The Mekons, Melt-Banana, Claude Young, Melvins, and more of the best stuff in Madison this week. | By Scott Gordon, Chris Lay, and Joel Shanahan
THURSDAY JULY 9
We’re gonna be honest: About 95 percent of our desire to go to this show is due to Appleton/Milwaukee outfit Tenement, who’ve long been one of the best bands in the state and a heady force in punk rock generally.They’re finally getting a bit of the wider attention they deserve for the ambitious new double album Predatory Headlights, which you can read more about in our interview with the band this week. Tenement’s recordings inhabit an esoteric, adventurous headspace, but live you can expect a rather mercurial stage presence and a set of fiercely delivered but undeniably engaging and catchy punk songs. Headliners Ceremony are a San Francisco band who’ve embraced their own eccentric blend of sounds, from the contorted hardcore of their 2006 debut Violence Violence to the spacious post-punk of this year’s The L-Shaped Man, which puts a rather unmistakable bold-italic-underline on the band’s Joy Division influence.
We’ve had much to say about La Fete De Marquette’s electronic offerings the last couple of years, which this time around include sets from Detroit-techno-rooted Claude Young and NYC dance-music veteran Francois K. But that’s not to discount the Fete’s traditional assortment of music from across the French empire/diaspora, with a bit of other fun stuff scattered in. This year includes yet another east-side-neighborhood-fest performance from Bay Area rapper Lyrics Born (Friday), French/North African folk-music hybridizers Lo’Jo (Sunday), and some sons of New Orleans heavies in Dumpstaphunk (Friday) and CJ Chenier (Sunday).
It’s been about a year since King Buzzo’s fluffy tumbleweed of a head last rolled through town, which is about as long as it takes for your ears to stop ringing from the last time they leveled a Madison crowd with their enduring spacey high-decibel technicolor sludge-rock. Buzzo and drummer Dale Crover return here in support of last year’s Hold It In, which added Paul Leary (Butthole Surfers) to their ranks, and a recently funded Kickstarter for a documentary about the band. The band’s albums have had their ups and downs over the past 30 years, but the live set has never lost its ability to steamroll chumps left and right. Plus, if we’re lucky, we might get to coax some more Montage Of Heck inaccuracies out of Buzzo.
Orson Welles is monolithic in the history of cinema, and far and away one of the most fascinating figures ever to pick up a camera, so even his smaller roles are worth dissecting. Thankfully we have the UW Cinematheque to hook us up with relatively overlooked oddities like 1957’s Man In The Shadow, in which Welles channels his villainous side to play Virgil Renchler, ranch owner and all too willing murder-coverer-upper. Directed by Jack Arnold, who reins himself in from his predominantly sci-fi background, and with a script from Gene L. Coon, who penned The Killers (1964), the pedigree here is nothing to sneeze at, making Man In The Shadow far from one of Welles’ quickie cash-ins. No frozen peas here, folks.
FRIDAY JULY 10
We understand that the sphere of DJ culture and electronic music in general can be irritatingly sprawling, inconsistent, and ultimately tough to navigate, but the bookers of La Fete De Marquette’s Musique Electronique stage know what the hell they’re doing, and each night’s headliner will be playing a separately ticketed after-show at the High Noon. In the world of dance music, it really doesn’t get better than a DJ set from veteran Detroit techno hero Claude Young (although it’s probably worth noting that Young currently resides in Portland, Oregon). Young’s massive résumé of hypnotically hammering techno production, DJ mixes, and film and video game soundtracking seems a bit oceanic, so recommended starting points would be his brain-warping, pounding Dexit Mixtape from 1996 (embedded below) or 2000’s Patterns The Album—a dynamic collection expertly dialed-in and laboriously synthesized techno cuts that range from polyrhythmic head-spinner “Arneim” to the drippy and acidic textures of “Samba” to the more meditative and cinematic “Mara.” While this will be Young’s second set of the night, don’t forget that it’s also going to be a lot longer than his set at the Fete, and likely to be completely different.
About Elly is the latest film from Iranian director Asghar Farhadi to see U.S. release, though it was actually released abroad in 2009, before Farhadi’s excellent 2011 drama A Separation and 2013’s The Past. In About Elly, Farhadi veers into mystery/thriller territory when the title character goes missing during a group vacation to the Caspian Sea. About Elly already has a good a critical reputation as any of Farhadi’s films, so we recommend catching this screening of a 35mm print UW Cinematheque has snagged for the film’s Madison premiere.
SATURDAY JULY 11
Regardless of which of the many pillars of dance music you stand behind, there’s a solid chance that Francois Kevorkian—better known by his DJ and producer alias Francois K—intentionally or inadvertently had a hand in it. Cutting his teeth spinning at legendary (and now-defunct) NYC clubs like revolutionary, LGBT-friendly dance club Paradise Garage—often credited for being the origin point of house music—and Studio 54, he’d become known for his tape-edits, remixes, and production work, remixing artists as diverse as Joni Mitchell, Jean Michael Jarre, and Musique. Oh yeah, not to mention his work on Depeche Mode’s masterpiece Violator. This is an incredibly rare opportunity to witness a serious deck-master who was absolutely crucial to the evolution between disco and house music. Not to be missed.
