The Wisconsin Book and Science Festivals, Nick Thune, Jex Thoth, Obnox, and more of the best stuff in Madison this week. | By Scott Gordon, Chris Lay, Ben Munson, Mike Noto, and Joel Shanahan
THURSDAY OCTOBER 22
Madison rapper Trapo is apparently only 17, but the songs he’s released so far, ahead of his forthcoming The Black Beverly Hills EP, showcase a grizzled and world-weary perspective, with the torments of alcoholism being one recurring theme. But it comes off as genuine, thanks to Trapo’s stylistic versatility and hungry delivery. On “Modelo,” he swerves between gravelly flows and slurry, warbly vocal melodies, and on “Kill The Robots,” he pulls off a hazily hook in between verses lamenting the pervasiveness of social media. Re8idence, headlining here, is a relatively new group made up of artists from UW-Madison’s First Wave program.
Highlights at this year’s Wisconsin Book Festival include a visit from well-loved progressive economist and former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, journalist Eileen Pollack discussing her book about the plight of women in science, The Only Woman In The Room, and a pretty intriguing array of fiction writers, including Matt Bell, Joelle Charbonneau, and Nickolas Butler. Other highlights include Leila Abdelrazaq sharing her graphic novel Baddawi and journalist Peter Annin discussing his book The Great Lakes Water Wars, but as you can already tell it’s a pretty diverse, unwieldy lineup, and we recommend browsing the schedule of free events for yourself.
The Wisconsin Science Festival is a statewide event but naturally centers on UW-Madison, with a schedule heavy on customary opportunities to visit campus labs and facilities ranging from greenhouses to flight simulators. Other highlights this year include the grand opening for the Madison Science Museum, science-focused author talks tying in with the Wisconsin Book Festival, a 1920s-themed installment of the music-meets-science series SoundWaves, and various booze-related events because Wisconsin. Nerd Nite Madison will also be hosting a special Science Fest edition on Saturday, which we at Tone Madison will be recording for the podcast series we produce in partnership with the Nerd Nite folks.
There’s a lot of variety packed into this 50-minute showcase of six contemporary animated shorts, from Barry Doupé’s odd yet gentle A Boy On A Dock Blowing His Nose (2004) to Leslie Baum and Frank Wells’ fractured collage work in Megillat Breakdown (2013). Somewhere in between is Sarina Nihei’s disorienting yet playful Love-Hate Relationship (2014). And this is exactly the kind of stuff Madison is usually a bit starved for outside of the Wisconsin Film Festival’s short-film programs, so do take advantage of what looks to be a really nicely assembled program from the student curators at Starlight Cinema.
There’s a line of thought within the world of standup comedy that guitar comedians are just one level above prop comics. Thankfully, that’s been changing in recent years with the rise of a number of legitimately wonderful music-centered comedy acts like Garfunkel & Oates and Reggie Watts. Granted, Nick Thune, who will be appearing at the Comedy Club on State five times this weekend starting on Thursday, is more of a comedian who also happens to hold and play a guitar while he unspools his collection of offbeat jokes, each of which is tightly stretched over a solid narrative skeleton. As with all musical comedy acts, there’s a certain amount of smartypants cutesyness to what Thune does, but it’s easy to get past all that with such well-crafted material and such a charming, warm-yet-aloof stage presence. The feature comedian for the weekend will be Mike Lebovitz (Chicago’s Comedians You Should Know) and the host will be Randy Humphrey.
This year’s Passing The Mic hip-hop arts festival, which also ties in with the Wisconsin Book Festival, marks the 10th anniversary of UW-Madison’s Office of Multicultural Arts Initiatives (OMAI), which hosts the unique First Wave program and other events including the annual Line Breaks Festival in the spring. As always, the schedule features a mix of OMAI-nurtured student artists and guest scholars and performers. Guests include Cuban hip-hop artist Telmary Diaz, Chicago spoken-word artist J. Ivy, historian Kyle Mays, and South Dakota rapper Frank Waln. Highlights include a Thursday panel on indigenous voices in hip hop (Mays’ work is informed by his combined African American and Saginaw Chippewa heritage, and Waln is Sicangu Lakota), a Friday performance by First Wave artists that focuses on multilingual approaches, and a Saturday showcase featuring Diaz, Waln, Ivy and young hip-hop artists from First Wave and from around the Midwest.
