The return of Earth Wind & Fire, bizarro pop from Erica Eso and Superorganism, post-punk mischief from Educational Davis, and more events of note in Madison this week. | By Ian Adcock, Scott Gordon, Reid Kurkerewicz, Caleb Oakley, Grant Phipps, Katie Richards, and Daniel Seeger
Sponsor message: The weekly Tone Madison calendar is made possible with support from Union Cab of Madison, a worker-owned cooperative providing safe and professional taxi services.
THURSDAY MARCH 22
Mitski is a person, not a band, a detail she had cause to emphasize when recently addressing the topic of preferred pronouns, tweeting, "my unique situation is every1 calls me they/them but it has nothing to do w pronouns+only to do w every1 assuming I must b a band not 1 girl." As short-sighted (and pretty chauvinistic) as that assumption is, there's a compliment at the core of the misunderstanding. The musical ideas Mitski dispenses can seem complex beyond the scope that could be reasonably expected from any one person.
Mitski Miyawaki launched the project with a pair of self-released albums recorded while she was a studio composition student at SUNY Purchase Conservatory of Music, and stepped it up with a more formal effort in the intriguing 2014 release Bury Me At Makeout Creek. Mitski's fourth full-length, 2016's Puberty 2, is filled with piercing tracks that exude starkness even though they're sonically full and audacious, smartly incorporating ingredients from dream pop, shoegaze, baroque folk, noise rock, and seemingly every other specialized subgenre that sets college DJs aquiver to make an ingenious concoction all her own.
Even those who've got Puberty 2 memorized can expect revelations at this show, since sly reinvention of the songs onstage has always been part of the master artistic strategy. "Your Best American Girl," already restrained and refined on record, can become a wall of sonic ache onstage, the mountain climb to crescendo and emotional release replaced by squalls of deliriously discombobulating noise. Or Mitski might emphasize the starkness of a song like "Once More To See You," challenging the crowd to listen with the same quiet intensity she's developing behind the mic.
Opening duties are covered by Half Waif, the performing moniker of Brooklyn singer-songwriter Nandi Rose Plunkett. Leaning into synthesized ravishments, Half Waif can come on as gentle as the name implies, but Plunkett also incorporates crafty pop elements and ethereal beckoning to keep soothed listeners guessing. —Daniel Seeger
Comedian Ali Siddiq has the rare ability to bring a light, optimistic touch to stories that in most people's hands would come off as bitter. His true story for Comedy Central's acclaimed series This Is Not Happening, about how he was forced to participate in a prison riot on his first day behind bars, sounds pretty terrible on paper. Siddiq quickly learned that prisoners segregate themselves by race, and that he needed to find a knife to protect himself. Coming to terms with new surroundings is made hilarious by Siddiq's comedic timing and emphasis on the absurd, as he remembers wandering aimlessly around looking for a knife salesman named C.C. "I can't see C.C.!"
Siddiq is also an expert at using his body, mimicking his younger self practicing with the knife, looking almost nerdy as he bobs and weaves. In his latest half-hour special for Comedy Central, Siddiq again makes impressive use of his body humor, as he makes even the simple act of eating trail mix with his new all-white, gated-community neighbors hilarious. Siddiq clearly has a warm heart, and an ability to find humor worth exploring in any setting. —Reid Kurkerewicz
Minneapolis-based four-piece Real Numbers breathe new life into the C86 jangle-pop aesthetic. Originally formed as a punk trio in late 2000s, Real Numbers released records with Three Dimensional Records, Floridas Dying Records, and No Problems Records alongside independent releases before their 2016 LP, Wordless Wonder, was picked up by Slumberland Records. Wordless Wonder introduced a lead guitarist, Ian Nygaard (Nice Purse, Howler), to the mix. The addition of Nygaard's clean, melodic riffs atop warm, strumming undercurrent from bandmate Eli Hansen helps to complete a well-rounded sound.
