Jordan Zawideh's deep-reaching mixes, Roboman's surf-punk racket, Taylor Bennett escaping Chance's shadow, and more events of note in Madison this week. | By Scott Gordon, Reid Kurkerewicz, Erica Motz, Mike Noto, Katie Richards, and Henry Solo
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THURSDAY MARCH 8
Chicago band OHMME, who headline our first Tone Madison-curated show of 2018, centers around the duo of guitarists/vocalists Macie Stewart and Sima Cunningham. Both are multi-instrumentalists who've played in Chicago's rich improvised-music community and beyond—Stewart's recent activities include playing in Ken Vandermark's Marker ensemble, and Cunningham's background ranges from classical music to chamber-pop to singing backup vocals in Chance The Rapper's live band. OHMME's 2015 self-titled EP finds the two combining all that experience with more straightforward rock instincts, resulting in skewed but resolutely muscular and catchy songs like "Furniture" and "Fingerprints." The latter finds the two in a barbed yet playful back-and-forth on both voice and guitar. At this show they'll be sharing the bill with two Madison bands: According To What is a newer power-pop ensemble featuring members of Exploration Team and Once A Month, and Solid Freex is a father-and-sons punk trio whose debut album, Peeled Guest, ranges from stripped-down hardcore to scorched noise-rock. A presale is available now, and there's a discount for Tone Madison donors. —Scott Gordon
Kyle Kinane fuses crudely hilarious confessional humor and relatively liberal (but mostly apathetic) political commentary in his rapid-fire stand-up style. On his latest record, 2016's Loose In Chicago, Kinane wonders if a mass shooting would be so bad if it was against the Westboro Baptist church while comparing open-carry guns and open carry-beer, before admitting he's tapped out of political arguments that are "a drag" to instead hunt ghosts and aliens. In other words, politically he's "super liberal, but supernaturally, very conservative." He's deceptively clever, especially when connecting his own life and mortality to pop culture, and often catches audiences off-guard with wordplay and turns of phrase peppered through his longer-form jokes.
For a taste of other Kinane material, you can check out his many appearances on the comedy podcast circuit, from Comedy Bang! Bang! to WTF with Marc Maron and The Nerdist. As a Chicago comedian, he stutters knowledgeably about the Haymarket Affair for Comedy Central's Drunk History, and his voice acting work can be heard in guest spots on Bob's Burgers and Adventure Time. —Reid Kurkerewicz
The Indie Lens Pop-Up series, co-curated by Wisconsin Public Television, Madison Public Library, and ITVS returns to the Central Library with a screening of Dolores. Peter Bratt's 2017 documentary is a portrait of Dolores Huerta, one of the leaders of the United Farm Workers of America's 1965 Delano grape strike, which won collective bargaining rights for the largely Filipino and Mexican migrant farmworkers who spearheaded the movement. Huerta, who is now regarded as a environmental and labor rights activist and feminist icon, shares stories of her upbringing and introduction to the movement in the film, which focuses not only on her life's work but also on the lack of recognition she's received in the decades since the Delano strike. —Erica Motz
Esham, Dark Half, Charles Grant, Hanks, T. Stubbz, Tre Creamer, Reconsiderate, Mvgicc Music. Frequency, 8 p.m.
Detroit rapper Esham is one of the more underrated innovators in hip-hop history. He released his first album, Boomin' Words From Hell ("Hell," surprising no one, was code for Detroit), in 1989, and started making strides toward pioneering horrorcore as a legitimate underground hip-hop movement. Besides the Geto Boys, almost nobody got to the tongue-in-cheek, blood-spattered excess of horrorcore earlier than Esham did, and he was also the first MC of any note that Detroit produced.