FRIDAY OCTOBER 23
After a solid, promising, and all too brief run that brought in Chicago House legends like Derrick Carter, Paul Johnson, Gene Farris, and Jesse Saunders, Madison-based DJs Wyatt Agard and Lovecraft will bring their House Of Love DJ residency at Cardinal Bar to an untimely close. Citing the incredible difficulty of trying to financially support a weekly that strived to bring in fresh national artists (or in the case of Luke Solomon, international), House Of Love fades out gracefully with a set from heady, deep, and disco-inspired house producer, remixer, international DJ, and overall Chicago institution Mazi Namvar of Audio Soul Project. Milwaukee house DJ Lance Matthew and House Of Love residents Agard and Lovecraft will round out the party. We’re gonna miss seeing this in our calendar every week and can only hope that Agard, Lovecraft, and the extremely promising party-throwers in the Foshizzle Family will carry the baton forward and keep taking risks to bring ground-breaking regional and national DJs to the community.
Turkeyfest, the annual rock-n-roll party hosted by The Hussy and Bobby Hussy’s Kind Turkey Records, expands to three nights this year, each one pretty stacked in terms of both touring and local acts. (See Saturday and Sunday’s listings below for previews of nights two and three.) The opening night features Austin band Xetas, who just released an album of cutting, noise-streaked punk in The Redeemer. Along with a lot of volatile immediacy, the album deftly works in a variety of styles, from the chugging goth-punk of “The Sentence” to the lurching, tempo-switching finale “The Deep.” In addition to Madison-based Turkeyfest regulars like garage-punk blasters Fire Retarded, the fest will feature debut sets from two new Madison bands, the first being Thursday’s performance by thrash outfit No Hoax, which includes members of Pyroklast, Tiny Daggers, and Poney.
Much like 2012’s The Act Of Killing, documentary filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer’s 2014 follow-up The Look Of Silence closes in on the Indonesian genocide of the 1960s, in which hundreds of thousands of accused political dissidents were gruesomely and mercilessly executed by death squads. The film follows the middle-aged optometrist brother (who chooses to maintain a level of anonymity for his and his family’s safety) of one of the brutally murdered victims, as he interviews and confronts several of the elderly killers, including a couple that had a role in his brother’s death. Oppenheimer drops a shower of anvils on the heads of his viewers with this one and without the strategically peppered moments of comic relief that come from charming interactions between the optometrist and his immediate family, this film would be all the more difficult to trudge through. That said, it’s a terrifying and eye-opening look at the twisted relationship between politics, religion, and genocide, and we couldn’t recommend it more highly.
Dubuque instrumental-rock quartet Young Indian give their songs snarkily ironic and reflexively amusing titles like "I'm Ready To Be Gay," "Thanks For Making Me Popular" and "Mom Sewed My Crass Patch On Wrong," which may be their way of not-so-subtly puncturing the refined, intricate technicality of their music. Like many instrumental-rock bands, Young Indian makes music that sounds extremely outlined: you get the feeling that their practices are devoted to constructing complete songs out of many separately written parts rather than improvised. Writing like this in an instrumental context can lead to a cheaply jerrybuilt feeling if it isn't done correctly, but the cohesion of each of the band's songs feels impressively natural, and makes sense as a completed whole. A band like this lives and dies on thoughtful interplay from every member, and Young Indian have clearly learned that lesson as well. While Ryan Werner and Patrick Gilligan's sweeping, reverberating guitars are the main sonic focus, the rhythm section of Micah Schreiber and Jon Stelken knows how to push and pull underneath—their initial entry on "$8 T-Shirts," from this year’s Hardcore EP, shows how easily and precisely they can increase the music's energy and drive. They play this show with, among others, local blackened atmospheric doom metal band Bereft, who were recently signed to Prosthetic Records.