The band's 2017 single reimagines "Frank Infatuation," originally released as the opening track to Wordless Wonder, with a new track, "Leave It Behind" as the B-side. This new version of "Frank Infatuation" amps up the contrast, creating a focal point for each part of the song. The introductory bass line comes more into the foreground before passing off the spotlight to the lead guitar figure and then onto the vocals. In a distinct departure from the band's characteristically jumpy beats, "Leave It Behind" matches Hansen's moody vocals with a melancholy, echoey sway and gentle harmonies that carry this slow ballad up and away. Real Numbers share the bill here with local jangle/twee-pop quartet Exploration Team and melodic punk outfit Cats On Leashes. —Katie Richards
The pseudonymous Madison-based musician Educational Davis has played in a number of projects over the years, from the twisted new-wave band Baristacide to the soaring goth-pop of a newer outfit, Therapy Drones. He plays here to celebrate the release of Sing Bleow Bleow, a new solo album on which he plays or programs nearly all the instruments and explores synth-pop from a few different vantage points. "Conversation" is a fine showcase for Davis' yearning baritone, and its lyrics explore self-doubt and loss with a lofty touch that feels just right for moody '80s-inspired pop ("We circled every temple that we could still believe in / When the news came out and we couldn’t find a reason"), over sparse and tasteful synth and guitar lines. He dabbles in folky and Western touches on "The Day I Cut You Down" and "Gunfighter," and delves into harder beats and distorted synth stabs on "Operator." Much of the album feels pretty vulnerable and tender, but Davis offers what seems to be a half-affectionate, half-snide take on local music boosterism with "Promo Song," with a chorus that goes "Gotta ride on the 18 bus to see this Madtown opportunity." Educational Davis has always given his music a playful and mischievous touch, but Sing Bleow Bleow he finds him sounding more focused than ever, and achieving deeper emotional resonance without losing his oddball edge. —Scott Gordon
FRIDAY MARCH 23
Brian Patrick Carroll, known as Buckethead, is an elusive character with a mind-blowing resume. Sporting his idiosyncratic chicken bucket atop his head and blank, expressionless mask, the guitarist has racked up an some 300 studio credits. His versatility and fingerboard agility has lead to an absurdly prolific solo career and high-profile collaborations with artists like Iggy Pop and Guns N' Roses ('00-'04). Carroll takes a whimsical and peculiar approach to his vast series of solo album releases, known as "pikes." Each pike is imagined as an "exciting musical adventure" sold at kiosks located in his make-believe theme park known as Bucketheadland. The pikes are all numbered to resemble a comic book series, each outfitted with his own original album artwork and stamped with his characteristic, crudely drawn lettering.
Carroll's first release of 2018, Fourneau Cosmique (pike number 274, for those following along), features two long-format tracks, each over 10 minutes in length. "Fourneau Cosmique" juxtaposes an ambient atmosphere, slow melodies with background synthesizers, and metal-style riffs and solos. The transitions between the styles are quick and jarring at first. As the track progresses, however, the space between movements minimizes as styles begin to blend and eventually build off of one another playing together melodically. "Endless Experiments" is more aggressive and wild comparatively. Darting sporadically between metal, avant-garde, electronic music, and bluesy rock, Carroll demonstrates his renown ability to shred in diverse styles and, as the title suggests, does not limit himself to following a single direction. —Katie Richards
Lucrecia Martel's visually rapturous Zama will conclude UW Cinematheque's March showcase of films co-sponsored by UW-Madison's Latin American, Caribbean, and Iberian Studies (LACIS) program. With nods to the surrealistic representation of colonial pasts in films like Jauja (formerly part of LACIS programming in 2015) and Zurlini's Desert Of The Tartars (1976), Martel, returning with her first feature in nine years, adapts Antonio Di Benedetto's famous existential novel about fantasist official Don Diego de Zama (Daniel Giménez Cacho) in the Asunción empire of late eighteenth century. The titular man, who has served as the magistrate (or corregidor) for the Spanish monarchy for 18 months, yearns for a transfer to Buenos Aires, where he imagines he'll find certain eminence and a reprieve from the feverish heat and sprawling coastal horizons that magnify simultaneous feelings of restlessness and inertia.