Esham's early releases kept bettering themselves, too. 1993's KKKill The Fetus featured lo-fi, gritty, eerie, self-produced beats with a distinct fondness for metal-oriented sampling, and a rapping style that combined a smooth, steady, hard flow with early experiments in Midwestern double-timing. The price of innovation, though, was local controversy, difficulty in establishing a fanbase early on, and a tendency toward theatrical, over-the-top shock value that kept him solidly underground. Yet for all that, Esham's influence was tremendous in the Midwest and the South. It's hard to imagine that solo artists and groups like Three 6 Mafia (Lord Infamous and DJ Paul were dedicated fans), Tech N9ne, Insane Clown Posse (for whom Esham produced in 1992), and Eminem would have sounded the way they did without him, especially early on.
Perhaps the story that best captures the kind of career Esham has had over the years is the one Danny Brown told in an interview with Canadian media personality Nardwuar. One day, Brown found an unlabeled tape of the 1992 release Judgement Day (possibly Esham's peak). He put it on out of curiosity and was dumbfounded at the torrent of evil that came out of his stereo, but his cousin then walked in and began to yell at him that he was going to go to hell for listening to Esham. The moral is: if respect won't do, then fear—and appreciation from those who can take it—will. —Mike Noto
Embracing the melodic tendencies of his older brother Chance The Rapper, MC Taylor Bennett has lately shown signs of a younger sibling in the shadows coming into his own. The one track he's released in 2018 so far, "Minimum Wage," builds on what made his 2017 LP Restoration Of An American Idol stand out but highlights some flaws as well. Over a slick snare pattern and sugary synth line, Bennett marches forward, rapping about the perils of working for minimum wage and the materialism one can flaunt once one is making more. It's a catchy track, head-bouncy indeed, full of triumph over millennial adversity. It also follows the formula of many of Bennett's tracks: look into the past, extract the pain, and channel it toward a successful present and future.
Still, this straightforward simplicity can at times feel a bit diluted. Sometimes our experiences and actions from the past continue to linger in the present, offering only burden rather than propulsion. It would be interesting to see Bennett experiment and include more about whatever ails him in the present rather than what he has been able to leave behind in the past. —Henry Solo
SATURDAY MARCH 10
The mission statement of Yelling At The Dark is ambitious but doesn't give you a lot to grasp onto: "...celebrating the simultaneous absurdity and exhilaration of an insignificant act. The possibility of doing nothing. To explore strength in vulnerability, being our incongruous selves, recognizing our obtuse nature. Bubbling to the surface and being loud to root in embodiment." But this night of performance is all about variety and thematic complexity. It brings together Madison- and Chicago-based artists spanning (and sometimes combining) music, dance, and performance art, including Madison multimedia artist Christine Olson in a collaborative performance with experimental-music standout Louise Bock (who will also play a solo set), Chicago music/dance ensemble Trickster Quartet, and multidisciplinary Chicago artist Ginger Krebs (see a clip of Krebs' work "Buffer Overrun" at this link). Between door time (7:30 p.m.) and showtime (8 p.m.), attendees can visit the Existential Coat Check, a project in which Chicago artist Aurora Tabar invites people to "check their mental baggage in order to more fully experience their surroundings." —Scott Gordon
A power-pop-punk band from Milwaukee, SIN BAD is the second of eight acts at this year's Kitschy Fest, an annual festival hosted by Madison musician Chris Joutras (Coordinated Suicides, Momotaros, Dharma Dogs) and his label Kitschy Manitou Records. SIN BAD's 2017 release, It's Fine, has a '90s grunge-pop feel that puts it in league with contemporaries like Tsunami Bomb and Charly Bliss. The three-piece band turns on the charm by mixing upbeat momentum with melodramatic lyrics on tracks like "Anxiety." Male and female vocal interplay on "Scarred" and "Tolerate" heightens the emotional grappling the lyrics describe, and enhances the band's youthful sound. Similarly, tracks like "Make It Through" and "Sleeve" exude a relatable, nostalgic camaraderie surrounding feelings of insecurity and uncertainty.