The UW Cinematheque’s resuscitation of Cy Endfield, noir pioneer and blacklist victim, (coinciding with the publication of UW Press’ The Many Lives Of Cy Endfield by Brian Neve) is sadly coming to an end soon, and the double feature of his late-’50s films Jet Storm and Sea Fury is a fitting next to last opportunity to dig deeper into his work. The first of the two-fer, Jet Storm, is a taut thriller about a would-be bomber (Richard Attenborough, aka Jurassic Park’s John Hammond) seeking revenge against another passenger (George Rose) on a flight between London to New York. The second film, Sea Fury, about two tugboat captains (Stanley Baker and Victor McLaglen) fighting over a pretty lady (Luciana Paluzzi), a conflict that comes to a head right as a freighter carrying explosive cargo begins to sink. Will the plane blow up?! Can the tug-boat fellas save the sinking ship AND kiss the girl?! Sounds like a solid evening of edge-of-your-seat suspense!
Youngblood Brass Band formed in Madison in the late ’90s and plies a distinctive combination of rich, exuberant New Orleans-style jazz and hip-hop, with an attitude that swings between smart-assery and fiery earnestness. They’ll be playing this hometown show at the end of their most recent tour behind the 2013 album Pax Volumi.
Elias Bender Rønnenfelt, frontman for Danish punk outfit Iceage, shared a vision for Marching Church, his project featuring members of Lower, Puce Mary, and Choir of Young Believers. According to the press release announcing the band’s debut, This World Is Not Enough, Rønnenfelt imagined himself in a golden robe, seated in a comfy chair, and drinking as much champagne as can be poured for him, and leading a band. As it turns out, the music needed to accompany that image can sound something like mid-’70s David Bowie. “King Of Song” plays like a much more anguished take on “Young Americans” and “Every Child (Portrait Of Wellman Braud)” is a chugging slug of weirdo jazz freeform.
SATURDAY OCTOBER 24
[Update: We Are Hex have canceled their set at this show; the other artists on the bill will still be playing.] Cleveland musician Lamont Thomas showcases a simply dizzying versatility and work ethic in his project Obnox. When he last played Madison in March, he had one album out for 2015, Boogalou Reed, and has since followed that with two more new full-lengths, Know America and Wiglet. Thing is, Thomas manages to be prolific and constantly enrich a chaotic stew of styles that encompasses blistering punk, R&B, hip-hop, and woozy, blasted-out experimentation. From Wiglet’s sludgy spoken-word shuffle “Jailhouse Blues” to Know America’s mountainous psych-pop standout “Menocause” to Boogalou Reed’s bizarro hip-hop lurcher “Watching You,” Thomas’ insane productivity yields consistently fascinating results. Just as important on this Turkeyfest bill is Indiana punk outfit We Are Hex, who play fierce live sets behind lead singer Jill Weiss’ tormented magnetism.
[Update: Darren Keen has canceled his set at this show; the other artists on the bill will still be playing.] Lincoln, Nebraska native Darren Keen performed for years in a bonkers electro-pop act called The Show Is The Rainbow, but lately he’s been mutating into a more beat-oriented and sonically focused (if still pointedly bonkers) producer. Keen’s latest release under his own name, this year’s album He’s Not Real, throws a lot of warpy vocal samples at you, but under that Keen layers and picking apart drum patterns in a determined, engrossing exploration of an intricate array of dance-music styles. If Keen means to craft engaging beats while also keeping people just a bit off-balance, he succeeds on the smeary, staggering funk of “Any Name” and crazed pummelers like “We Get Stupid” and “Everybody Funk.” Keen plays here on a rare Madison excursion from Milwaukee electronic and experimental curators MELT. The show also features Madison producer Chants—look out soon for a track premier here on Tone Madison from Chants’ new album We Are All Underwater—plus Milwaukee outfit The Demix, Madison DJ Wyatt Agard, and Milwaukee’s DJ Anonymous.
The Whoa Show, debuting here, is the latest in Madison’s booming collection of showcase comedy shows. The folks who put it together, Anthony Siraguse and Matt Jordan, bill it as a “variety show” but for right now it seems like it’s mainly a place for local comics to polish established material. The comics scheduled so far are Ian Erickson and David Fisher, the latter being veteran of the stand-up scene and won the Madison's Funniest Comic competition in 2013 with his archly demented, deadpan material. We assume that, along with sets from the two organizers, there will be other surprises in store for the fine folks who show up to the Broom Street Theater.
