John Waters, The Underachievers, Tubal Cain, Conor Oberst, and more of the best stuff in Madison this week. | By Scott Gordon, Chris Lay, Mike Noto, and Joel Shanahan
THURSDAY OCTOBER 15
Ask anyone, himself included, and they’ll tell you that John Waters, Baltimore’s weirdest son and maker of warped cinema masterpieces like Desperate Living and Female Trouble, is “The Pope Of Trash.” He’s parlayed his status as the master arbiter of all things bad taste into a comfy career as a writer, and raconteur-ist. These days his output as a film director has been pretty sporadic (we’re not going to count the staged table reading of Pink Flamingos by pre-teens that came out earlier this year). Waters will be making a stop at Mills Concert Hall to pontificate and promote under the nebulous umbrella that is “This Filthy World”, the one-man show he’s been touring with for about a decade or so, as the keynote for this year’s LGBTQ History Month on campus. We can only assume (and hope!) that it’s morphed and changed over the years, given the man’s off-the-cuff dashing as a speaker.
NYC hip-hop duo The Underachievers have a sprawling, psych-tinged tendency that got reined in just a little bit between last year’s debut album The Cellar Door: Terminus Ut Exordium and the new Evermore: The Art of Duality. But in any case, MCs AK and Issa Gold pair that with hard-bitten and increasingly personal lyrics—in fact, the demanding thing about Evermore is the two rappers’ earnest introspection, not their love of trippy soundscapes. Standout tracks like “Shine All Gold” and “Take Your Place” find them meditating on depression, self-doubt, and drugs with an immediacy that balances out the contemplative production.
Tulin Waters has been running shows that blend comedy and music around Madison for a while now, notably at the sadly lost Inferno. Walters’ events have always been a wonderful balance of fun for the audience as well as a comfortable place for the comics and musicians to get loose and comfortable on stage and try things out. In recent years Tulin’s been targeting the specific field of female comedians in Madison for shows, since the usual showcases can tend towards being male-centric. This showcase at The Frequency will begin with a short open-mic period, then head into its main lineup, comedians Gretchen Olson, Clare Dickerson, and Carson Leet, and music from Dana Perry, Aarushi Fire, and Madison Malone.
Between Lil Bub and Grumpy Cat, famous cats have come a long way from the silly, if profoundly ineffective, “Hang In There!” poster that was hanging on the back of your middle school guidance counselor’s door. Will you see see either of the rock-star cats mentioned above in this show? Sadly, no. What you WILL see though, is a trained coterie (CATerie?) of felines that have been trained(!) to do a ton of ridiculous things, including (but not limited to) skateboarding, rolling on balls, walking on balance beams, and even play rock ‘n; roll music in a band of some kind. It sounds like a flea circus, but with cats, but it’s no carnie trick and in fact all the cats are rescues, and the whole thing functions as a means of getting the word out about local shelters that could use help finding homes for wayward kitties. So, basically another way for cat lovers to feel good about amusing themselves by mildly tormenting these wonderful creatures.
At this event hosted by the UW-Alumni Association, Ian Carroll (aka producer *hitmayng and a founder of the Madison-based electronic/hip-hop label Catch Wreck) will moderate a panel discussion featuring two UW-Madison alums who used to be roommates before graduating in 2003: Fashion designer, DJ and Kanye West’s creative director Virgil Abloh, and New York City restaurateur and former Cafe Montmarte bartender Gabriel Stulman. The talk will focus primarily on entrepreneurship, and there will also be time for an audience Q&A.
Italian director Dario Argento released his film Phenomena in 1985, and shortly afterward it was repackaged and somewhat hacked-up for American distribution under the title Creepers. The film stars Jennifer Connelly as a teenage girl who discovers that she has a special ability to communicate with insects, who in this case are leading her onto the trail of a vicious serial killer. Like other Argento films (Suspiria, Profondo Rosso), Phenomena/Creepers has a pretty awesome soundtrack courtesy of Italian psych-prog legends Goblin, plus tracks from Iron Maiden and Motörhead.
FRIDAY OCTOBER 16
They haven’t played much in the last couple of years, but there was a stretch there not long ago when Madison- and Chicago-based Talking Heads cover band Houses In Motion was something of a dance-party institution in town. At times the band sold out the High Noon with its entirely gimmick-free and music-focused shows, usually dedicating the first set to the Talking Heads’ early material and then bringing up additional percussionists and vocalists for a second set focusing on the later stuff. Don’t expect an homage to David Byrne’s big suit or whatever, but you can basically count on detailed, smartly executed, and deep-reaching Talking Heads covers played by musicians from bands including Czarbles, All Tiny Creatures, and Volcano Choir.
