off Hammett's twisting, dialogue-heavy plot, and led to Bogart, Lorre and Greenstreet being teamed up again in Casablanca the following year. An unusually faithful adaptation of a classic detective novel, The Maltese Falcon endures as an entertaining and subtly subversive film of the Golden Era of Hollywood. —Ian Adcock