Madison calendar, October 11 through 17
The return of avant-garde duo Charalambides, new songs from Dash Hounds, “Zabriskie Point,” and more events of note in Madison this week. | By Ian Adcock, Scott Gordon, Katie Hutchinson, Reid Kurkerewicz, Mike Noto, Grant Phipps, Chali Pittman, and Henry Solo
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THURSDAY OCTOBER 11
The Wisconsin Book Festival's year-round events series once again culminates during the second week of October for four days of author readings, lectures, and panels. Hosted by the Madison Public Library, the event draws thousands of bibliophiles to events at various locations across the city, all free, to hear local and visiting writers discuss their work and the state of literature as they know it.
The variety contained in the 70-plus offerings is almost staggering: Laura Jeanne Baker's memoir on her addiction to motherhood; Natalie Eibert's poetry and gender studies hybrid Indictus; author, musician, and recent Tone Madison interviewee Dan Kaufman on Wisconsin's descent into right-wing nationalism and its squashing of progressivism in The Fall Of Wisconsin; and novelists Karen Bender and Chris Bachelder on the panel "Making Sense of One Another: Literature and Connection,” considering the ways in which literature increases self-awareness and empathy for the experience of the "other," to name a few.
Not to be missed is Passing the Bass: A Tribute to the great jazz and classical bassist (and now-retired UW-Madison professor) Richard Davis, which will include a performance by Mr. Davis' domestic and international collaborators, and an exhibition of personal memorabilia. Also, while not necessarily a darling of the critics or his literary peers, James Patterson will be in conversation with Steve Paulson from WPR's "To The Best of Our Knowledge," discussing his new YA book Max Einstein and his life as literally the bestselling author in the world. But panels like "Fearless Women in Sci-Fi and Fantasy,” with Mary Robinette Kowal, Mirah Bolender, and K Arsenault Rivera, balance out the presence of that sentient beach-read factory.
The festival offers not only something for (almost) every taste and proclivity, but also the refreshing spectacle of Madisonians gathering in droves to celebrate the enduring power of the written word and artistry, rather than, say, sports, or protesting the latest horrors of the current administration. A full schedule is available on the festival's website. —Katie Hutchinson
Madison's Youngblood Brass Band has been going since the late '90s, channeling a brash mix of hip-hop and New Orleans second-line jazz through a 10-piece lineup consisting entirely of brass and percussion. But the band's cited inspirations have always been all over the place, from Fugazi to Björk to Michael Jackson, and they tend to back up their far-flung influences list with an almost-anything-goes approach that comes through in the actual music. Refreshingly, there isn't some cut-off date where this 20-years-running outfit stopped being receptive to new stuff: YBB's latest release is a six-track covers EP simply titled Covers 1, and its selections include an intricately layered take on Rihanna's "Umbrella," a rollicking interpretation of Janelle Monae's "Electric Lady," and, to jump back a bit, a Latin-tinged reinvention of No Doubt's "Don't Speak."
YBB tends to bring along bold support acts at its hometown shows, and this one is no exception. Brahmulus, a duo consisting of vocalist GregB and producer/multi-instrumentalist Ben Sholl of hip-hop project Fringe Character, crystallizes the latter outfit's neo-soul influences into one cohesive effort. On Brahmulus' sole release so far, the recent single "Catch A Tiger," the pair's instrumentation—shuffling percussion, driving bass and wah-wah guitar—builds a steady formation for GregB's pained and impassioned vocals. Even when he's singing, GregB constructs his lyrics with a rapper's mentality, favoring alliteration, assonance, and repetition on lines like, "I'm on a quest for a rose and a remedy / My feline weeps."
