Madison calendar, October 4 through 10
The local premiere of “Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda,” heady improvisation from Kahil El’Zabar and David Murray, a hip-hop fundraiser at Art In, and more events of note in Madison this week. | By Ian Adcock, Scott Gordon, Reid Kurkerewicz, Chris Lay, Grant Phipps, and Henry Solo
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 OCTOBER 4
Blue Velvet seems a surprising choice for the wholesome Central Library. Director David Lynch laced this 1986 masterpiece with psychological terror and graphic sexual violence. But fortunately, the Madison Public Library's Cinesthesia series is undaunted by difficult subject matter. While many cinema fans already enjoy Blue Velvet, this is a rare chance to watch Lynch's attack on the American collective unconscious in a public setting.
The film's protagonist, Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan), is a college boy drawn home after his father’s stroke. Dressed like a 1950s Cure fan, Jeffrey plods through uncanny references to Hollywood's golden age. In an early landscape shot, an unkempt field with a rotting shed hints at humanity's perverse relationship to nature. As Jeffrey tosses stones at this symbol, bored with nostalgia, he finds a moldy, severed ear at his feet. This discovery awakens Jeffrey's need to understand an irrational crime. As the mystery begins, Lynch deploys noir tropes that are initially hilarious. Sandy Williams (Laura Dern) first appears from shadows with a backing orchestra, as if for the final romantic kiss. Violins swell as the camera rests on a "Lincoln Street" sign, which serves as a subtle civil war reference, not a mind-blowing plot revelation.
Postmodern playfulness turns serious when Jeffrey hides in suspect Dorothy Vallens' (Isabella Rossellini) closet, and witnesses a shocking sexual attack, committed by the terrifying kidnapper Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper). The town's criminal underworld and Jeffrey's own sexuality unravel through surreal scenes that would appear random if Lynch didn't signpost symbolically, with allusions to Freudian power dynamics bolstering the nightmarish quest. —Reid Kurkerewicz
FRIDAY OCTOBER 5
Ryley Walker has spent much of 2018 exploring a riskier, more personal musical palate. Walker has long been compared to world-weary 1970s folkies like Michael Chapman and Bert Jansch, with albums like 2015's Primrose Green casting him as a pastoral, Astral Weeks-ish singer-songwriter. However, as his recent collaboration with noise-rock band Running shows, there's more to Walker than his solo releases have let on. "I wanted to make something deep-fried and more me-sounding. I didn't want to be jammy acoustic guy anymore," Walker says in notes to his newest album, this year's Deafman Glance. Darker and less free-wheeling than previous albums, it's a raw, challenging record that veers toward progressive jazz-rock. The hazy flute-driven start of "Telluride Speed" gives way to cascading guitar passages before heading into a labyrinth of ever-changing driving riffs.
Walker has always had a knack for assembling bands of top-notch musicians, and his grueling tour schedule results in a very tight band. Live, they typically turn his songs into stretched-out long-form jams, but it will be interesting to see how they tackle Walker's new, more structured material. Hopefully the High Noon Saloon will be a more accommodating venue to the band's extended soloing and Walker's mumbly, Midwestern doofus stage banter; when Walker and band played the Frequency a couple years back, the venue awkwardly tried to cut their two-hour set short by turning the house lights and music on after the end of a song. Walker retorted with a deadpan "We've got one more," which of course ended up being a half-hour searing raga-rock freakout. —Ian Adcock
Watching Miao Wang's third feature-length documentary, Maineland (2017), conjures a certain nostalgia in the dual chronicle of its two international students, Stella and Harry, from mainland China (Guangzhou), who relocate to rural Maine to pursue greater social and scholastic opportunities. The gauzy, sun-streaked lens of cinematographer Sean Price Williams (of Alex Ross Perry's films) further instills innocent reminders of the political contest between Obama and Romney in 2012, when Wang's filming began.
What's so refreshingly engaging about Maineland, the first of two Cinematheque films premiering in Madison as part of the Asian-American Media Spotlight, is a matter of perspective. While the facts of the prologue are established by Fryeburg Academy Admissions Director Christopher Hibbard about the private school's financial viability and influx of Chinese student populations in the past decade, Wang's focus is predominantly on first-hand accounts of the immigrant experience, their evolving impressions of the United States, and definitions of "home." These sentiments are no doubt reflected in Wang's own status as a Beijing-born filmmaker currently working in New York.
In profiling Stella and Harry, Wang seeks a balance of personalities, with Stella's extroversion leading her to more social activities at Fryeburg like cheerleading, and the more pensive Harry seeking solace in musical performance. (Wang occasionally lets his solo piano rehearsals tenderly set the mood for montages.) Both students initially share an uncertainty about assimilating into American life and society due to cultural differences and the greater emphasis on individualism in the American education system. However, as the documentatary proves through interactions with their native English-speaking peers and instructors, Stella and Harry's contributions to classroom conversation are singular and valuable, rippling through the community in Western Maine near the Vermont border.