Buster Keaton is a genius of the silver screen, to be sure, and a screening of pretty much any of his films with the assist of a live organist (and some vaudeville-style opening acts) as part of the Capitol Theater’s Duck Soup Cinema would be a treat. This latest installment of Duck Soup goes a step farther than the more commonly screened films of Keaton’s career, opting for the slightly lesser known 1925 film Seven Chances. It hinges on the somewhat one-dimensional plot device of a man discovering that he will inherit a fortune if he marries by 7 p.m. that day, but it’s the endless amount of visual gags that Keaton pulls from that silly foundation, including arguably one of the greatest chase sequences ever shot.
SUNDAY OCTOBER 25
An undeniably crucial influence on the massive swath of of post-metal bands that have crept from the woodwork over the past decade, Chicago’s Pelican swing through on the heels of two releases. Last year’s Arktika, a solid live album recorded in St Petersburg, Russia, stomps across the band’s back catalog for a collection of worn-in instrumentals that shift between sludgy, blown-out riffs, spacey guitar harmonies, and twisting progressions. This year’s The Cliff EP, which offered a couple new tunes, including the title-track, was notable for its more formulaic delivery and including the grunge-y vocal work of The Life And Times’ Allen Epley. The tune was joined by a couple of remixes of “The Cliff,” and zone-out closer “The Wait.” The good news is that those that continually whine about Pelican’s iffy drummer should theoretically find balance in the two batshit drummers that will open the show—Shane Hochstetler maniacally mans the kit for Madisonian sludge destroyers Zebras and percussionist voyager and experimentalist Jon Mueller is known well for his brain-warping, disciplined drum explorations in bands like Collections Of Colonies Of Bees and Volcano Choir, but also his lengthy and rewardingly exhausting solo performances.
Don’t worry, closing night at this year’s installment of Turkeyfest is every bit as bonkers as the nights preceding it. Nasty Chicagoan mainstays Running cut prime slices out of the ’80s skate-punk and noise-rock playbooks and then toss them into a greasy frying pan until they charr. On last year’s Frizzled 7” (which dropped on Ty Segall’s God? imprint), the trio continues down their engagingly bleak and focused path of sonic nihilism—warped, reverberated shouting, battered rhythms, and simple, fuzzy, and sinister guitar riffs. Touring behind this year’s Gale Maze full-length, San Francisco’s Male Gaze will offer their own heady brand of tightly knight, melodic post-punk. While we’re obviously stoked for the touring acts, we’re probably most excited about the live debut of Grave Texture, a new Madison-based project featuring psychedelic synth-wrangler and songwriter Beau Devereaux of Samantha Glass and Izzi Plunkett, also of death-meal trio Ossuary and formerly of prog-metal Sardonyx, and all too short-lived death-metal duo Savage Death. Expect a bruising, moody, and spaced-out cocktail of pulsing drum machines, live electronics, synth work, heavy guitar, and ominous, processed vocals. Madisonian garage-punk outfit Dumb Vision (which features members of Coordinated Suicides, Fire Retarded, and more) will round out the bill.
Being afraid of science exceeding the bounds of morality, it turns out, is a timeless fear. Based on H.G. Wells’ oft-adapted novel The Island of Doctor Moreau, Erle C. Kenton’s 1933 film Island Of Lost Souls tells the horrible tale of a mad scientist, the novel’s titular Dr. Moreau (played by Charles Laughton), who has created and presides over a collection of beastly animal mashups. The UW Cinematheque’s 35mm Forever series brings Madison this nightmarish pre-code gem just in time for Halloween.
We already chatted up How The Sky WiIl Melt in our recent preview of this fall’s Micro-Wave Cinema Series, and, we have to say, if you’re the kind of person who bemoans the amount of “hipster” content we cover, then you might wanna steer clear of this one. Matthew Wade’s recently released debut feature, a blend of sci-fi grindhouse and 8mm David Lynch sleaze, might drag a bit in the middle, but the steadily churning soundtrack (also by Wade, who apes John Carpenter in more than just dual director/composer credits) and colorful visuals, from a chunkily strange view-master device to alien cake-ingredients, make it a pretty worthwhile watch, all said and done. Wade will give a post-screening Q&A via Skype.