Grand Rapids, Michigan band Invisible Mansion coat their wiry guitar hooks and amiable vocal melodies in a healthy but not smothering layer of lo-fi shoegaze static. Songs like “Mithril Wood” and “Sand On The Corner” pull off a nice balance of noisy texture and propulsive songwriting, so there’s a lot of atmosphere to revel in here but also enough craft to keep it all in focus. The band’s recordings are spread across one-off singles, a few EPs, and a 2013 split cassette with Madison’s own Dharma Dogs.
Madison trio Brennan Connors & Stray Passage brings together three versatile musicians—Connors on saxophone, Geoff Brady on drums, and Brian Grimm on cello, bass—intro truly unpredictable, but still driving and coherent, sets of jazz improvisation. They’ve blasted their way admirably through sets at noisy bar venues like Mickey’s, but this Mother Fool’s show might be the best way to take them in, with a cozier and more listening-focused environment that should accommodate the trio’s meanderings from spacious and meditative passages to fearsome dissonant outbursts.
SUNDAY JULY 12
It’s been just five months since Madison printmaking collective Polka! Press moved into a new space on Willy Street, but the organization recently found out that it’s going to have to move again soon. To help pay to move a bunch of printing presses and other unwieldy gear, the artists of Polka are inviting Madisonians to come into their current space and do some of their own printing on clothes and other things. They’re dubbing the event “Print A Bird On It,” with a sly wink to Portlandia. Supporters can also bid on classes and works of art in a silent auction benefitting the moving fund.
On the freshly released Downers, Detroit’s Jamaican Queens gut a bit of the preciousness of contemporary indie-pop and replace it with raw emotion, structural shake-ups, and loads of synthesizer, drum machine samples, and bizarro vocal processing. Most tunes are guided along by the warped crooning of vocalist Ryan Spencer, as sparse, slow, but hard-hitting electronic rhythms pulse forward, while deep, synth-powered basslines hammer in and out of the mix. There’s also an admirable tangentiality to everything: “You Can Fall In Love With Anyone” opens with a heady, folky waltz, but slowly unravels into a massive Phil Spector-channeling wall of pop. Similarly, “Emo + Poor” begins with a slow-cooking groove, before launching into a pounding four-on-the-floor thump with clattering synth arpeggios, and wailed vocal hooks, essentially spiraling into full-on synth-pop.
TUESDAY JULY 14
According to Lester Bangs, The Mekons are “...the most revolutionary group in the history of rock 'n' roll,” and that’s the kind of accolade that never quite rubs off, even though it’s been a long time since Bangs said that, or much of anything really because he’s dead and stuff. Starting off as a post-punk band in Leeds in the late ’70s, The Mekons’ fence-riding country fried clatter has become intertwined with the ridiculously named “cow-punk” genre, and has been captured on a heaping handful of some legitimate landmark albums, influencing a host of future alt-country folkies. Their most recent studio album is 2011’s Ancient & Modern was their most recent album, and a very good documentary, Revenge Of The Mekons, was released in 2013. In addition to hitting the Mineral Point Opera House, of all places, The Mekons are promising that this will be a full-band show, featuring currently Chicago-transplanted members like Jon Langford and Sally Timms. Don’t miss an opportunity to catch these weirdos in a beautiful old space where the next act on the calendar is, appropriately enough, a John Denver Tribute Show.
WEDNESDAY JULY 15
For the past 20-plus years, Tokyo noise-punks Melt Banana have been summoning sonic chaos of the highest order. It’s been a couple years since vocalist Yasuko Onuki and masked guitarist Ichirou Agata resurfaced as a duo following a six-year gap between albums with 2013’s infuriatingly tight Fetch. Part of the tightness is due to the intense drum programming that ;mercilessly pummels the listener as the acrobatic riffing of Agata chugs, screeches, and stutters below the mighty yelps of Onuki. The duo is currently at work on new material, but nothing has been formally announced, so expect to be playfully slammed into every corner of Melt Banana’s twisted 11-album bounce-house of a discography.
Jessica Pratt’s 2012 self-titled debut album proved that the LA-based songwriter needs just rolling acoustic guitar lines and her distinctively pinched but unpretentious vocals to transport the listener to a far-off, luxuriously reflective place. More importantly, Pratt’s songcraft can keep you there, with the at once stately and conversational melodies of standouts like “Midnight Wheels.” Pratt recorded both that album and this year’s On Your Own Love Again herself at home. On the new album, she uses vocal harmonies and some gentle instrumental overdubs to flesh out, but not upset, that rarified headspace. Ryley Walker, originally scheduled to be on this show, has canceled, but Madison’s Julian Lynch will play instead—and we really recommend catching the set of new material Lynch has been brewing up in recent months.
Sturdy folk and mild-mannered indie-rock are Spring Green venue The Shitty Barn’s bread and butter, but every Shitty Barn season includes a few pointed departures from that. Minneapolis’ Tree Blood might be the most grimy-sounding band to play the place yet, touring here behind this year’s I Am A Disgusting Pig, an album of punk-rock tunes that combine crusty, hoarse-voiced hardcore with an amiable pop streak. This also is the first SB show for Madison duo The Hussy, who talked with us recently about their new album, the diverse and at times surprisingly gentle Galore.