Wang traverses the most emotionally rich and psychologically complex territory in the film's latter half, as the students wrestle with the tethering expectations of family members. Even separated by thousands of miles, Stella, for example, feels obligated to honor her parents' practical advice about studying business (as her parents are business owners themselves), which distracts from her own idealistic desire to become an elementary art teacher. While sections of the film can sometimes feel scattered, it's clearly the intention to accurately mirror the mindsets of two teens torn between priorities. Even more broadly, Maineland's personal insights into immigration make for a most welcome addition to the plethora of documentaries on public and private education, like Waiting For "Superman" (2010), that have emerged this decade. —Grant Phipps
Madison trio Therapy Drones will play this show to mark the release of a new, self-titled album that explores a few shades of gloomy but catchy post-punk. Pseudonymous band members Primo G (guitar, vocals), Mike the Human (drums, vocals), and Educational Davis (bass, vocals) stick mostly to a sparse approach here, letting vocal reverb and clean-toned, heavily chorused guitars flesh out the space around the vocal melodies. Those melodies are strong enough to carry the glimmering dream-pop of "Breeze," the rumbling angst of "The Land Of The Living," and the New Order-evoking playfulness of "Gone."
The album wallows pretty contentedly in the shadows of some pretty clear influences—including The Cure, Human League, and Joy Division—but it captures plenty of the gothy romance those names would make you hope for. The songwriting craft is there, and so are signs that Therapy Drones can develop a distinctive voice on their own. "Carry Me Forth" kicks off with a grandiose synth intro and plunges into a deliciously sweet darkness, propelled on tense hi-hats and Davis' aching vocals. Plus there are a couple of left turns, namely the oddball surf-rock of "The Town, The Country, And The Vague Ocean" and the industrial-tinged screams of "Long Live The New Flesh." —Scott Gordon
Turkeyfest, presented by Madison musician Bobby Hussy's No Coast Records label (formerly known as Kind Turkey Records), has pretty consistently pulled together ambitious lineups of touring and local punk, garage-rock, and power-pop, sometimes with a dash of post-punk and electronic music. Past headliners have included Obnox, Nots, and Digital Leather, and some years it's expanded from its usual two nights to three. The ninth edition returns to the festival's original format, with a Friday night show at the Crystal Corner Bar ($8 cover) and a free Saturday night show at Mickey's. The biggest name this year is Saturday's headliner, frantic garage-pop artist Nobunny, who has at times recruited Madison's The Hussy to tour with him as opening act and backing band. Bobby Hussy and drummer Heather Sawyer will join him at the Mickey's show, in addition to playing in their trio The Hussy on Friday.
The most interesting twist this year, though, is the abundance of twangy and jangly rock 'n' roll in Friday's lineup. Minneapolis' Teenage Moods play radiant, catchy pop with just the right amount of swing and grit underneath its clean-toned guitars and sugary vocal melodies, as captured on the 2014 album Rosebuds. Head On Electric, from Milwaukee, has been together for more than a decade, and the band's music has swung between blasted-out grunge and scratchy, trippy country. On the 2011 album Sleep Slaughter Sheep, Head On Electric sometimes has it both ways at once, which works better than you'd think. And Madison band The Smells, playing a farewell set here, captured a charming jumble of punk, honky-tonk, and smart-assed slacker rock on the 2017 record Manure Spreader. —Scott Gordon
There's been a steep increase in the visibility of stand-up comedy specials ever since streaming services started churning them out at a rate of two a week, but it feels like there are fewer and fewer instant classic bits surfacing in that increasingly dense swath of content. A track from The Daily Show correspondent Roy Wood Jr.'s sophomore album, 2017's Father Figure, is an exception to the rule. His 7-minute chunk, titled "Black Patriotism?" rightfully earned not one but two separate write-ups on one culture website alone.
The bit, wherein Wood spends six minutes exploring NFL players' police-brutality protests through the lens of African-American pop music, is a potent example of Wood’s incredible ability to take the complex history (and present-day experience) of racism and make it not only palatable but also deeply resonant to a broad audience that is audibly busting its collective gut. And the rest of that album, as well as his 2013 Appleton-recorded debut Things I Think, I Think, lives up to whatever expectations you could possibly build up based on praise here.