Continuing its exploration into the films of Cy Endfield, UW Cinematheque brings us the most seen of his works, 1964’s Zulu. The movie tells the true-life tale of a group of 150 British soldiers fighting off thousands of Zulu tribesmen during the Battle of Rorke's Drift, and it’s notable not only for its gorgeous cinematography (70mm Super Technirama!) but also for being Michael Caine’s first major film role. British film scholar Brian Neve will be on hand after the film to talk about the film and promote his new book, The Many Lives Of Cy Endfield, recently published by University of Wisconsin Press.
Berlin-based vocalist and performance artist Merrill Beth Nisker has been blasting out sex-positive and sassy dance-punk jams for the indie-elecro set as Peaches for the better part of 20 years. Sure, the novelty factor of goofy, party-ready sleaze-cuts boasting titles like “Tent In Your Pants,” “Diddle My Skittle,” and, of course, “Fuck The Pain Away” can be incredibly tough to take seriously on the surface level, but Peaches’ empowered and hyper-sexualized fever dreams have been uncompromisingly consistent in slashing up gender norms and subsequently shoving uninitiated listeners way outside of their comfort zones, Peaches’ latest album Rub, a collaboration with synth-punk stalwart and former XBXRX member Vice Cooler, delivers another raunchy batch of sharply-produced, synth-powered dance-pop tunes that skirt the lines between hip-hop, techno, and new wave. Anyone who’s followed Nisker’s work will have a tough time finding any surprises in the album’s bombastic, neo-house title-track or even the Kim Gordon-accompanied “Close Up,” but in a lot of ways that’s how it should be. Like Weird Al before her, she’s found the perfect balance between cleverly kitschy pop tunes that simultaneously borrow from and poke fun at the current trends in pop music and the social climate around them, and has cemented her place as a batshit performance artist—her shows are known for being incredibly physical, full-on productions with choreography and several costume changes.
Somewhere in the mid-aughts, it seemed like most of the kids who once cried themselves to sleep in their freshman dormitories listening to Bright Eyes’ emo-folk landmark Fevers And Mirrors became juniors, discovered the newer wave of orchestral, intellectualized indie-folk, and began tucking their Bright Eyes CDs away in dusty boxes in their parents’ basements with the rest of their adolescent favorites or flat-out sold them to a CD Warehouse or something to buy a case of shitty beer. It wasn’t long afterward that Conor Oberst himself tossed the Bright Eyes moniker into his own dirty storage locker, only to be removed once nostalgia peaks and big festival bookers make an offer he can’t refuse, and began releasing more refined folk-rock tunes under his own name (though it should be noted that Oberst hasn’t strayed too far from his past, as he reunited with his old post-hardcore band Desaparacidos for this year’s Payola full-length). On 2014’s Upside Down Mountain, Oberst’s latest solo outing, the shaky crooner keeps it personal, but continues to eschew much of the unabashed self-pity and raw melodrama that made Fevers And Mirrors both so alluring, but also so heinously awkward to listen to. The results are solid—sentimentally strummy downer “You Are Your Mother’s Child” and slide-guitar ballad “Lonely At The Top” still feel intimate, but the emotional delivery has been sharpened considerably. That said, it’s pretty tough to listen to slanted stomper “Hundreds Of Ways” (which somehow seems to borrow as much from “Graceland” as it does “Under The Sea”) and not imagine someone buying it with a Starbucks gift card.
Charlie Parr gets to the Madison area pretty often, and he last played the Stoughton Opera House just six months ago, but it bears noting that the Duluth singer/guitarist/banjoist’s live sets have yet to fail us in their rugged but warm interpretation of American folk and blues music. And it’s the “interpretation” part that he’s mostly known for—reaching deep into traditional songs and blues chestnuts from the first half of the 20th century—but his latest album, this year’s Stumpjumper, is comprised almost entirely of originals. Standouts like “Remember Me If I Forget,” “Empty Out Your Pockets,” and “On Marrying A Woman With An Uncontrollable Temper” finds Parr the songwriter in tune with Parr the performer, embodying the aching emotion and raw humor that Parr reliably brings to older source material.
We received the incredibly disappointing news last week that one of our favorite recurring dance nights will be closing down at the end of the month. Wyatt Agard and Tim “Lovecraft” Thompson’s House Of Love residency at The Cardinal Bar has almost cycled out and this week’s installment of strictly locals will be its second to last showing. The residency that has brought us legends like Derrick Carter, Iz, and Paul Johnson will mark its second-to-last installment with sets from a few of its Madison-based regulars: tech-house DJ Ryan Ashoka, eclectic selector Tre Ginjahvitiz, and residents Lovecraft and Agard.