Chants, aka Madison producer Jordan Cohen, combines harsh beats and an ambient artist's grasp of atmosphere and texture. Chants' latest EP, 2018's Carious Motion, opens with "RED (Off My Chest)," a collaboration with Mississippi-based emcee/producer BE3K. It's a smartly conceived pairing: BE3K deftly weaving vocal cadences around Cohen's relentless, syncopated percussion. The spiky and icy qualities of BE3K's vocal delivery also blends well with Cohen's droning synths. But Cohen's standalone productions also have rhythmic tendencies that should sit well next to the two more overtly hip-hop-oriented acts on this bill. On "Airtight," for example, Cohen sews a one-syllable vocal sample into the fabric of the song. In Cohen's hands, these shouts evoke the imagery of a Kool Herc- or Sugar Minott-esque figure urging along a throng of dancing people. —Henry Solo
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 12
After the minimalist photography mystery of Blow-up (1966) in the London art scene, Italian auteur Michelangelo Antonioni set up camp in the States in an effort to capture our similarly anti-establishment counterculture movement. The resulting Zabriskie Point (1970), named after a ridge in California's Death Valley National Park, is a sort of political mosaic of youthful anarchism and spontaneity, and drew inspiration from the brutality at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. As UW Cinematheque has done in past semesters with Antonioni films, the campus film program will host a one-off 35mm "Special Presentation" here.
Opening with obscured close-ups of college students preparing for a general strike scored with the eerie psychedelia of Pink Floyd (newly post-Syd Barrett), Zabriskie Point initially hones in on rising social discord. One of the meeting's attendees, Mark (Mark Frechette), even expresses an acerbic dissent to his peers' solidarity and finds himself amidst the chaos of a mass arrest and police confrontation. After fleeing the Los Angeles area into the Mojave Desert, Mark encounters Daria (Daria Halprin) escaping harassers herself, at a juncture where their free-spirited dispositions and volatile narratives intertwine.
Zabriskie Point is perhaps best known for its infamously digressive conclusion, but its historical relevance and artistic merits are worth revisiting. With it and the director's two prior color features, the aforementioned Blow-up (1966) and Red Desert (1964), his singularly brilliant attention to architecture and ever-transforming urban landscape form an arresting triptych. Here, in Los Angeles, Antonioni is specifically drawn to advertising billboards. As the film sprawls, he then turns his lens to the phantoms of the open road and dust bowl at the titular location, which peaks in a nude, hallucinogenic, transgressive sequence between Mark and Daria that the controversial Lars Von Trier attempted to recreate in Antichrist (2009).
However, maybe most significant is Zabriskie Point’s soundtrack, which is rather conventional in Antonioni's filmography. It pulls from popular artists of the period like Kaleidoscope and The Grateful Dead as well as American Primitivism pioneer John Fahey in a haunting scene, ensuring the film's inseparability from its politically and cinematically revolutionary aspirations. —Grant Phipps
Madison's Dash Hounds displayed a gift for slowly winding guitar lines on its 2016 debut EP Eft, and Alivia Kleinfeldt's lead vocals, often dipping into a mournful baritone, made it easy to sink into the band's luxuriously gloomy pop. Kleinfeldt and Brendan Manley's guitars delicately interlock on "Clover," nudging the song toward a final refrain of "I need you on my side," a line that evokes both desperation and resolve. On "Yes I Front," the band introduces a little extra tension into the mix, but without breaking its delicate spell. Somehow, there's always another little twist, be it a vocal hook or switched-up guitar part, to draw the listener in a little deeper.
