Jamila Woods at WUDStock, a free jazz festival on the east side, Walter Matthau action in “Charley Varrick,” Peter Hook, and more events of note in Madison this week. | By Ian Adcock, Scott Gordon, Reid Kurkerewicz, Henry Solo, Steven Spoerl, and David Wolinsky
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 MAY 3
Effervescent and goofy to an almost cartoonish extreme, Kurt Braunohler has long served as a reminder that "alternative comedy" doesn't have to be abrasive, confrontational, or transgressive. That said, his latest, 2017's Trust Me, finds the stand-up increasingly weaving in more pointed political commentary amidst his usual trivial pursuits. Or, as he literally puts it in his mischievous high-pitch tone, "I got a lot of strong opinions about shit nobody cares about." On the album, he calls out a series of figures and, well, things that wouldn't be plotted in the same constellation elsewhere, attempting to take Jimmy Buffett, fudge, saltwater taffy, Fuddruckers, Mercedes-Benz, the 2012 movie Everest and anyone who's ever climbed Mount Everest, and the Irish down a winking peg.
Braunohler deftly mocks holding grudges and outrage culture while making astute observations in his bits (like how Jimmy Buffett exploits post-colonial segregation and exploitation of native populations), though as of late there's a sharp uptick in tackling more uncomfortable truths. Trust Me's title refers to the album's mission: He wants to chip away at his own white male privilege and "undermine the authority unfairly assigned to white male speakers." The new punk-rock, Braunohler says here, is to be white, dress in a nice suit, and misinform people at the RNC. This from a man who admits he looks like "a camp counselor at a camp that only teaches feelings" and in a nearby breath confesses "I'm gonna try heroin tonight and I'm so scared I'm gonna love it!" Braunohler is weird in all the best ways: You don't know where he's heading with his next bit, but he's able to mine sincere laughs and insights no matter what. —David Wolinsky
FRIDAY MAY 4
It seems bizarre today, but for a brief time in the 1970s Walter Matthau was an action movie star, and 1973's Charley Varrick is one of his finest performances from that period. Matthau stars as a small-time bank robber who accidentally steals a large amount of money from the mob and has to outsmart the ruthless killer (a menacing Joe Don Baker) on his trail. Director Don Siegel had been a hired gun filming gritty B-movies for 20 years but it wasn't until 1970 that he hit a pop culture nerve with the massive hit Dirty Harry, and his follow-up, Charley Varrick, offers a sort of anti-Harry Callahan. Matthau's hangdog, gum-chewing Varrick is a surprisingly wily adversary who deftly slips through the fingers of organized crime.
A career highlight for both Matthau and Siegel, Charley Varrick also benefits from being filmed on location around Reno, giving the film an authentic small-town-America ambiance. The film also features a number of familiar B-movie character actors in key roles, including Siegel regulars Andrew Robinson (Dirty Harry, Hellraiser) and John Vernon (Dirty Harry, Point Blank). Though the film was mostly ignored in 1973, over the years it's become a highly influential cult classic. A gritty, offbeat thriller, Charley Varrick is truly one of the best crime films of the 1970s. —Ian Adcock
iving the film an authentic small-town America ambiance. Varrick also features a number of familiar B-movie character actors in key roles, including Siegel regulars Andrew Robinson (Dirty Harry, Hellraiser) and John Vernon (Dirty Harry, Point Blank). Though the film was mostly ignored in 1973, over the years it's become a highly influential cult classic. A gritty, offbeat thriller, Charley Varrick is truly one of the best crime films of the 1970s. —Ian Adcock
The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art's long-running biannual art crawl tradition is back. Participating galleries (and non-galleries) in Madison and the surrounding areas open to the public for a full night of showcasing promising amateur artists alongside well-known professionals, art students, and local creators in-between. There is a unique joy, walking and later possibly stumbling from gallery to gallery on a warm spring evening, partaking in apparently unlimited access to boxed wine and snacks while viewing a wide array of artistic pieces and craft objects.
Spaces like Hatch Art House and 702WI will feature local artists, while MMoCA will host the debut of Irene Grau's Construction Season. Grau's practice is like the Gallery Night participant's in reverse. She spent her MMoCA residency exploring Madison, and documented construction markings around the city. Grau responds to these references to the cities' infrastructure with paintings of her own, and invites guests to bring in their own objects accidentally painted by city workers. Other fine-art highlights include a collection of prints by female artists at Edgewood College, including works by the likes of Judy Chicago, Kara Walker, Kiki Smith and Louise Bourgeois. There's even a local taxidermy art showcase called "Dan's Taxidermy, Exquisite Corpse and Bizarre Bazaar" which pretty much sums itself up. With almost 70 different locations, the sheer diversity of creative approaches on display means there should be something for art snobs and casual browsers alike. —Reid Kurkerewicz
WUDStock is the latest iteration of WUD Music's attempts to get its end-of-spring-semester music day back in the pocket, and this one finally nails it. Since Chance The Rapper headlined the departed Revelry Fest in 2015 (alongside a then fledgling Chainsmokers LOL), WUD Music's school-year cappers have suffered from a lack of funding as well as a lack of identity. This year's event, however, manages to strike a balance between booking artists with national recognition (and they are actually good) and Madison-based artists.
It's also divided into two sections at The Sett and The Terrace/Rathskeller. At The Sett, Chicago's Jamila Woods, a frequent Chance collaborator, will be supported by Madison's own Trapo and others. Though Woods is often charged and forward in songs like "LSD" and Trapo reserved and introspective in songs like "Break From Me," they are complementary insofar as they take similar approaches in their beat selections and lyrical machinations. Both favor organic, swirling productions and both weave stories across tracks that are immersive yet abstract. Trapo also has a new album, Ford4Door, coming up soon, which could play a factor into his set.