SATURDAY OCTOBER 17
While St Louis-based experimentalist Eric Hall almost never releases a “proper album,” he has been recording and performing improvised electroacoustic collages for well over a decade. Field recordings, synth sequences, and sounds of the moment—captured with contact mics—are sculpted and chiseled through Hall’s self-built interface of music software, customized effects, and EQ detail. As of late, Hall’s live sets also feature projected visuals centered on live video manipulation of active close-up shots from a USB microscope, which also react to the sounds (in one recent set he had the microscope pointed at his beard, pretty bonkers). For more information on Eric Hall, check out the interview he did with us earlier this week and also his Bandcamp pageerichall.bandcamp.com, where he has dozens of his improvised live sets up for free. It’s also definitely worth noting that Chicagoan synth-powered psych outfit Werewheels, which boasts Plastic Crimewave Syndicate members Steve Krakow and Dawn Aquarius, will also be on board for this one. Rounding out the bill are two Madison solo projects: Tar Pet, the cello-and-vocals outlet of Spires That In The Sunset Rise member Taralie Peterson, and Stephen And His Echo, a brand-new outing from Control guitarist Stephen Baraboo,
The jazz trio The Bad Plus, including Menomonie native and fearsomely intellectual pianist Ethan Iverson, first made a name for themselves with albums that contained brilliantly skewed reimaginings—"covers" isn't an adequate description—of popular songs by the likes of Nirvana and ABBA, alongside pensive and oblique original material. This garnered the group a lot of publicity, not all of it good; some in the jazz world argued that the band's penchant for reinventing songs like Black Sabbath's "Iron Man" and Vangelis' theme for "Chariots Of Fire" was little more than an attention-grabbing novelty at best. Over time, their original material came to the fore, which was the right move to make. Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson and drummer Dave King are all extremely accomplished jazz composers (the prolific Anderson has written much of their material), and focusing on their own compositions spotlighted the group's engaging, cerebral and individual voice in ways that the popular songs never did. The group's latest album, The Bad Plus Joshua Redman, finds them partnering with Joshua Redman, one of the best jazz saxophonists alive, who will also be joining them for this show at the Union Theater. It's a true success: Redman's gorgeously lyrical playing injects an expressive warmth into the group's music that could sometimes be hard to hear on previous occasions, and his serious compositional chops are easily a match for the band's. What's more, The Bad Plus’ own writing and playing has never felt more sensitive or beautiful, or more locked-in as a unit. This is an unmissable meeting of the minds.
Milwaukee trio Nineteen Thirteen centers around the compositions of cellist Janet Schiff, who uses tasteful and restrained loops to bolster yearning melodies that evoke Eastern European music, classical music and a bit of jazz. The band’s full lineup is comprised of Schiff and two drummers, former Violent Femmes drummer Victor DeLorenzo and fellow Milwaukee drummer Nez. At this show, Schiff and DeLorenzo will play as a duo, and will be sharing some material from an in-the-works new album. Read our interview with DeLorenzo this week for more.
To Madison duo Tubal Cain, black metal means stripped-down, cavernous filth underpinned with doom-inspired riffs. Guitarist Alex Drake and drummer Kristine Drake (formerly of the solid local metal outfits The Antiprism and Sardonyx) share vocal duties, Alex with a gritty howl and Kristine with a formidable, paint-peeling screech. That vocal pairing helps to bring dimension to the duo’s minimal instrumentation, but so does the varied songwriting in the few demos Tubal Cain have laid down so far, ranging from the thrash-y chug of “Death Posture” to the swinging churn of “Apostasy.”
For anyone who looks at this, Francesco Bertolini’s debut, and thinks “Ugh, a movie from 1911? Pass...”, A) what a boring person you must be, and B) this was the first film to show full-frontal male nudity (a fact that UW Cinematheque’s write up leaves out, but us at Tone call “an angle”), so it’s historical smut, which you should never pass up, and C) it’s a grisly (by 1911 standards) retelling of Dante’s Divine Comedy, one of the best ever if you believe the sorts of folks who refer to themselves as ”film scholars.” so it’s perfect for this time of year when the nights are getting longer and the days shorter. It only runs a little over an hour, so the fine Cinematheque folks selected Stan Brakhage’s semi-short The Dante Quartet from 1987 as the opener for the evening, which should make for a perfect pairing.
