Comedy MVP Craig Robinson, post-punk legends Chrome, sweetly scathing power-pop from According To What, and more events of note in Madison this week. | By Scott Gordon, Mike Noto, Joel Shanahan, and David Wolinsky
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THURSDAY MAY 17
For nearly a decade, comedian Craig Robinson's character Darryl Philbin was the secret weapon of The Office. Philbin's collected and skeptical vibe, as well as the fact that he didn't answer to Steve Carell's Michael Scott, made him the perfect foil for Scott's audacity—he had nothing to lose by telling Scott off or flat out screwing with him at any opportunity. As hinted at in the 2013 Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg-directed disaster comedy This Is The End, in which Robinson plays a fictionalized version of himself who gets stuck in a post-apocalyptic nightmare, Robinson is a capable vocalist and pianist. He showcases this in his current touring stand-up act, which finds him seated behind a keyboard and leaning on crowd participation. From his role as Philbin to his portrayal of retired power-hitter Reg Mackworthy on Eastbound & Down, Robinson has been involved in some of the funniest media of the last decade, so we're definitely not opposed to spending an hour with him. —Joel Shanahan
Madison band According To What's main songwriter, Luis Perez, has played in several indie-pop bands with a gentler sonic touch (Jonesies, Exploration Team, Automatically Yours), though with some scathing lyrics amid the clean-toned, jangling electric guitars. But Perez and fellow guitarist/vocalist Maggie Denman (Proud Parents, Margerat Dryer, Once A Month) add lots of distorted snarl to the equation in ATW, making for power-pop that's sweet and scathing in equal measure. "You're total trash, chewed gum stuck to my shoe," goes the chorus of "Spatial Relief," one of two demos the newish band released in January. Those words pair with punkish rhythms (from bassist Tessa Echeverria and drummer Etan Heller) and brightly cranked guitars that feel genuinely cheerful. According To What are planning to start work soon on a follow-up recording. They share the bill with fellow Madisonians Small Mediums and Imaginary Watermelon at this show, which is a "warmup" for the Sunday's WORT Block Party. —Scott Gordon
FRIDAY MAY 18
Percussionist Tim Daisy and cornet player Josh Berman both embody the depth and stylistic daring of Chicago's improvised music community, combining formidable skill rooted in jazz with a willingness to plow into the unknown. Daisy's own work as a composer, collaborator, and founder of the Relay Recordings label has explored everything from elaborate through-composed instrumental ensembles to the collision of drumkit and searing electronics on last year's solo release Music For Lying Still. Berman's work as a bandleader, as captured on 2015's album A Dance And A Hop, might on the surface sound more mannered and focused on melody, but never quite leaves the listener at ease, subtly prodding at conventional structures until things begin to feel brilliantly askew. Daisy says the duo will be playing a set of free improvisation here. The two hope to do some more recording together in the future. Their previous collaborations include the track below, from Daisy's 2014 release October Music (Vol 1): 7 Compositions For Duet. —Scott Gordon
SATURDAY MAY 19
Los Angeles musician Kevin Greenspon creates ambient instrumentals with vast amounts of atmosphere and a gentle heart. Greenspon's penchant for real-time, hands-on manipulation and a decade or so of touring on the DIY circuit have given him a knack for creating a deft, conversational flow, even when he's making the listener feel awash in slowly evolving harmonics and heady reverb. There's a scrappiness to his performance style that one usually doesn't associate with stately ambient music: For a long time Greenspon didn't use synthesizers live, instead processing sounds mainly from guitar, vocals, and tape loops. His most recent releases, including 2017's Lullaby For CSX Intermodal, find him adding an equally layered approach to rhythm. His current live setup—now laptop-powered, but still compact—allows him to manipulate sounds and visual projections at once. —Scott Gordon
One of the hardest-working and most versatile selectors in the underground dance circuit, Toronto, Ontario-based producer and DJ Ciel (n´ee Cindy Li) pulls shards from deep house, hypnotic techno cuts, and tasteful electro and channels them into an ornate patchwork that makes it difficult to leave the dance floor. While Li has been a dedicated of champion of the Toronto underground for years, curating and coordinating dozens of parties and DJing constantly, she dropped an impressive debut 12-inch in 2017's Electrical Encounters, a gorgeous collection that ranged from the stoney electro of its title track to the hazy breakbeat elegance of "Elevate (Go Off)." Li's hard work caught the attention of the Discwoman collective and she has since signed with them and started touring all over the world. Jams series curator Nathan Port (who DJs here as NLP) and Jiggy Jamz Records owner Geoff K will open the floor. —Joel Shanahan
TUESDAY MAY 22
To say that Queens Of The Stone Age's latest album, 2017's Villains, falters would not be inaccurate but may also miss the point. That is, for many years now part of Queen’s “shtick” is that they have a distinct sound, and vary things just enough that it's not simply retreading—you know what to expect, but not quite how it’s going to hit you. For any band, that's impressive; for one that's been going since 1996, that seems impossible. A roving mix of swagger, grooves, glam, and witty machismo, Queens Of The Stone Age improbably ride the pendulum between ZZ Top's goofy-but-cool beefy riffing and Screaming Trees' poppy psychedelia. What's fascinating about the mainstream hard rock band is they have the discipline to keep exploring, now taking several years between albums, to make sure they hit their mark.
Again, Villains could be misread as unsure of itself, but the band's seventh album is perhaps their most wandering set yet—from the Elvis Presley strut of "The Way You Used To Do" to the sinister funk of "The Evil Has Landed," Queens keeps reaching for some new tricks. Some can see that as a bumpy ride, but who can argue with a band that's guarding against autopilot? Even if you haven’t listened to them since 2002’s Songs For The Deaf, the next 15 years has gone from mapping out a lurching, sludgy (in a good way) new post-bassist-Nick Oliveri template on Lullabies To Paralyze to a warped, stuttering take on summer pop in Era Vulgaris all the way up through this new one. —David Wolinsky
The wildly experimental and often unclassifiable San Francisco post-punk group Chrome was founded in 1975, but the group as most know it came to be when guitarist Helios Creed joined in 1976 and immediately became drummer/singer/keyboardist Damon Edge's artistic equal in the band. Chrome then began developing a blisteringly strange sound: heavily informed by the psychedelic rock and early proto-metal of the mid-to-late '60's and early '70's, but so thoroughly warped and collaged together that the abrasive, processed results often sounded more like an actual aural representation of a heavy acid trip than anything as conventionally approachable as rock songs. 1977's Alien Soundtracks and 1979's Half Machine Lip Moves both gained notice through the British music press, and Chrome started gathering a passionate cult audience.
The group recorded constantly and almost never played live, but the steady releases of brilliantly damaged music through their own independent label helped build their mystique. The Creed/Edge partnership dissolved in 1983, and while Edge took the Chrome name at the time, it soon became clear that Creed took the sound. His solo career was full of the twisted, effects-soaked guitar heroics, toxically futuristic electronics and crunching riffs that made Chrome so beloved, and eventually Creed sporadically toured and recorded under the Chrome name after Edge died of heart failure in 1995. Last year brought a new album from Creed under the Chrome name with the characteristic title Techromancy, and it sounds… well, it sounds exactly like what you'd expect a Chrome or Helios Creed album to sound like now: slightly more straight-ahead than the classic-era stuff, but still way too bizarre to be anyone else. The fact that they're appearing seemingly under the radar at The Frequency fits right in line with everything else about them. —Mike Noto