Drainolith, the Isthmus Jazz Fest, Iceage, and more of the best stuff in Madison this week. I By Scott Gordon, Chris Lay, and Joel Shanahan
THURSDAY JUNE 18
There’s something in the contrast between the spaciously slanted pop hooks and dense, calculated, and at times jazzy arrangements of Bent Knee’s 2014 album Shiny Eyed Babies that packs an undeniable urgency and freshness on first listen. The Boston-based prog-pop sextet, comprised largely of former Berklee School of Music students, spins its vast musicianship into dynamic tunes that mangle the earworm familiarity of contemporary indie-folk and baroque pop, sending the listener flying through break-neck twists and turns. “Being Human” at first threatens to be a pleasantly innocuous pop ballad, but then in comes a massive synth-laced, mutant-meter prog-explosion that once again breaks down into a delicate passage of hypnotic Rhodes piano, as Courtney Swain’s vocals soar above. Also notable are the gorgeously arranged counter-melodies that weave in and out of the voyaging shuffle of “Sunshine.” Despite being super polished and packing shards upon shards of influences, this band seems to have a refreshing, tunneling vision.
UW Cinematheque and the Wisconsin Film Festival have been marking Orson Welles’ centennial this year with an extensive look back at the Kenosha native and surly frozen-pea pitchman’s work as a director and actor. The summer leg of the series kicks off with 1958’s Martin Ritt-directed The Long, Hot Summer. Drawing loosely on William Faulkner and Tennessee Williams, the film stars Welles as the patriarch of a rich Mississippi family, Joanne Woodward as his daughter, and Paul Newman as a drifter who wanders into the family’s life and finds himself in the middle of a succession battle.
Aside from being a horrific box-office failure, 1988’s Stewart Rafill-directed E.T. ripoff Mac And Me is hideously notable for a few other reasons. First off, there’s a classic scene where the main character’s (Eric Cruise, played by Jade Calegory) wheelchair spins out of control and launches off a fucking cliff, inspiring a years-long running joke between Paul Rudd and Conan O’Brien Second, because of the film’s association with Ronald McDonald Children’s Charities, the film’s absurd amount of McDonald’s product-placement puts even Sinbad’s Houseguest to shame. Third, it features a young Jennifer Aniston. And hey, while this may not be Aniston’s finest moment, it’s probably a better watch than her appearance in putrid Adam Sandler rom-com Just Go With It. This one’s highly recommend for all the true cine-masochists out there, but it’s truly vile, so don’t say we (or, you know, the curators of Madison Public Library’s Bad Cinema series) didn’t warn you.
FRIDAY JUNE 19
The annual jazz festival is free except for Saturday night’s headlining performance from singer/pianist Freddy Cole—younger brother to Nat King Cole, and a veteran performer in his own right. Cole will be playing here in a quartet behind his 2014 album Singing The Blues, on which the 83-year-old showcases his conversational, restrained piano and a still engrossing, smooth-yet-husky voice. Other highlights include UW-Madison jazz chair Johannes Wallmann and his Sweet Minute Big Band celebrating the release of a new album, Always Something (Friday, 8 p.m., Terrace), which Wallmann told us a little about in an interview last week, and a screening of the documentary The Girls In The Band (Friday, 9 p.m., Play Circle), which charts the history of female musicians in jazz from the 1930s to the present.
For this installment of Rooftop Cinema’s 10th-anniversary season, curators are bringing back one of the most popular short films in the series’ history (“gauged by the number of patrons dining in Fresco that 2008 evening who abandoned their dinner to stare out at the screen,” according to program notes). That would be 1987’s The Way Things Go, in which Swiss filmmakers Peter Fischli and David Weiss embark on a 30-minute demonstration of what’s surely one of the most absurd Rube Goldberg devices ever committed to film. The evening’s program also features Frank and Caroline Mouris’ 1952 experimental short Frank Film and Dutch filmmaker Bert Haanstra’s 1958 documentary about the glass industry in the Netherlands, Glas.
In the days of celeb stunt weddings and reality TV shows with built-in hot-tub cams, there’s something undeniably quaint about a single closed-lip kiss between a smarmy Elvis-like rocker and a randomly selected middle-american teenage girl on the Ed Sullivan Show, but that’s the simpler time we find ourselves in with Bye Bye Birdie. Add in Dick Van Dyke as a chemist who moonlights as a pop music lyricist to appease his smothering mother and Paul Lynde singing a song about how how he doesn’t understand kids “with their awful clothes and their rock and roll” and it’s actually pretty hard to resist George Sidney’s profoundly charming 1963 adaptation of this musical.
SATURDAY JUNE 20
In his first two novels, Dean Bakopoulos developed a comic yet at the same time convincingly somber approach to the travails of rather ordinary Americans in turbulent times. His 2006 debut, Please Don’t Come Back From The Moon, was set in a post-industrial Michigan town where all the fathers begin to disappear, but Bakopoulos used that surreal and haunting circumstance to develop a convincing and subtle feeling of uprootedness. In 2011’s My American Unhappiness, Bakopoulos used his onetime home of Madison as the setting for the tragicomic unraveling of a beleaguered arts nonprofit administrator’s career. He returns here to read from his just-published third novel, Summerlong.