At the Union Terrace, WUDStock offers a whole mix of other genres. There's country from Lavender Country, jazz from Madison's Goodie Two Shoes, and funk from Minneapolis' Pho. This bill is perhaps an unlikely mix, but a compelling one nonetheless. Hailing from the Pacific Northwest, Lavender Country is the underknown ur-band to country artists like Kacey Musgraves—it's one of the acts that led the way in writing Americana music with queer overtones, such as the devastatingly sweet coming out song "Come Out Singing." Their music is quite rootsy in nature, and hearkens back to Bob Dylan’s earlier days. —Henry Solo
For their first-ever shot at a music festival, the folks at the non-profit venue Arts + Literature Laboratory have done a fine job of gathering an ensemble of local and regional artists who represent the spectrum of jazz from the approachable to avant-garde, and also showcase jazz’s intersections with other musical languages through the years. In that sense, the festival is very much of a piece with the impressive lineups of touring and local jazz artists ALL has been bringing to Madison on a routine basis. Across one evening, 17 different groups will take stages across five different venues. At ALL’s home base, there is trumpeter Russ Johnson’s Headlands Quartet at ALL, with an exciting assist from Chicago-based saxophonist Greg Ward. Johnson, director of Jazz Studies at UW-Parkside in Kenosha, is a virtuosic player who reinvents songs without completely eschewing tradition. His 2014 album Meeting Point features songs like “Lithosphere,” which resemble traditional jazz at some points but at others break into weird and uncanny sequences of sound. The mostly improvisational sax-led trio Brennan Connors & Stray Passage, playing at Union Hair Parlor, moves things further into challenging territory. And at Alchemy, there’s Tony Castañeda’s Latin Jazz Band, who’ve been dishing out a vintage but expansive approach to Latin jazz in Madison for more than 20 years. There's yet more music at several spots near the intersection of Winnebago Street and Atwood Avenue, so be sure to browse the full schedule. —Henry Solo
For the third time in eight months, Brooklyn trio Half Waif will be making a Madison visit. The band recently acted as support for Julien Baker at the Majestic and Mitski at the High Noon, giving memorable sets at each, which bodes well for their upcoming Frequency stop. They'll be appearing in support of their third album, Lavender, a career highlight that recently enjoyed a premiere over at NPR's First Listen. Lavender is a record that grapples with heavy narratives but has imbued Half Waif with a newfound confidence that's translated to their live show, as anyone who was present for either of their recent Madison stops can attest.
A work of devotion that was defined by and dedicated to bandleader Nandi Rose Plunkett's late grandmother, the record's given life through tracks like the wistful "Back In Brooklyn" and lead-off track "Lavender Burning," which both heavily reference love and displacement. Led by Plunkett (who also spent time playing in Pinegrove) and rounded out by the rhythm section of Adan Carlo and Zack Levine, the band's introspective synth-pop should act as a nice complement to slow-burn indie rockers Hovvdy, who will be co-headlining what promises to be a moving, melancholic show. Alej Perez of Madison band Miyha opens up. —Steven Spoerl
SATURDAY MAY 5
After resolving his legal disputes with his former bandmates, Joy Division and New Order bassist Peter Hook is touring behind an extensive chunk of both bands' groundbreaking post-punk and electronic discography. As a co-writer of many of the songs, Hook keeps the hits and the deep cuts (and even some unreleased goodies) in decent hands. This outfit has issued live performances of entire classic albums (including Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures, and New Order's Movement and Power, Corruption, And Lies), which hold up instrumentally to the originals.
The band, featuring Hook's son, can easily jump from the stark post-punk of early Joy Division tracks to the more lush and catchy New Order songs. Of course, it's not quite the same, especially in the vocal department. Hook's singing is gruff, and he doesn't seem to even attempt the clarity and softness of voice so important to New Order's sound. At any rate, New Order is still around, and I can confirm that their live renditions of their own songs are much better, even as the tracks continue to evolve sonically, while Hook sticks closer to recorded versions. Despite these drawbacks, this show should still be worth it to dedicated fans and those who haven't been lucky enough to catch the real thing. New Order tends to skip cities like Madison anyway. —Reid Kurkerewicz
SUNDAY MAY 6
Alain Tanner's first English-language film, 1981's Light Years Away, may or may not be a follow-up to his Jonah Who Will Be 25 In The Year 2000. The film is vaguely set in time and space enough for viewers to connect these dots, but the screenplay is also based on the novel La Voie Sauvage, by Daniel Odier, so this could just be a huge coincidence.
Like most of the films in UW Cinematheque's Tanner series, which concludes with this screening, Light Years Away is a rare one, so preview screeners were not available. Nevertheless, reviews of the film over time have observed that it shares Tanner's stunning sense of photography, vignette story-telling asserting an optimistic pointlessness, and bleak humor. The apparent protagonist, Jonah, wanders into an apprenticeship with a eccentric old man who has the 20-year-old sorting garbage and burying the old man to his neck in the dirt. While the film took the second-place prize at the 1981 Cannes Film Festival, it has been noted to have elements of misogyny in its philosophy of transcendence, and, like most Tanner films, may suffer with mainstream audiences due to its obscurity. I didn't get a chance to judge these aspects of it for myself, but despite these apparent shortcomings, the chance to see a neglected director like Tanner is a rare treat. —Reid Kurkerewicz