"The Murder Of Fred Hampton," Dumb Vision, Dessa, Ought, and more events of note in Madison this week. | By Ian Adcock, Scott Gordon, Reid Kurkerewicz, Daniel Seeger, and Henry Solo
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THURSDAY MARCH 29
A vagabond toiler on the long rock 'n' roll highway, John Hiatt hardly needs an excuse to load up the tour bus. But he's got a good one these days: commemorating the 30th anniversaries of Bring The Family and Slow Turning, the late-1980s albums released in successive years that together represented his long-delayed commercial breakthrough. Hiatt was without a label when he recorded the material on Bring The Family. After A&M Records snapped it up, the album proved to be enough of a favorite with music critics that Hiatt had to quickly assemble a backing back to take on the road. Dubbed The Goners, the first-rate outfit—which included then-little-known blues guitar master Sonny Landreth—also accompanied Hiatt into the studio for the equally acclaimed better-selling follow-up, Slow Turning.
Both records have recently gotten the requisite modern exaltation of a vinyl re-release, but it's the later effort feeling the most love on this tour. After Hiatt ambles through a few favorites from his stacked songbook with little more than a trusty acoustic guitar, The Goners join him on stage to methodically track through Slow Turning, from the easy homespun romp "Drive South" to the wistful, slow-groove ballad "Feels Like Rain." Among the dwindling number of stalwarts of a certain brand of rock 'n' roll—earthy, warm, earnest, steeped in the history of the form—Hiatt is a wry, easygoing titan, skilled at storytelling. It should be especially satisfying to see him mine his own history for one of the most impressive nuggets of his own long tale. —Daniel Seeger
FRIDAY MARCH 30
Bassist and retired UW-Madison professor Richard Davis is a giant in jazz and classical music, best known for his work with artists including Eric Dolphy, Sarah Vaughan, and Igor Stravinsky (and some important detours into rock and pop music, including with Van Morrison and Bruce Springsteen). In Madison and on campus, he's also held in high regard for his impact as an educator, which included not just classroom efforts but also directing UW-Madison's Black Music Ensemble and founding the Richard Davis Foundation for Young Bassists and the Institute for the Healing of Racism. The foundation's 25th annual bass conference is happening in town this week, and one of its public-facing events is this concert by a dozen-odd bassists who are teaching at the conference. They hail from a range of generations and backgrounds, from veteran jazz and classical bassist John Clayton to young Madison-based jazz player Ben Ferris, so the concert will likely be an intriguing tour of the standup bass' myriad possibilities. Meanwhile, it's worth paying a visit to UW-Madison's Mills Music Library for an exhibit celebrating Davis and other music educators. —Scott Gordon
A powerful and visceral documentary, 1971's The Murder Of Fred Hampton is a portrait of the young rising star of the Black Panthers, filmed at the time of his assassination by Chicago police. Filmmakers Mike Gray and Howard Alk were in the middle of filming a documentary about Hampton and the Chicago Black Panther Party's community organizing when Hampton was shot to death by police while sleeping. Since the police never bothered to seal off Hampton's apartment, the filmmakers and Panthers could walk in and film the scene of the murder, which they juxtapose with the official report to show how transparently false the police's cover-up was. The film ended up being crucial in exposing said cover-up, and is still sadly relevant today.
The apartment footage is haunting and powerful, but even more powerful is the footage of Hampton's last major speech and his day-to-day activism. A brilliant orator and organizer at the age of 21, Hampton turned that speech into an electrifying call to arms. The Murder Of Fred Hampton is an astounding piece of verite filmmaking that captures the revolutionary times it was filmed in through a gritty and raw lens. It screens here in a newly restored 35mm print from the UCLA Film & Television Archive. —Ian Adcock
In the five years since releasing her second solo album, Parts Of Speech, Twin Cities artist Dessa has flaunted skills that fall outside the realms of the everyday emcee. The member of Doomtree inked a book deal for a series of essays on heartbreak, published her writing in The New York Times Magazine, given a TED talk and performed with an orchestra a la Kanye West's Late Orchestration. Her recently released album, Chime, reflects her varied interests within and outside of music, and shares some of the pronounced classical elements of 2010's A Badly Broken Code. Sometimes that manifests itself overtly on songs like "Velodrome," with its piano and string accompaniments, whereas other songs, like "Fire Drills," though techy, pack the cinematic tension of a classical piece.