SIN BAD's effervescence and emotional simplicity will leave you reminiscing about the Hollywood teenage drama you never had, or craving something more nuanced and grounded. Other highlights on this bill include Madison hardcore outfit No Question, Milwaukee noise-punks Static Eyes, and newer Madison punk duo Gender Confetti. The event will also raise money for the Dane County Rape Crisis Center. —Katie Richards
Chicago DJ and producer Jordan Zawideh has a gift for steering fluidly through myriad shades of house, techno, and raw disco in his mixes. The other side of that coin is distilling things down, and Zawideh does so powerfully on his 2013 original production "Newton's Sleep." With austere percussion and a charging bass synth, the track creates a powerful groove, leaving room for slight but vivid harmonic and rhythmic nuances. His contributions to Chicago's electronic music scene also include hosting a monthly event called Acid Dreams. Zawideh will be DJing here as part of Jams, a newer series at Robinia Courtyard that already has a good track record of bringing in vital DJs from around the Midwest. Madison-based standout Ben Silver, and Nathan Port, who books the series, will be spinning at this night as well. —Scott Gordon
SUNDAY MARCH 11
Laird Cregar stars in this 1945 adaption of the neglected English writer Patrick Hamilton's novel of the same name. The more politically anti-fascist nature of the book is traded for the diverse score by Bernard Hermann, who wrote the mix of classical and popular music for which this movie is remembered, especially as a main inspiration for Sweeney Todd.
Cregar is a successful classical music composer who goes all Mr. Hyde whenever he hears a "discordant note," which you think would happen more often in the middle of London. His murderous tendencies, which he doesn't remember, are apparently due to overwork, so he goes to popular music halls on his offnights, only to be seduced by a beautiful hack who uses his musical talents to further her own singing career. Cregar said he ate only two slices of bacon and toast a day while filming Hangover Square, so you can watch his waistline recede throughout the movie as his character descends into madness. The final scene has some impressive special effects for the '40s, and the intense depiction of Guy Fawkes Night is all that remains of the political message of the novel. —Reid Kurkerewicz
MONDAY MARCH 12
Rob Oman has spent years playing raucous surf-rock guitar in the punk-charged band Knuckel Drager, but does it all in his one-man band Roboman—playing drums with his feet, laying down bass and guitar parts on hybrid instruments he built himself, and belting out vocals through a hail of slapback. Oman's take on surf-rock is best heard live, and specifically at a crowded Mickey's show, where playing at full blast in a little corner of the bar, two people standing a foot or two away, somehow makes perfect acoustical sense. Roboman recordings have been slow to come, but a couple of singles have recently gone up on Bandcamp. He shares the bill here with Madison band The New Villains, who boast solid garage-pop songwriting instincts as well as former members of The Midwest Beat and The Grizzlies, and with one-man Austin blues band Ghostwriter. —Scott Gordon
WEDNESDAY MARCH 14
My first interaction with Alice Cooper was shredding "School's Out," on Guitar Hero 3. My best friend and I pledged to play it immediately after walking home from our final day of 7th grade. It just felt like what we were supposed to do, and we understood that it perfectly characterized the liberation of knowing that we had a whole three months of doing stuff exactly this dumb. What we didn't realize was how precious those summers of innocence and ignorance were, but "School's Out" takes me back to that fleeting and privileged feeling. That's what Alice Cooper offers to the world, an acknowledgement that it's a great and valuable thing to be dumb… sometimes.
Cooper also cultivated a nice-guy charisma that later purveyors of scary-glam-rock, like Marilyn Manson, lacked. His staying power isn't necessarily due to life-changing music, but to a commitment to onstage fun. For example, on his current Paranormal tour, if you fork out the extra cash (and you aren't too drunk) you can stick your head in his guillotine, or play a balloon-toss game with the rock-star. That's pretty stupid, but hey, you don't go to an Alice Cooper show to bob your head and chat about artistic integrity. You go to an Alice Cooper show to headbang, laugh and watch silly macabre magic tricks, because that's a fun thing to do. Plus, you must admit, he's got some solid riffage, digs Milwaukee's socialist mayors, and penned ubiquitous anthems that aren't going away anytime soon. —Reid Kurkerewicz