SUNDAY JUNE 21
Searingly singular and seemingly impossible to shove into some Internet-born subgenre, Montreal’s Drainolith—the longstanding moniker of multi-instrumentalist and ex-Aids Wolf member Alexander Moskos—will be playing here on the heels of the deconstructed, creeper-blues album Hysteria. Drainolith’s second vinyl entry was recorded over the past two years with help from Nate Young of Wolf Eyes and Neil Hegarty of Royal Trux (both of whom play with Moskos in Dan’l Boone). Much of the album features Moskos’ vocals spilling out in a druggish slur over a fried sonic war-zone—a network of expertly arranged (if jarring) sections of off-step rhythms, busted piano lines, crusty synth splatters, and jagged guitar voicings. Of course, this isn’t to over-simplify or ignore the dynamic shifts between the head-warping desert-trudge of “No Name (Dany Kane’s Blues)” or the more delicately unsettling Rhodes-powered anti-ballad “Joy Road.” Moskos gives listeners plenty to grab onto here, but they may have to reach for it.
Iceage is a Danish punk band that has increasingly grown to favor an uneasy, gloomy churn over full-on aggression, a process that’s starkly evident on the band’s third album, last year’s Plowing Into The Field Of Love. Sure, 2011’s New Brigade and 2013’s You’re Nothing had an unmistakably austere and mercurial streak to them, but there was still plenty of furious release to be had. By contrast, Plowing feels like a night of tossing-and-turning insomnia: Songs like “On My Fingers,” “Abundant Living,” “Cimmerian Shade” and “Stay” stir up anxiety and a great weariness, shifting through arrangements that embrace occasional strings and piano alongside sparse art-punk songwriting, and offering little in the way of catharsis or relief. It’s a tense and uncertain trudge, but that makes Iceage’s volatile charisma all the more compelling.
There still needs to be more discussion about whether Make Music Madison, an annual citywide summer solstice music event that emulates similar events in cities around the world, should be getting so much money from the City of Madison, but what’s actually in it? To pick a few out of the dozens of performances strewn throughout the day: Several “mass appeal” participatory events, including a mass performance of a corny new Make Music Madison theme song, “It’s In Us”; a local hip-hop showcase at the West Side’s Elver Park; eccentrics including Biff Blumfumgagnge and Kleptix converging on the North Side’s Eken Park; Japanese Taiko drumming at the Madison Children’s Museum; Sincere Life at Worthington Park on the East Side; and some uncharacteristically early DJ sets from Vilas Park Sniper and Nathan Zukas at Nattspil. At the very least, it’s worth trying to embrace the spirit of community and chance musical encounters—and tip the musicians if you can, because none of that grant money actually goes to their pockets.
Sure, shoving Jaws back into theaters for a 40th anniversary celebration is a cash-grab, but oh wait, what’s this I’m uncontrollably reaching for my dumb wallet and cramming wadded up dollars into the waiting hands of the pimply-faced teenage ticket taker because I mean really what the hell is summer if you don’t end up seeing Larry Vaughn's anchor jacket projected 25 feet high at least once?
MONDAY JUNE 22
With documentaries proliferating about specific labels and scenes in punk, the High Noon is hosting a screening of Bill Perrine’s 2014 documentary It’s Gonna Blow, which delves into the fertile history of post-punk and noise music in San Diego. The film documents time and a place that gave rise to the head-spinning psychosis of The Locust, the stunning post-hardcore of Drive Like Jehu and the twisty eccentricity of Three Mile Pilot, among many others. Read more in Chris Lay's review this week.
If Fury Road was your introduction to the improbably named Max Rockatansky, then this, the first film in the series released in 1979, will be a bit of a jolt to your adrenaline-addled senses. It's set in the pre-dystopia years when there was still some semblance of society to the Australian outback (and saxophones were casually played by doting wives during dinner time for some damn reason?), and Max, played by a shockingly young Mel Gibson making his big screen debut, is the sort of self-assured Main Force Patrol officer who “plays by his own rules." Here, Max is out for vengeance when a motorcycle gang led by “The Toecutter” (Hugh Keays-Byrne, who you might recognize as “Immortan Joe” in Fury Road) begins stalking Max’s family. It’s a down and dirty action flick with more amazing car chase sequences than you’d think they could make work for their $350,000 budget, making it’s grindhouse sensibilities a perfect fit for the Union's outdoor summer film series.
WEDNESDAY JUNE 24
The passionate bookers at the Shitty Barn have united two breeds of Madison-based mutant-groove here—one strand being the discombobulating modular synth and drum improvisations of Cap Alan (the union of Volcano Choir’s Andrew Fitzpatrick and Czarbles drummer Jeff Sauer) and the other being the beautifully bizarre and honey-glazed synth-funk vignettes of Mr. Jackson. Both acts have been hard at work on new albums over the last several months, with Cap Alan working with Transformer Lootbag guitarist-vocalist Ricky Reimer at Science Of Sound and Mr. Jackson having recently teased his latest work in the live setting as being part of an upcoming, amazingly titled album called Black Gandalf.
French filmmaker Robert Bresson’s 1951 drama—centering, as the title says, around the diary entries of a struggling, alienated priest—screens here in a new 35mm print.