Given the various events of the year since this one bit blew up, there's no telling what kinds of compelling perspectives Wood will expound upon during his performance this Friday at the Wisconsin Union Theater, but it's guaranteed to be a memorable show. Along for the ride will be Michael Kosta, also a Daily Show correspondent (and "ex-professional tennis player," his bio inexplicably notes) whose material might be a little less topical in comparison, but is no less the work of a comedy craftsman. —Chris Lay
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 6
August At Akiko's (2018), the first feature-length film from native Hawaiian writer-director-editor Christopher Makoto Yogi, is an enigmatic spiritual journey. Beneath the serene surface Eunsoo Cho and José Asunción's steady, glowing cinematography creates, and the religious rituals interwoven into the film's hushed narrative, a temporal, darkly rippling undercurrent haunts the memory of both character and landscape.
Screening at Cinematheque as part of the Asian-American Media Spotlight and the "Premiere Showcase" fall finale, the rather minimalist and tonally ambiguous August At Akiko's is a quite a daring inclusion in the schedule. The parceled details of its story tell one of Alex (lo-fi multi-instrumentalist Alex Zhang Hungtai, formerly known as Dirty Beaches, playing a version of himself), a travelling musician/tenor saxophonist in his mid-30s, who arrives in Nīnole on the island of Hawai'i, in search of his estranged grandparents. In observing the modernizing topography that has rendered certain parts of his birth place unrecognizable, he finds the Buddhist B&B overseen by the wise and nurturing Akiko (Akiko Masuda). She becomes a kind of adoptive grandmother and spiritual tour guide in Alex's quest for answers and soulful yearning for an ancestral connection.
When scenes aren't warmly illuminated in daylight and enveloped in the pacifying patter of rain and sounds of the island's regional insects and fauna, the film is more deeply attuned to Alex's unspoken grief, which he verbally hints at only in conversations with Akiko. Rather, these emotions are more distinctly expressed in Alex's sorrowful solo saxophone performances and vividly captured through Cho and Asunción's camerawork, which favors long shots to frame the individual in relation to the impressive but imposing natural world. In certain recurring moments of flashback, it even leans towards the intensity of David Lynch (evoking Hungtai's recent work with Lynch on season three of Twin Peaks) and Ben Rivers and Ben Russell's experimental ethnographic film/black metal odyssey A Spell To Ward Off The Darkness (2013). —Grant Phipps
Predominantly featuring Madison-based hip-hop artists, the monthly Hip-Hop Fundraiser series has becoming a refreshing addition to the city's glut of monthly events. This edition, benefitting the Free the 350 Bail Fund, The Progress Center For Black Women, and One City Schools, features 11 acts, but I want to focus here on two—KiloSkitL'z and Lil Guillotine—with harmonious sensibilities but completely different aesthetics.
Originally from Evanston, Illinois, KiloSkitL'z is a prolific performer around town. Her music pulls largely from Southern styles from the '90s and early '00s. Songs like her most recent cut, "New Religion," join together carefully erected and enunciated verses, production consisting of heavy vocal sampling, and messages of perseverance and self-empowerment. These components, combined with the track's plainspoken interludes and lines like "First they hate me, love me, hate me again / No amount of money you could pay me to pretend," recalls Jeezy when he was still Young Jeezy, but with an added emphasis on KiloSkitL'z identity as a queer black woman.
And then there’s Lil Guillotine. Instead of leaning into the thrash-rap that his name and descriptions like "agit-prop" and "anarchist" might connote, he instead leans into the rap of the Internet's weirder corners, a la Lil B and Viper. On the hook of one of his recent cuts "Fuck ICE," Lil Guillotine nonchalantly states over a jazzy beat, "Figgity fuck ICE, fuck ICE, fuck ICE, fuck ICE." But, though simplistic and perhaps sardonic, Lil Guillotine's verses also contain statements like, "We don't need no cops, that's a fable," and "Borders are violent, that's why we riotin'." It would be easy to write off Lil Guillotine's music as over-the-top satire, but I think that might overlook a clever stylistic choice. Given that memified styles like mumble rap prompt the listener to wade into the emcee’s muddied deliveries in order to uncover whatever lyrical absurdities lie underneath, Lil Guillotine instead surprises the listener with direct political statements and calls to action. Figgity fuck ICE indeed. —Henry Solo
Saxophonist David Murray emerged from the NYC free-jazz loft scene in the mid-1970s, standing out from the crowd with his knowledge of pre-Coltrane jazz traditions while still holding his own with his free-blowing contemporaries. While his playing is deeply influenced by older musicians such as Coleman Hawkins, he’s never been anything close to a traditionalist; Murray has worked with artists as diverse as Pharaoh Sanders, Saul Williams, Jack DeJohnette, Macy Gray and the Grateful Dead (his version of "Dark Star" is pretty amazing).