Parents and people high on drugs might tell you that the catchiest thing Of Montreal has done in a long time is “Bananas, Rice, Applesauce, Toast” on Yo Gabba Gabba. But the long-running Athens, Georgia band has been remarkably consistent, even well past its peak with Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? in 2007, and even as a reunited Neutral Milk Hotel further marginalized the rest of the Elephant 6 collective. While that consistency has resulted in the staying power to put out 13 (!) full-lengths, it’s built on tracklists that toss countless genre signifiers into a paisley knapsack, climb the nearest volcano, and throw them all in as offerings to the gods. On 2015’s Aureate Gloom, head Montrealer Kevin Barnes spells out this ideology on “Bassem Sabry,” a hand-clapping funk number that slides in on a psychedelic doom riff: “I’ve never followed no kind of master’s voice / the mutinous tramp of cult voltage crucifixion is my conduit.” Across the rest of the album, Of Montreal cribs from ’70s New York punk and art rock but nearly no song completes without at least one unexpected turn of events. It’s a theatrical approach that serves the band’s stage show well, which applies Barnes’ dream logic to concoct a weird cast of characters—Abraham Lincoln in a Spiderman costume was reported at a show in Philadelphia earlier this year.
MONDAY OCTOBER 26
Sadly missing from The AV Club’s list of one-and-done directors is Gerald Kargl’s 1983 psychological horror film Angst. Erwin Leder stars as a man who, upon being released from prison four years after murdering an elderly woman, quickly begins preying upon a family living in a secluded house. If you’re the sort of twisted weirdo who got excited when Criterion put out Man Bites Dog or felt all the complicated feels when Haneke decided to remake his own Funny Games a few years back, then this incredibly stylish (lensed by Academy Award winning-music video pioneer Zbigniew Rybczyński) and criminally underseen take on home invasion is a film worth discovering this Halloween.
TUESDAY OCTOBER 27
Shannon And The Clams' infectious, early-'60s-inflected garage pop has been a mainstay of the current underground garage scene ever since their 2009 debut album, I Wanna Go Home. It’s hard to stand out in the garage-pop world these days, but Shannon And The Clams have a notable flair for writing catchy, knowingly campy hooks (see the brilliant chorus of their anthem "Hunk Hunt," among many others), bassist Shannon Shaw is a wonderful singer who can cover all points between a paint-peeling, strutting belt and a velvety, emotional alto with aplomb, and their shows are known for an incredible level of energy and dynamism. Add to that a stylistic and visual aesthetic that's often reminiscent of the more innocent John Waters films (cf. the original Hairspray), and it's easy to see why the band is often so overwhelmingly fun onstage and on record. They’ll play here behind this year’s album Gone By The Dawn. At this show, they'll be joined by the reuniting Appleton band Orange Iguanas, whose last release was 2013’s upbeat, surfy, sometimes bitter Catch The Beat.
WEDNESDAY OCTOBER 28
Despite the fact that Madisonian doom-crooner Jex Thoth and her backing band have been putting out records and touring internationally for the last several years, this show will mark their first-ever local performance, and yeah that’s a little weird. However, do not let that deter you from attending this show. Also, we probably shouldn’t be so hasty to slap the lazy “doom-metal” tag on them either, as Thoth’s powerful, razor-focused songwriting and illuminating voice deserve much better. The band’s latest record, 2013’s Blood Moon Rise, offers a stunning and dynamic crop of tunes that blur the lines between ’70s biker rock, stoner metal, and progressive psych dirges. Minimal, heady, and organ-laced opener “To Bury” plays out like a ritual initiation as it bleeds right into the infectiously concise, standing fuzz-rock groove of “The Places You Walk,” only to pull the album back down to an ominous crawl with “The Divide.” “Keep Your Weeds,” a felt and buzzing psych-rock ballad that creeps up out of nowhere in the album’s second half, is another gorgeous surprise and serious album highlight. As Thoth anchors the hazier, more mysterious vibe for the night, they’ll still be well matched with headliners Yob. The Eugene, Oregon-based post-metal outfit are still touring behind 2014’s Clearing The Path To Ascend, the band’s slow-burning debut for Neurosis’ Neurot Records.
The Assassin is acclaimed Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien’s martial-arts film, more specifically a fantasy-tinged Chinese subgenre known as wuxia. Set in ninth-century China, the film stars Shu Qi as a young woman raised to carry out political assassinations. The film’s main storyline is set into motion when Qi is ordered to go back to her hometown and kill a prominent military leader who also happens to be her cousin. The Assassin gets its Madison premiere here as part of MMOCA’s Spotlight Cinema series.