SUNDAY OCTOBER 18
Brian De Palma gets passed over a lot more than he should when folks talk about the great New Hollywood directors. Sure, he’s got his fair share of majestically awful clunkers (Snake Eyes, Bonfire Of The Vanities), but his legacy is maybe more bogged down by the fact that he wore his genre-film influences on his sleeves. From the pitch-perfect horror opening of Blow Out to the masterfully choreographed Hitchcock-aping split-screen sequence in 1974’s Phantom Of The Paradise, he made films that were something between the lines of normal genres. Phantom, screening here in a 35mm print, is one of De Palma’s most thematically far-out, conflating the tales of Faust, The Phantom Of The Opera, and Dorian Gray, but De Palma also adds the oh-so-necessary dimension of glam rock. The whole thing is blessed by Paul Williams, who does double duty as villainous record producer Swan AND as the real-life composer of the film’s songs. It’s the kind of insane movie that only the coke-nosed ’70s could have produced with any sense of sincerity, but it’s a technical marvel of a film, to say nothing of how much legitimate fun it is to watch.
The whole “Hey, Garbage is from Madison!” narrative has been beaten to death and then some over the years, even though most of the band doesn’t live here now and has moved on to greater things like starting shit with Kanye and getting their own day in Houston, and even though members Steve Marker and Butch Vig’s work at the now-closed Smart Studios was a much greater contribution to culture in Madison and the Midwest (also, Fire Town holds up pretty well!). So let’s just put that aside for a moment and consider the charms of Garbage’s electro-slathered alt-rock, especially as it plays here behind a reissue of its self-titled 1995 debut album. Tracks like “Vow,” “Stupid Girl,” and “Queer” have a certain pungently ’90s time that might evoke a little something, especially if you listened to too much mainstream FM radio at an impressionable age. Plus the band’s 2012 show at the Duck Pond (behind their last new album, 2012’s Not Your Kind Of People) was fun, so, sure, there’s a place in our hearts for this stuff.
MONDAY OCTOBER 19
Chicago duo White Mystery meld scrappy, sassy garage-punk with heaps of blistering fuzz and rumbling toms—so, they’re not the only gratifying and overpowering rock band out there, but pretty good at being one. Here they’re in the mix with a solid batch of Wisconsin bands: the mostly now Milwaukee-based pop/psych wanderers The Midwest Beat, frantic Madison punk trio We Should Have Been DJs, and Madison’s souped-up, heart-on-sleeve R&B outfit Cowboy Winter.
Milwaukee's John Roberts is a visual effects artist whose budding directorial work falls easily and clearly along the imaginative and visually inventive lines of Neill Blomkamp or even the less computer-driven works of Michel Gondry. The collection of his shorts is shaping up to be one of the highlights of Madison film site LakeFrontRow’s series of Wisconsin-filmmaker-focused screenings at the Madison Public Library. Scheduled to screen are steampunky fairytale "The Wheel," the dreamily colorful "Lemon" (which debuted last month at the Milwaukee Film Festival), and the music video for Milwaukee band Kane Place Record Club’s song “Sunshine”, among others. Roberts will be on hand to present each of these, as well as answer questions about his wonderful little films.
Kansas City’s Wet Ones simultaneously charge toward blown-out, debased punk and an impressive variety of pop styles. It’s all just crammed in there in a fun and at times confounding jumble: “Tripping” shows the band’s way with a pleasantly jangling rhythm and even some bright vocal harmonies, and “Dirty Mattress” boasts a nice slashing riff and catchily howled punk chorus, but both are executed in a way that suggest Wet Ones would be almost as happy tearing it all down into a chaos of screams and grimy distortion. It’s as if the band simultaneously wants your approval and your hatred, and those conflicting impulses make for a respectable power-sander to the ears.
TUESDAY OCTOBER 20
We at Tone Madison are launching a new monthly-ish series of live podcast recordings featuring a variety of stories and discussions about culture in Madison. We’re starting things off with a panel of sorts on the cultural, social, and economic changes at work in downtown Madison, and to do that we’ve recruited four guests: activist and commentator Mike Martez Johnson, who has been writing a lot on Madison365 lately about social and racial marginalization in Madison; Capital Times arts writer Lindsay Christians; Madison-based food and drink writer André Darlington; and Tone Madison writer and cultural polymath Chris Lay. Tone Madison editor Scott Gordon will be moderating the discussion. Before and after the talk, join us for drinks and conversation (and an awesome playlist of Madison music that Scott needs to get together in the next few days, ulp). In the future we’ll be experimenting a bit more beyond the panel-discussion format, so come help us kick it off and look out for information on future Tone Clusters soon.
WEDNESDAY OCTOBER 21
French screenwriter, director, and actor Lucie Borleteau made her feature-directing debut with 2014’s Fidelio: Alice’s Odyssey. Ariane Labed stars as Alice, an engineer working in the extremely male-dominated environment of cargo ship at sea. The film has been praised for its complex handling of gender roles, both in Alice’s power struggles with her crewmates and in its examination of her sexuality, as she struggles with her loyalty to her fiance back home and her desire for the ship’s captain.