huck Johnson, CRASHprez, Against Me!, and more of the best stuff in Madison this week. | By Scott Gordon, Chris Lay, and Joel Shanahan
THURSDAY JULY 2
It’s hard to imagine anything calling itself an “Orson Welles Centennial Celebration” running its course without a screening the 1949 masterpiece The Third Man in there somewhere, and thankfully UW Cinematheque has finally gotten around to it. In all actuality, it’s not the easiest film to shoehorn into such a program, what with Welles not acting as director (that title goes to Carol Reed) or as main attraction (here, that’s Joseph Cotten, who you might remember from Welles’ Citizen Kane), but his fingerprints are all over this pulpy post-WWII Vienna thriller, most evident in the famous “cuckoo clock” speech, which Welles wrote himself. Here the film screens in a brand-new digital restoration of its uncut British version, which the Cinematheque is promising is not to be missed for newbies and old hands alike.
In the 26 years or so since Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing was released, only a scant few American films have come close to topping its near-monolithic, capital-“I” Importance. Sure, Lee’s career might have been all over the place quality-wise for the past 15 or so years, but he’s clearly an auteur in the strictest sense and Do The Right Thing was the film that catapulted him immediately into the cinematic stratosphere. With this, only his third feature, Lee absolutely nailed so many aspects of race relations in America, and from a myriad of angles, pinning it to a very specific time and place, but there’s also a magical realism that’s perceptible on the fringes of every frame in it that allows us to so easily (and sadly) transport the story, and the tragic police brutality that it eventually portrays, into the present day. It’s a powerful film that is absolutely required viewing.
Hip-hop band The Black Poets Society formed in Madison in the 1990s, and in their time they opened for such legends as De La Soul and Guru. Right now it’s hard to find much evidence of the band if you weren’t there, but they’re trying to fix that as they mark their 20th anniversary, with a retrospective event last week and this High Noon show featuring BPS back in full-band form. There also are plans to reissue some of the band’s music. Recently we youngsters could only cajole them into sending us one track, “ABC Soup,” but it’s got a formidably funky, conversational, playful vibe that makes us want to check out this show.
It’s been a couple years and a few lineup changes since we’ve heard much from Madison quartet Pushmi-Pullyu. However, they certainly left us on a high note with 2013’s hyper-polished and well-labored over Never Love A Stranger—a feathery patchwork of of jazz-tinged post-rock and concise pop structures. Vocalist and synth operator John Kruse’s breathy vocals hold character over Rhodes-powered ballad “Lost Ponds,” the bluesy pop of “All I Wanted,” and growling rocker “Past.” Hopefully Pushmi-Pullyu’s break from releasing music has brought upon a harvest of fresh tunes for this show. Joining Pushmi-Pullyu will be Chicago-based blues-popsters Bailiff and the groove-laden, guitar-powered, and self-described gypsy jazz musings of Madisonian Benjamin Bill under his William Z. Villain moniker.
FRIDAY JULY 3
There’s a certain kind of zany cops-and-robbers caper movie that you don’t see very much any more. If you fondly recall the sort of big colorful genre flicks from this era like Quick Change, Something Wild, and hell, even big dumb cash grabs like The Adventures Of Ford Fairlane, then you’re in luck, because a 35mm print of George Armitage’s 1990 film Miami Blues—starring Alec Baldwin, Fred Ward and Jennifer Jason Leigh—is on tap for this Cinematheque screening. Armitage is best known for the less-overlooked but equally awesome Grosse Pointe Blank, and there’s a similar aesthetic at play in both of those films, as wit casually intermingles with outbursts of violence perpetrated by charming leading men.
Tortoise percussionist and multi-instrumentalist Dan Bitney (who came up playing drums in Madison hardcore outfit Tar Babies during the 1980s) brings two of his collaborative projects to Mickey’s on the heels of Tortoise finishing up a new album (due for an early 2016 release) and playing a Mogwai-curated show in London with GZA and Lightning Bolt. First up is Spectralina, Bitney’s audio-visual project with fellow multi-instrumentalist and multimedia artist Selina Trepp. Next, Bitney and Trepp will perform in RE:MOVE, their improvisational four-piece with two fellow Chicagoans, bassist Anton Hatwich (whose collaborators have included jazz trumpeter Ross Johnson and lusty folk-rock reviver Ryley Walker) on bass and guitarist LeRoy Bach (a former member of Wilco, and a collaborator with artists including Will Oldham and Joan Of Arc).