Manley and Kleinfeldt form the core duo of Dash Hounds, and the band has been through a few different four- and five-piece lineups, but the live sets always strike a nice balance between atmosphere and brisk energy. They've been writing new material for a planned EP, likely due out next spring. Manley says the new stuff is "still definitely us, but relying a little less on dream pop and shoegazeyness to explore other tastes and instrumentation." Given the solid, entrancing songcraft Dash Hounds have brought to the table so far, I'd say it's worth getting to this show and getting an early listen to their next chapter. —Scott Gordon
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 13
Harold Lloyd's 1927 silent masterpiece The Kid Brother showcases the strengths of a genre often defined by its limitations. Carl Davis' evocative, re-mastered score, and Lloyd's superb physical comedy carry a charming story that's much more than a series of gags and spectacles. In a burgeoning frontier town, Harold Hickory (Lloyd) is the Hickory family's adorable, acrobatic runt. While Harold's brothers and father, a respected sheriff, are burly men of industry, Harold gets by on his wits. Without the familial strength, Harold is relegated to house chores, cleverly constructing a washing machine from a butter churn and a kite. Meanwhile, the father spearheads efforts to collect town money for a federally funded dam. When the patriarch attends a town meeting to finalize plans, a traveling medicine show slips into town, and Harold poses as his father to impress a dancer (Jobyna Ralston). When the con artist and his strongman steal the dam money, and everyone suspects the sheriff, it's up to Harold to outwit the brutes. The final fight scene is a hilarious triumph of the sprightly little guy over barbaric oppressors. The Kid Brother screens here as part of the Overture Center's Duck Soup Cinema series, which also features vaudeville-style entertainment and live musical accompaniment on the Capitol Theater's pipe organ. —Reid Kurkerewicz
Returning for its second year, the one-day Ancient Future festival offers a wide variety of heavy Madison bands and some truly inspired touring headliners. "Muscle rock" cult hero Thor has had a career resurgence in the last few years, thanks to the documentary I Am Thor. A former professional bodybuilder, Jon Mikl Thor is infamous for his onstage feats of strength and heavy- metal bombast. Truth & Janey, driven by Billy Janey's blown-out guitar riffage, were one of the best Midwestern proto-metal bands of the 1970s, and also feature prominently in the Ancient Future lineup. Though they never achieved commercial success, the band's 1976 album No Rest For the Wicked has become a coveted holy grail for modern metalheads.
Ancient Future Fest also features a rare local appearance from spooky country duo Those Poor Bastards and a set from Vanishing Kids, whose new album Heavy Dreamer comes out later this year. And while Cthonian Lich and Ruin Dweller are relatively newer groups in town, they both feature hardened veterans of the Madison metal scene and are well worth showing up early for. With a 10-band line-up, Ancient Future Fest 2 offers a day packed full of music from local staples and unsung cult heroes. —Ian Adcock
Vancouver producer and DJ Logan Sturrock, aka Florist, finds his strengths somewhere between gently coaxing listeners onto the dancefloor and lulling them into a state of steadily pulsating reflection. Sturrock can build a DJ set up to a sweaty climax too, as captured on a 2016 Boiler Room appearance and a 2017 Resident Advisor mix, but along the way he creates lots of breathing room amid warm house and disco tracks and driving techno. Florist's 2015 debut EP of original material, Phenomena, comprises club-oriented and more atmospheric versions of two tracks, "Final Bounce" and "Marine Drive," but each resulting piece strikes much the same happy medium. His March 2017 single "Dvote" prompted one reviewer to call it "the sound of an overcast summer," and I can't really imagine a better way to sum up the track's mix of bright, bubbly synths and slightly thinned-out vocal samples. Sturrock will play a DJ set here at Robinia's monthly Jams series. —Scott Gordon
MONDAY OCTOBER 15
The legendary political hardcore band MDC (short for everything from the infamous Millions Of Dead Cops to the dumber Metal Devil Cokes) has been around in one form or another for most years since 1979, when they were initially known as The Stains and released "John Wayne Was A Nazi/Born To Die" as a 7-inch single in Austin, Texas. Both of those songs would be re-recorded for their classic 1982 self-titled debut album as MDC, and "John Wayne Was A Nazi" in particular has endured as one of the band's best-known and most well-loved songs. But the band had more to offer than greatly entertaining ad hominem swipes at conservative cowboy actors. MDC's bludgeoning, hyperspeed attack squashed deserving targets from fast food to homophobia to South African apartheid, set to flailing riffs that could always compensate with sheer energy if they ever lacked for catchiness. The 1986 album Smoke Signals made real attempts to diversify MDC's sound, too, with goof tracks like the poppier "Soup Kitchen Celebrity" and the self-explanatory "Country Squawk" (pro-vegetarian advocacy set to, you guessed it, faux-country) slotted against more technically accomplished blasts of wild-eyed hardcore like "No More Cops" and "Missile Destroyed Civilization" (spot the initials). In short, the band's unyielding devotion to not terribly profound, but sincerely passionate and dead-on leftist protest has always served it well, and they even released a new album last year after a 13-year recording hiatus with the hilariously in-character title Mein Trumpf. Times like these, for better and for worse, prove that political hardcore never really dates. —Mike Noto
TUESDAY OCTOBER 16
Charalambides, Emili Earhart, Taralie Peterson/Patrick Best Duo. Arts + Literature Laboratory, 7:30 p.m.
