Neurosis, Hanggai, Screaming Females, Haley Bonar, and more of the best stuff in Madison this week.
THURSDAY JULY 30
Now in its second year, the Central Park Sessions is an effort by the music bookers of the annual summer east-side neighborhood festivals to showcase, well, yet more of their favored mix of international acts and popular local and regional musicians (and food booths and other festival-ish things). This year the series is back for five shows, starting out with a detour to Olbrich Park. We especially recommend catching this one, as Chinese band Hanggai will be headlining with their hybrid of Inner Mongolian folk music and varied modern influences. Hanggai incorporates Mongolian percussion, stringed instruments and throat-singing into something that at its best feels transporting and rich, but also immediate, at times downright playful and ribald. Some of the more over style-blending Hanggai has done is a mixed proposition—the title track to last year’s Baifang steamrolls away all the band’s nuances with corny electric-guitar riffs—but for the most part the music is nimble and full of rugged charm.
We’re honestly not sure how the legendary Philadelphia-based soul-pop duo of longhair Daryl Hall and the unfortunately de-mustachioed John Oates have made it 45 years and 16 proper albums (no, we’re not counting the covers record or the obligatory Christmas album) without murdering each other. Perhaps it helps that the duo haven’t made a proper album together since 2003’s Do It For Love (despite both artists going on solo ventures) and seem to have fully resigned themselves to being a live act. After all, it’s not like the band has any shortage of massive, razor-witted, sax-drenched, and wholly anthemic pop hits to wallow in with their lifer fans. Hall’s powerful voice and meticulous vocal hooks (which are always presented with the most disarming confidence—just revisit “Maneater” and of course the eternally alluring “Say It Isn’t So”) work in tandem with guitarist, co-writer and undoubtedly essential content filter John Oates, and the results have thankfully kept the band hovering well above (but occasionally still landing in) the county fair circuit. Look, we’re not trying to pretend that attendees of this show aren’t paying an absurd amount of money to see a nostalgia act, but the timelessness of those expertly crafted and often outright surly jams will always amount to far more than ’80s novelty kitsch.
The summer portion of UW Cinematheque’s so far year-long Orson Welles centennial series closes here with 1949 period swashbuckler Prince Of Foxes, featuring Welles second on the marquee to Tyrone Power (Mark of Zorro, Witness For The Prosecution). Like all of this summer’s Welles films at Cinematheque, this wasn’t one of Orson’s own grand visions—Henry King directed Prince Of Foxes, and Welles took his role here in part to raise money for his 1952 adaptation of Othello. Set in 1500, Prince Of Foxes is a love story shot on location all across Europe that unfolds amid a healthy dose of stunts and swordplay from Powers and company. We sincerely have our fingers crossed that the next Welles set of films, if the Cinematheque does one, will include The Transformers Movie, and/or History Of The World: Part I, but we’d happily settle for seeing a spiffy 35mm print of Catch-22 if it comes down to it.
FRIDAY JULY 31
New Jersey trio Screaming Females are one of the finest rock bands going right now, boasting Marissa Paternoster’s resourceful guitar work and jarring but always self-possessed vocals, and her solid chemistry with bassist Michael Abbatte and drummer Jarrett Dougherty. The band never strays too far from barbed, visceral punk, but they’ve never shied away from variety, or from big hooks and intimidatingly skillful guitar shredding. On their sixth album, this year’s Rose Mountain, Screaming Females cinch up the catchy sprawl of their previous work with some of their most incisive songwriting yet. There’s focus here that marks a definite shift from 2012’s excellent Ugly, but Rose Mountain is still fiercely true to what makes the band great, most bracingly on the unabashedly catchy but bruising chorus of “Ripe.” Sharing the bill here are Cincinnati punks Vacation and Appleton band Dusk, a new project that includes Amos Pitsch of Tenement.
Arizona trio Numb Bats are perfectly capable of making sharp, straight-ahead, surf-brushed power-pop songs, but their EP Bees & Trees plays like a bizarro inverse of all that, stretching familiar sounds into bold, expansive post-punk. On “Dog Poncho,” Emily Hobeheidar’s guitar swings between gnarled, Jawbox-evoking jangle and bright, plucky hooks, and drummer Mo Neuharth’s happily rumbling toms almost make you forget what a warped, episodic song structure you’re riding through. This and other standouts like the eerie instrumental “Then I Went To The Refrigerator” suggest that Numb Bats are working with a more open-ended and fucked-up canvas than most, and we’re definitely the richer for it. They play here to help celebrate the release of a new issue and cassette compilation from Madison zine Toothtaker.