It’s been impossible to ignore the presence of whip-smart Gainesville, Florida punk outfit Against Me! since they steamrolled back into public consciousness with the career-defining 2014 album Transgender Dysphoria Blues. The release followed an intense sabbatical that saw vocalist Laura Jane Grace come out to the public as transgender, shed her old name, and transition fully into living as a woman. While they may not be touring behind a new proper album on this particular jaunt (however, they did just announce a new live album in 23 Live Sex Acts that’s currently slated for a September release), TDB’s catchy and expertly executed tunes—coated in Grace’s powerful wailing, which often details her lifelong struggles with gender dysphoria—left us with plenty sit with and soak in for awhile.
Ambitious Madison-formed jazz ensemble The Lovely Socialite Mrs. Thomas W. Phipps have officially chopped their whimsical name down to the one everyone uses anyway, Lovely Socialite, but more importantly they’re working toward a September release for their second album, Toxic Consonance, following up 2012’s Registers Her Delight. This week they released a new single, “Black Yukon Sucker Punch,” a characteristically sprawling composition driven by vibraphone, cello, punchy trombone, and playful samples of breaking glass and evil laughter. This show opens up with a set from a trio of young Midwestern jazz musicians: bassist Ben Ferris, trumpeter Paul Dietrich and drummer Miguel McQuade.
Madison filmmaker Michael Doyle Olson and musician Mr. Jackson have teamed up to present this night of short films and music videos by local artists. The program will include a video for a new Mr. Jackson song, which will have its web premiere right here on Tone Madison next week.
SATURDAY JULY 4
Madison’s time hosting Maryland transplant and lyrical acrobat CRASHprez is almost up, as the freshly graduated rapper sets his sights toward the Twin Cities. We here at Tone Madison strongly recommend taking this opportunity to catch one of Michael Penn II’s monstrous live sets, before he takes off and his presence here becomes a rarity. Early this year, Penn dropped the massively sprawling full-length More Perfect, an album that finds the young wordsmith carefully balancing the political and the playful. The album employs an arsenal of complex flows over slow-burning burning and bass-heavy backdrops (some of which are by Madison’s own sampling wizard Coby Ashpis and Penn’s longtime collaborator and detailed beat constructor *hitmayng). It should also be noted that collective Me eN You will be playing—an outfit that includes Ashpis, emcees Lord Of The Fly (Madison), Otis Franklin (Madison), and Smiley Gatmouth (Denver, CO), and brass-laden beatsmiths Spaceman Eo and Nate France, among many others.
TUESDAY JULY 7
Few solo guitarists ever make it to that magical crossroads where virtuosity intersects with taste. But in the tradition of rag-shredders like John Fahey and Jack Rose, Oakland-based fingerstyle player Chuck Johnson has crafted some lush and heady steel-stringed dirges for his freshly released third album, Blood Moon Boulder. On tunes like “Medicine Map,” Johnson starts with traditional and familiar folk structures, but as the song moves forward, Johnson ushers in a vibe of uncertainty and mystery, flirting with melodic dissonance as the bass notes drone below. In the raga-esque “The Deer And The Snake,” Johnson’s notes use floating meters of time to bend, contort, and slide into place (like a snake, perhaps) before evolving into the dirge’s brooding second phase, an ominous and droning waltz.
Jen Kirkman is an unabashedly raw but also versatile comedian, having released two stand-up albums, the new Netflix special I’m Gonna Die Alone (And I Feel Fine), and a book, 2013’s I Can Barely Take Care of Myself: Tales From a Happy Life Without Kids, in addition to her appearances on Drunk History and the Pod F. Tompkast, among other things. On her current tour, Kirkman’s promising to pull out some new stand-up material to follow up the new special’s solid bits about turning 40, getting divorced, and a man who can’t tell the difference between a lime and a lemon. Read more about Kirkman in our interview this week, and make sure to arrive in time for an opening set from Madison-based comic Gena Gephart.
WEDNESDAY JULY 8
Cinematheque’s series of new French restorations continues with Alain Resnais’ groundbreaking 1959 film, in which an actress working on a movie in Japan starts an affair with a Japanese architect. Hiroshima, Mon Amour screens here in a new digital version.