Rather than linearly fulfill the promises of that narrative, Martel emphasizes a hypnotic, mystifying obliqueness, making a Kafkaesque study of Zama's bureaucratic obstacles and deteriorating mental capacity. As Zama waits for word from either the Crown or his physically distant wife, the film's slow-burning scenes come to feel as sensual as they do meditative and menacing. In this inscrutable collision, Zama may be most closely aligned with Herzog's Aguirre: The Wrath Of God (1972), about conquistadors' failed Peruvian expedition to find El Dorado. Earning high praise from Madison's own film theorist and author Kristin Thompson, Martel's latest stands as one of the most critically celebrated art house entries of the year. —Grant Phipps
SATURDAY MARCH 24
At their height, Earth Wind & Fire were one of the biggest bands in the world, but they've always been uncompromisingly Afrocentric in their musical vision. Founded in 1969 in Chicago by former Chess session drummer Maurice White, Earth Wind & Fire were a seemingly unstoppable force of irresistible melodies, tight horn arrangements and in-the-pocket grooves for a full decade. EW&F managed to have massive crossover success throughout the 1970s, despite the Billboard charts still being quite segregated. Ironically, two of their biggest hit songs were tied to films that bombed, That's The Way Of The World and the notorious cocaine-induced garbage fire Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Underneath the infectious pop hits and elaborate stage shows, they were always a band of extremely talented jazz musicians exploring the boundaries of pop music. Leader Maurice White passed away 2016, but the current band still includes Verdine White, Philip Bailey and Ralph Johnson, who have been core members of the group since the early 1970s. Though they'll most likely run through a few of their crowd-pleasing hits like "September" and "Got To Get You Into My Life", it'll be interesting to hear what other cuts they'll play from their massive catalogue. —Ian Adcock
Ironically, Martin Gabel's recently restored 1947 film The Lost Moment has the conflicting interests of preservation at its core. A clever, nameless publisher (Robert Cummings) impersonates a novelist in order to live in the house of an old woman (Agnes Moorehead) who owns love letters from a famous poet he wants to publish. The initial plot is adapted from Henry James' novel The Aspern Papers (which James in turn ripped from a real tale involving Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein), but from there the movie adds in a schizophrenic love interest and the possibility of... murder!
The make-up department carries much of the weight for what passed as suspense in the '40s, as the 105-year-old hermit who holds the publisher's fate in her decrepit hands is slowly revealed. Mental illness and elderly femininity are still exploited to scare audiences of psychological thrillers today, and The Lost Moment lays this nearly-institutionalized story-telling technique bare. The film was a commercial flop in its day, as even in the supposedly classier past, literary period pieces weren't exactly blockbuster material. Despite the monetary failure and use of tropes, the movie is a solid example of a Hollywood gothic, a genre that serves as groundwork for psychological thrillers today, with its focus on ambiance, spooky music, and emotionally stylistic acting. —Reid Kurkerewicz
Austin band The Black Angels both anticipated the current tide of psychedelic-revival rock, on their 2006 debut album Passover, and survived the glut of trippy, meandering music that still constitutes a chunk of under-the-radar rock a decade later. By sticking to their own blend of hard rock and blues-infused psych—instead of the dreamier offshoots of artists like like Kurt Vile—The Black Angels carved out a niche for themselves alongside myriad other bands pulling from similar influences like The Black Keys, Foxygen, Tame Impala and Unknown Mortal Orchestra.
The difference between The Black Angels and their contemporaries is that they've held hard and fast to these late-'60's roots, while Foxygen graduated to the '70s, the Black Keys descended into hollow cliché, and Tame Impala and Unknown Mortal Orchestra jumped ship to the party anthems that some bands seem to need to stay afloat commercially. Meanwhile, last year's Death Song finds The Black Angels keep delving ever deeper into dark, twisting soundscapes, raw energy, and hooky guitar-focused songwriting. Their lovingly rendered revival of the underground music of days past seems not to care for the fleeting trends that perhaps helped give the band a boost in the place, and maybe that explains why The Black Angels' well-deserved audience has remained entranced. —Reid Kurkerewicz
Since its foundation last spring, the Madison organization Half-Stack Sessions has pushed for the local music community to be more inclusive and less sexist, and has hosted several conversations dealing with diversity in the arts—sometimes in the form of semi-private events just for women and non-binary people, and sometimes at public events and shows. Here, Half-Stack partners up with Milwaukee creative agency BlackPaint Studios, whose founders, Katie Mullen and Jordan Pintar, will reflect on their experiences through a social-justice and diversity lens. BlackPaint's work has included social justice-focused murals, work on behalf of Planned Parenthood, and a series of pieces that reflect on sexism in the advertising world. Here, they'll discuss how their work fits in with pushing for social change, and how they confront problems of harassment and exclusion within their own industry. —Scott Gordon
America's favorite sex-positive advice columnist is back in town to address the questions you could never ask your parents about sex, relationships, and being "GGG." Dan Savage began writing his "Savage Love" column for Seattle weekly The Stranger while working at Madison's Four Star Video Heaven (a friend of his both started The Stranger and co-founded the once-local but still beloved satire publication The Onion), and he still gets back here once a twice a year, for live appearances and his his amateur porn festival screening tour, HUMP! Savage is now based in Seattle and works as the editorial director of The Stranger. He's also turned his column into a wildly successful podcast, often frequenting top 100 podcast charts. Savage is also a renown LGBT activist, bringing to light queer issues through his podcast and festival. He also co-founded the It Gets Better project, an online video series turned book aimed at preventing suicide among LGBT youth. Though most of his work focuses on sex and relationship advice, Savage, as with many an entertainer, has turned increasingly political under the current climate. He visits here for a live recording of the Savage Lovecast. —Caleb Oakley
SUNDAY MARCH 25
New York band Erica Eso's second album, the new 129 Dreamless GMG, contorts synth-pop music into all sorts of abstract shapes, only to accentuate what's so fun and alluring about it in the first place. On tracks like "Love-gun" and "House That's Always Burning," songwriter Weston Minissali's lead vocals are just tremulous and wan enough to bleed a little into the band's gauzy synth patches, but Minissali is always building on subtly cracked melodic foundations, making hooky gratification work hand-in-hand with weird little digressions and spikes of dissonance. These songs can almost make you forget that you're listening to somewhat experimental music, but you wouldn't exactly lump them in with the Purity Rings of the world.