On their the new album Break All The Lights, Madison band We Should Have Been DJs spit out 11 endearingly raggedy, pop-tinged punk tunes. Songs like “Tie Fighter” find the band at their most immediate, cramming a surprising amount of melody into a screaming, bashing minute and a half, but songs like “New Crop” and “Song 8” find We Should Have Been DJs playing with more convoluted (if still brief) song structures and twisty, math-rock-evoking sonic textures.
It’s been kinda forever since we heard much, music-wise, from Madisonians Erika Zar and Alex Fulton, who used to play together in a lovable power-pop band called The Runners Up, in addition to playing separately in other bands around town. To celebrate Zar’s birthday, they’re playing a rare set here as The Hemlines, which consists of Fulton (on drums) and Zar (on guitar and vocals) banging out feisty-catchy pop.
The UW Cinematheque’s summer screening calendar comes to an end here with Douglas Sirk’s 1959 film Imitation Of Life, a deft examination of motherhood, race, and femininity, starring Lana Turner, Juanita Moore, and Sandra Dee. If you missed Bianca Martin’s much deeper dive on this masterful melodrama (which culminates with a moving performance from gospel singer Mahalia Jackson), you should definitely check that out here.
SATURDAY AUGUST 1
It’s been a transitional year for experimental folk duo Spires That In The Sunset Rise, with member Kathleen Baird moving from Madison to New York City last fall and bandmate Taralie Peterson staying here. Both have been spending more time on solo projects, but still managed to put out the new album Beasts In The Garden, which also marks a sonic tradition, scaling back the pair’s wooly instrument-switching and elusive rhythms in favor of taut, focused pieces built around repetitive sax and flute phrases. This show is likely the last chance to catch Madison trio Autographite’s mix of spoken-word and improvised soundscapes, as both vocalist/poet/mastermind Daiquiri Rene Jones and sample-based producer Coby Ashpis are planning on moving away from Madison this summer. Look for our interview with Autographite later this week.
SUNDAY AUGUST 2
From the viscerally sinister thrash-hardcore of 1987 debut Pain Of Mind to the filthy and fuzzy crawl of 2012’s Honor Found In Decay, Oakland-based sludge-lords Neurosis have always kept an ear closer to what’s happening between the notes than the riffs themselves. This idea has served the 30-year veterans well and proven the bleak quintet to be innovators in the current nuclear landscape of progressive post-metal, dark ambient, and blackened hardcore. Notoriously unprolific, the band hasn’t dropped a new album in a few years, but HFID was a fine entry—top-loaded with battered, box-y rhythms, slow riffs that woozily stumble between brain-massaging fuzziness and brain-prodding heaviness, creeping synthesizer, and of course the melodic and droney growls of reliably singular vocalist-guitarists Scott Kelly and Steve von Till. While no release date has been posted, Neurosis’ website claims that the band is hard at work on album 11, which they’ll return to working on after this tour. This batshit show is notable not only for a skull-splitting and rare performance from Neurosis, but the fact that they’ll be joined by their sonic progeny in Portland, Oregon-based doom-bruisers The Body and Seattle’s Brothers Of The Sonic Cloth (which features Tad Doyle from motherfucking Tad).
TUESDAY AUGUST 4
We’re happy to see that the Moonlight Over Madison Comedy Showcase is apparently becoming a semi-regular event at Mickey’s, and will hopefully happen even more often than every other full-ish moon. There’s an ample slate of local talent on this show, with self appointed “Madison’s Favorite Visionary” David Freeburg headlining (or at least scoring the coveted photo-on-the-flier status) with his finely crafted silliness, along with Antoine McNeail, Adam McShane, Jacob Snell, Lauren Cahillane, and Milwaukee’s comedy rock star Sammy Arechar. Anchoring the whole thing will be Colin Bowden.
WEDNESDAY AUGUST 5
Twin Cities artist Haley Bonar and her band make palatable but restless songs with bite and variety that belie any initial impression that this is just yet another Midwest-nice indie-pop outfit. 2014’s Last War expands on her songwriting and the sound of the band as a whole. From the reverb-heavy, post-rock-like build of “Heaven’s Made For Two” to the sparse, aggressive and acidly funny “No Sensitive Man,” Bonar’s been releasing albums under her own name for almost 15 years now, and it shows in the confident but subtle risk-taking of this record.