Open Mike Eagle, Elvis Costello, Todd Barry, and more of the best stuff in Madison this week. | By Scott Gordon, Chris Lay, and Joel Shanahan
THURSDAY JULY 23
The best reason to keep going to Elvis Costello, nearly 40 years after he released his debut album My Aim Is True, isn’t the high critical status he’s long enjoyed. Instead, it’s that his live sets take advantage of his massive back catalog, and with it all the crazy shades of his persona, alternately vituperative and romantic and heavy-hearted (although often all those shades bleed together). His band The Imposters, featuring bassist Davey Faragher and former Attractions members Steve Nieve on keyboards and Pete Thomas on drums, serve him well on raw and rocking material from albums like Armed Forces and Blood And Chocolate, but also provide a sense of continuity when the setlist swerves into Costello’s fascination with achey country ballads (i.e. Almost Blue and King Of America) and jazz-informed pop (see his collaborations with Allen Toussaint and Burt Bacharach, for starters). He’s also still energetically writing and experimenting, to judge from his 2013 collaboration with The Roots, Wise Up Ghost, and a new song he pulled out on Letterman last year.
Orson Welles was big on the craft of magic, dedicating a huge chunk of his kinda-documentary F For Fake (which screened back in February of this year) on the ways in which directors are cinematic prestidigitators, and with 1949’s Gregory Ratoff-directed Black Magic, we find Orson portraying a slightly more literal iteration of a magician, Count Cagliostro, who uses his powers of deception for evil, which... well, we’ll let you find see how that works out for him yourself. The framing device for the tale is Alexandre Dumas, Sr. (Berry Kroeger, an old radio drama pal of Welles) spinning the wild and woolly Caliostro legend for his son Alexander Dumas, Jr. (a pre-Perry Mason Raymond Burr). Of course, Welles being Welles, he is rumored to have directed at least a few scenes in the film, despite Ratoff landing the full director credit for the film.
Sean Donnelly, whois recording a new stand-up album during his shows this week at the Comedy Club, has something of a machine-gun approach to comedy, with his jokes coming rapid-fire pretty much right out of the gate. If one thing doesn’t quite land, then fortunately there’s another one right behind it to pick up the slack. Content-wise, his material might at first come off as an average mix of observational humor, self-deprecation, and pop culture references, but Donnelly puts so much raw energy behind the bits, getting increasingly worked up as his sets progress, to add enough pathos to set him apart from the crowd. Best of all, his jokes are incredibly lean and well-written, cutting the time from setup to punchline to an absolute minimum. Don’t miss local comedian Gena Gephart, who hosts this weekend’s shows in one of her final weekends at the club before moving off to bigger and better things.
FRIDAY JULY 24
Hailing from Los Angeles by way of Chicago, emcee Open Mike Eagle has been melting his surrealist confessionals over cruising rhythms with hazy backdrops for more than a decade. On his latest effort, this year’s A Special Episode Of EP, Eagle’s dynamic flow crawls in and out of the micrometers, creating unconventional grooves against a series of carefully curated beats ranging from the growling and gritty groove of “Trickeration” (which boasts features from MC Paul Barman and Milwaukee’s Milo, who will also be performing) to the dreamy and soulful “Raps For When It’s Just You & The Abyss.” The EP reaches it’s most gorgeously refined pinnacle in the cloudy, Gold Panda-produced “Ziggy Starfish (Anti-Anxiety Raps),” which find Eagle seriously tightening his reigns over busy, bass-heavy thump coated in vocal samples. Madison’s own brainy wordsmith and tireless marathon performer CRASHprez kicks off this excellent showcase of leftfield hip-hop and has warned that this may be his last show in town for a while, so don’t miss this one.
For the past 16-plus years, art-rapper and indie-rock vocalist Yoni Wolf has been twisting themes of bitterness and brutal honesty into surreal and Muppet-ly preciousness in a frankly overwhelming number of projects. This spans from the massively influential “outsider” hip-hop collective Clouddead to Hymie’s Basement (a collaboration with Andrew Broder of Fog) to his most personal and well-received outlet, Why?. Since the release of 2005’s Elephant Eyelash (Wolf’s first album presenting Why? as the name of his band instead of his former emcee handle), the warped hip-hop sensibility of Wolf’s earlier work has unfortunately been progressively buried deeper into the shadows of big arrangements, progressive pop structures, and melodic vocals with every new album (the most recent being 2012’s Mumps Etc). Despite an EP, a demo compilation, and some mixtapes, Wolf has been relatively quiet in terms of musical output, but has been putting more and more time into his introspective podcast The Wandering Wolf, which finds him ruminating and sharing his own perspective, while also interviewing plenty of friends and artists. It’s important to note that this isn’t a Why? show and could be a nice opportunity to see Wolf peel back some of the overblown compositional excesses of his recent work in favor of some of the rawness and grit we’ve been longing for since “Good Friday” was driven into our skulls back in 2008.