Dessa is as incisive and personal as ever in her lyricism here, addressing myriad topics and at times looking at the world through contradictory lenses. On "Fire Drills," she explores her confidence as a world traveller and a woman who has survived and thrived despite the rigors of the music industry and the world. On "Good Grief," she is more vulnerable, addressing the difficulties of life and asking someone to "Melt me down, recast me, burn me clean / Like glass from sandy ground." Throughout the project, Dessa is also very careful when to balancing singing with rapping, using each to resonate with the content of her lyrics. She's able to tether person and artist in a way that is revelatory for the listener. Each song seems to be an extension of what she has been up to in the past few years and offer a window into the mind of one of Midwestern hip-hop's heroes. —Henry Solo
SATURDAY MARCH 31
Comprising members of a few other standout Madison punk bands (Fire Heads, Wood Chickens, Coordinated Suicides, etc.), Dumb Vision play with a peculiar and vital balance of sharp hooks and circuit-frying noise. The band's self-titled debut album, released in 2016, charges into scruffy sheets of distortion and reverb, but tracks like "Leave It Alone" and "Warm Meat" also manage to keep bright power-pop melodies at their center, over rhythms that strike a nice balance between aggression and swing. The band released a tape of demos last year, and have been working on a second album to be released on Big Neck Records (a Virginia label that has also put out music from Fire Heads and Wood Chickens), and they play this Mickey's show in the middle of a Midwest tour. —Scott Gordon
Ought have made a name for themselves by creating incredibly glossy and energetic post-punk from within their burgeoning Montreal-based DIY circle, with small hints of radicalism typical of that scene. They already sounded like a major-label band on their first two records, but now, with the resources of Merge Records undergirding their ironic lyricism on the new Room Inside The World, they're able to construct a wider range of moods and textures. They're still building a distinctive sound based on traditions started by bands like the Talking Heads, but the influence is less obvious now, as what once seemed like vocalist Tim Darcy's best David Byrne impression is now a fully-formed, crooning growl. Ought have always been dynamic, with Darcy leaping from quiet introspection to belting out simple truths, but the single "Desire" is a prime example of their maturation. A 70-piece vocal choir with a humming gospel synthesizer would have been out of place in their straight-forward songs from 2015's Sun Coming Down, but now the band is maximizing the religious aura of musical epiphanies that were the best moments on songs like "Big, Beautiful Sky." In addition, the power of Darcy's self-mocking vocal delivery is enhanced in the band's live sets. —Reid Kurkerewicz
John Reinhardt's 1948 noir film Open Secret is startlingly bold for its time, taking on anti-semitic thug groups and domestic abuse while actually having the gall to call Nazi sympathizers "stupid." The story follows a recently married couple, played by John Ireland and Jane Randolph, on their honeymoon, as they pay a visit to the home of the husband's war buddy. But the war buddy never shows, and the couple soon realizes that he's been murdered and had photographic evidence of a white-supremacist group's crimes, and was trying to expose the group. The couple works with a Jewish photo developer to redeem their friend, as the thugs also begin to close in.
Open Secret at its core centers around white, Christian, working-class men in the United States who were convinced to resent and attack foreigners. With an emphasis on rare photographic evidence of the kinds of anti-Semitic hate groups that were tolerated at the time, the film's title takes on a sad, ironic meaning. The dark lighting typical of film noir takes on a symbolic significance, as victims of hate literally fight their oppressors in the dark. Reinhardt vividly captures a forgotten chapter of American racism in under an hour and a half. This movie will be screening here in a double-feature with the police procedural film-noir He Walked By Night, which is an early example of a semi-documentary film that has the criminal exploiting police radio calls to escape capture. —Reid Kurkerewicz