Massively prolific throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Murray’s solo work leans towards lively large ensemble compositions that provide plenty of room for group improvisation and Murray's own kaleidoscopic soloing. The 1987 version of his composition "Morning Song" (below) illustrates his ability to create music steeped in jazz history that's still avant-garde.
At Cafe Coda Murray will be performing with his longtime collaborator Kahil El'Zabar, a Chicago-based percussionist and AACM member whose group Ritual Trio has worked with Archie Shepp, Pharoah Sanders and members of the Art Ensemble of Chicago. —Ian Adcock
Editor’s note: This preview initially ran in 2017.
SUNDAY OCTOBER 7
In Rainer Werner Fassbinder's 1975 political drama Mother Küsters Goes To Heaven, Emma "Mother" Küsters (Brigitte Mira) cooks dinner for her quiet, lower-class family shortly before learning her husband, Hermann, has killed his boss and himself. Everyone interprets the tragedy differently, and the resulting frenzy finds Emma exploited on all sides. The right-wing media hounds the Küsters family, Hermann's factory refuses to support the widow, and her children simply move on. Emma's son and his wife (Irm Hermann) escape the fallout on vacation, while her estranged daughter (Ingrid Caven) bolsters a questionable singing career with the media's portrayal of her father as a bloodthirsty bully. An emotionally vulnerable Emma then falls in with a bourgeois communist couple (Karlheinz Bohm and Margit Carstensen), who at first provide much-needed sympathetic ears before using her story for clout in upcoming elections. Finally, it seems a young anarchist can clear the Küsters name with a good old sit-in, which leads to the violent, depressing German ending, told in title cards on a close-up of a horrified Emma, and the heart-warming, inspirational US-release ending, which would play as corny in a less flexible director's hands. Either way, Fassbinder successfully critiques the movement of information in a democratic society, as individuals and institutions react to and reframe an event they didn't see. —Reid Kurkerewicz
TUESDAY OCTOBER 9
In a show that we here at Tone Madison organized, St. Louis musician Eric Hall and Milwaukee project Apollo Vermouth will play separate sets of transportive electronic music that takes a wide view of the form's sonic possibilities. Hall tends to frequently vary his approach and setup, which can incorporate everything from texture-heavy synth explorations to live percussion. Most of Hall's 40-odd Bandcamp releases are live recordings, and as he explained to Tone Madison in a 2015 interview, that's no accident. Throw a dart at this vast trove and you're likely to find yourself pulled between masterfully sculpted ambient music, experimental sound art, and quite a few beautiful, drifting melodies.
Apollo Vermouth is the solo outlet of guitarist and producer Alisa Rodriguez, whose other work has included the Milwaukee projects Sundial Mottos and A Crushed Rose, plus some recent live collaboration with Madison's Julian Lynch. On Apollo Vermouth's 2017 album Crashing Into Nowhere, Rodriguez creates liquid currents of guitar, laced with gentle static and reverb but always sure of their melodic purpose. Tracks like "He Sees You, He Loves You," "Heavenly Warm Sun," and "Crashing Into Nowhere" have the immersive depth of ambient music and the tuneful momentum of hazy, half-evaporated pop. And in a live setting, Rodriguez needs only a guitar and a few pedals to transport an audience to that zone. Tickets are available online and at the door, and there is a discount for Tone Madison Sustainers.—Scott Gordon
WEDNESDAY OCTOBER 10
Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda is an intimate portrait of the composer as a relentlessly inquisitive explorer. While the 2017 documentary does feature some incredible archival footage, director Stephen Nomura Schible wisely chooses to focus mainly on Sakamoto in the present day. Coda follows the composer around his home and studio. After a period of inactivity while in treatment for cancer, Sakamoto is anxious to work again, and determined to make the most important music he can with whatever time he has left. The film opens with a haunting sequence as Sakamoto returns to Japan after a devastating tsunami, playing a battered piano that survived the disaster. Whether he's playing a storm-battered piano, watching Tartovsky films on his couch or rubbing a coffee cup on a cymbal, Sakamoto seems to be constantly composing and analyzing.
Coda also features some fascinating footage of Sakamoto showing his evolution as a composer. From his groundbreaking period in synth-pop supergroup Yellow Magic Orchestra to his soundtrack work, Sakamoto seems to have been constantly creating throughout the 1980s. Clips from his works from the 1990s and 2000s show his growing concerns with environmental issues and humanity's destructive nature, which lend depth to other scenes in the film of Sakamoto speaking at an anti-nuclear demonstration in Japan and visiting the North Pole to record sounds of water. Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda wisely eschews music documentary tropes. By letting Sakamoto speak for himself, the film is imparted with his intelligence and insight, resulting in a moving film on creativity and mortality. —Ian Adcock