Madison trio Neens’ debut EP, Factory Sounds, which gets its cassette release at this show, uses bright synths and clean, snappy guitar lines to set a morose mood. Standout tracks “DD” and “Look Like A Fool” take sparkly electro-pop and slow it down just a hair, letting a distinctly bummed-out atmosphere seep in among glassy synth patches and reverb-heavy beats and vocals. Neens accentuate that beaten-down charm by opening the songs up to weird layers and sudden turns, especially on the burbly, noisy conclusion of opening track “Working On A Scheme.”
Mixing in a bunch of outtakes, flubbed lines, and shots of the slates being clapped is a strange way to sell a film, but we can’t imagine anything like it being put out there in this day and age, and we have to admit that it really does a great job capturing the brittle whimsy of Peter Bogdanovich’s deeply moving (and gorgeously shot) 1973 film Paper Moon. The plot centers around a Depression-era Bible-peddling con man (Ryan O’Neal) on the road with his estranged daughter (Ryan’s real life daughter, Tatum O'Neal, who at the age of 10 would go on to become the youngest Oscar winner ever for her role here). This film, interestingly enough, works as something of a footnote to the UW Cinematheque's concurrent Orson Welles retrospective since the big man’s fingerprints are all over Paper Moon, from the suggestion that it be shot with a red filter on down to heavily influencing the title, telling Bogdanovich "That title is so good, you shouldn't even make the picture, you should just release the title!" Not quite an overlooked classic, but nowhere near as prominent in the canon of American cinema as it should be, Paper Moon is definitely a film well worth seeing, especially here on the big screen in a glorious 35mm print.
SATURDAY JULY 25
Featuring members of Wood Chickens and Double Ewes, Madison garage-punk newcomers The Minotaurs have been pretty tough to overlook of late, as they’ve been playing a ton of shows. However, with the release of the new full-length Secret Deals and incredibly focused and jarring collection of heady and guitar-driven slammers, nobody charmed by filthy guitar solos, thudding basslines, and sassy howls should want to pass this one up. Whether it’s swaggering riffs of “Red Jeep,” the haunting punch of “Fever Dream,” or the lysergic fuzz of “Hangman,” we’re refreshed to get this strong addition to Madison’s bubbling little circle of punk and power-pop bands. Speaking of which, members of Paint, Coordinated Suicides and Fire Retarded join forces in the lovably scuzzy, multi-songwriter punk four-piece Dumb Vision. Here they’ll also be joined by Brooklyn-based garage crushers Sharkmuffin, who will be releasing the follow up to 2013’s 1097 in August.
Texas instrumental rock outfit This Will Destroy You play here behind their fifth studio album, 2014’s Another Language, which finds a great deal of imagination and character within the storm of grandiose song structures, tender delay-streaked passages and pounding bombast shorthanded as post-rock. From the billowing dynamics of “Serpent Mound” to the jagged rhythmic subtlety of “Invitation,” the now decade-old band shows that it still gets that post-rock isn’t just elaborate mood music, but an exciting space to grow an experiment.
SUNDAY JULY 26
Todd Barry holds a unique place in the world of standup comedy, revered for his bone-dry wit, the six-feet-deep deadest of deadpan delivery, and a perfect timing that lives in the long pauses between his words. He’s the quintessential comic’s comic, but a couple of years ago he threw out the safety net of proven material and wandered out on the road doing shows that were entirely based on improvised crowd work. If you want to see a greatest hits style documentary of these crowd work tours, it was recently made available on Netflix after being available on Louis CK’s site for a while. One would imagine that Barry might do a little bit of his now-signature crowd work during his stop at The Comedy Club On State this weekend (a rare Sunday show for them), but come expecting the return of that sweet sweet Todd Barry material you presumably fell in love with going all the way back to his aptly titled first album, 2005’s Medium Energy.
MONDAY JULY 27
The massively influential and genre-defining surf-rock guitarist Dick Dale is currently pushing 80 and has survived a slew of ailments, but still tours doggedly in all his be-fringed, Stratocaster-slinging glory. Usually playing in a stripped-down trio, Dale still brings off his live sets with a great deal of the skill and musical diversity that made him famous in the first place, and with showmanship to boot. He’s a badass and you should go see him.
We haven’t heard a ton from Madison-Janesville trio Double Ewes in 2015, except for news earlier this year that they’re working on a follow-up to last year’s self-titled album, which boasted imaginative and lush integrations of folk forms and elaborate electronic production. So here’s hoping they break out some new material at this show, which also features eccentric Chicago soul-rockers Red Francis, Chicago acoustic-punk artist Davey Dynamite and Madison indie-rock trio Tarpaulin.
TUESDAY JULY 28
WEDNESDAY JULY 29
Cinematheque’s summer run of restored French classics wraps up here with Max Ophuls’ 1940 masterwork of political intrigue and tragic romance, From Mayerling To Sarajevo. John Lodge stars as Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and the film follows his ascent to power and his courtship of the Duchess Sophie (Edwige Feuillère), who in 1914 would die along with him in the assassination that set off World War I.