"Mirror-Stage I" and "Mirror-Stage II" are more wide-open and texture-focused, but it's in tighter, song-oriented territory where this eccentric jam of a project really thrives. Bassist Nathaniel Morgan and percussionist Angelica Bess help to give Minissali's vocals a little extra melodic backbone and a little extra ethereal body. Drummer Rhonda Lowry and synth player Lydia Velichkovski keep the songs grounded in hooky, propulsive territory without ever quite lapsing into dance-pop clichés. Erica Eso shares the bill here with two excellent Madison-based solo acts, electro-pop outsider Tippy and empathetic sonic explorer Julian Lynch. —Scott Gordon
Madison-based saxophonist and composer Anders Svanoe recently began organizing a locally focused Sunday afternoon jazz series at Arts + Lit Lab, and kicked it off last month by recording a live show with his unwieldy and very fun "double trio" (consisting of two rhythm sections, trumpet, and sax). For the second installment, the gifted and versatile guitarist Louka Patenaude (who's played everything from jazz to reggae to country) will showcase his recent collaboration with bassist John Christensen (who's highly active in jazz in and out of Madison, with collaborators including the Lesser Lakes Trio and pianist Johannes Wallmann). Patenaude, who also sings, says that the songs the duo will play here are "rooted in folk and bluegrass but harmonically draw from both older classical and ethnic music from the Mediterranean. It's kind of subconscious on my part." But this being a collaboration between two seasoned jazz musicians, listeners can probably expect a lot of instrumental flexibility within the songs as well. Patenaude is close to completing a new album, and can often be found playing with Christensen on Wednesday nights at the Nutty Bar. —Scott Gordon
TUESDAY MARCH 27
Seven members of the unlikely octet Superorganism, who recently released their self-titled debut album, currently live in a production house in East London. However, when the group first starting making music, their communication and collaborative process was conducted entirely online. Superorganism's members come from England, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, and have resided outside of their countries of origin for an even larger spread of international association. Their electronics-driven, collage-style compositions feel like an authentic product of the internet age.
The album's first track, "It's All Good," blends a smattering of samples including rainfall, a ticking clock, and audible breathing, with synth, tambourine, and guitar riffs into a thematically cohesive miscellany under Orono Noguchi's mellow vocals. The lyrics of the bridge ("We know you feel the world is too heavy / But you can turn it all around if you want") encapsulate the oxymoronic essence of the album—an upbeat weariness. These two opposing forces, the sometimes unbearable weight of existence and the wonder and whimsy of life, are omnipresent throughout the record. The latter is reinforced by the middle track, "SPRORGNISM," one of the album's noisier moments. This self-titled, albeit truncated, track defines a superorganism as "A creature / Made up of many different individuals / Thanks to technological systems," echoing the essence and creation of the group. "The Prawn Song," by contrast, is an escapist tune that expresses distaste for the verbal and physical violence that plagues humanity by fantasizing about living the life of a prawn—a small, aquatic crustacean—a recurring motif in Superorganism's brand. The clamor of groovy synth beats and lyrically relevant sample sounds gets rounded out with Orono's effortless vocals, which fade in and out of a deep, low distortion.
Reminiscent of The Go! Team and MIA's "Paper Planes," Superorganism molds a collection of unassuming parts into tunes that exude joyful innocence, but not necessarily naivete. Many of the band's tracks offer the comfort and predictability of a chorus following verses, while adjusting the samples themselves, or how they interact with one another, to avoid a completely mainstream feel. Overall, despite their cut-and-paste process, Superorganism have created a collection of refreshingly contemporary tunes that have the potential to coax us out of bed and bop along with them. —Katie Richards