Tom and Christina Carter have been playing for decades as noisy Houston outfit Charalambides (pronounced shar-a-LOM-bidets, for the uninitiated), perfecting a sound that fuses folk, rock, psych and drone into raga-like structures. The duo found success in experimental rock circles in the 1990s, releasing albums on labels like Siltbreeze and kranky. The two play music that lets the listener gradually settle in, managing to swizzle between soft and quiet and loud and cathartic in improvised structures that sometimes last more than 20 minutes. Their album they released this fall—this time from Drawing Room Records, and titled Charalambides: Tom & Christina Carter—was recorded in two sets, with no overdubs, and feels like a literal trip in that both the Carters and their listeners are going somewhere and staying present in improvisation. The first track, "Runaway," unfurls from a starting point of dreamy harmonica and guitar, and then Christina Carter's bright voice rises up like a fin through the water to provide some direction through the improvisation and ornamentation. Christina's voice is featured heavily all across the album, in fact, and on "Midnight," she carries the whole song with her voice's passionate intensity against the backdrop of a soft picked guitar riff. But perhaps she shines the brightest on "Life And Death," where her timbre is complemented by guitar that reaches its fuzzy, psychedelic zenith by the end.
The local support on this show is excellent too. Pianist (and Tone Madison contributor Emili Earhart) will join Taralie Peterson, one half of Madison's drone psych folk Spires That In The Sunset Rise and now making solo music under the moniker Louise Bock, and Patrick Best, a core member of drone-folk melders Pelt. —Chali Pittman
WEDNESDAY OCTOBER 17
One of the most daring selections in MMoCA's Spotlight Cinema series this fall is a cryptic 60-minute feature by NYC-based filmmaker Ricky D'Ambrose. Notes On An Appearance (2018) is the natural evolution of the singularly minimalist, micro-budget chamber drama style D'Ambrose honed in several of his short narrative films this decade (which screened in Madison last April), notably Spiral Jetty's scattered archival documents, photographs, analogue video footage, and other ephemera as cinematic puzzle pieces.
With Notes, D'Ambrose meticulously continues to develop his self-contained universe and academic backdrop with a cache of newspaper articles, diaries, postcards, subway maps, and tickets. Collectively, these elements contribute to the film's ongoing inquiries, both physical and philosophical, into the destinations and realities of its two vanishing faces—twentysomething research assistant David Hidell (Bingham Bryant) and the deceased author and revolutionary he is researching, Stephen Taubes (Stephen F. Cohen). In fact, the main narrative that unravels within the columns and margins of the aforementioned printed records possesses an idiosyncratic ambiguity, and in this respect, the act of watching Notes imitates the mental acuity involved in interpreting a foreign-language film.
Notes On An Appearance's linguistic themes distinctively reinforce its visual dimension, especially in DP Barton Cortright's constant, still-life-like stationary close-ups in deep focus. D'Ambrose juxtaposes this framing's clarity with the sketches of a Brooklyn-based, upper-class social circle. Despite the sophistication underpinning the characters' professions and creative aspirations, they remain ironically alienated and inscrutable. The film methodically harnesses this mood as a catalyst to its hushed violence and disturbing revelations on Taubes' anti-Semitism, which are perfectly suited to the formally quiet approach to the material, further affecting Hidell's eternally peripatetic acquaintances Todd Siskin (Keith Poulson) and Madeline Goldenhar (Tallie Medel). Ultimately, Notes On An Appearance is an invigoratingly rare moviegoing experience and should be regarded as a spiritual companion to Matías Piñeiro's Hermia And Helena (2016), which screened at Spotlight Cinema in 2017. —Grant Phipps