Low, Kool Keith, Madison World Music Festival, Willy Street Fair and more of the best stuff in Madison this week. | By Scott Gordon, Chris Lay, and Joel Shanahan
THURSDAY SEPTEMBER 17
This past Saturday a woman was brutally raped and left for dead along Madison’s east-side bike path. At this event, community members will march along the path from Mickey’s Tavern to its intersection with Livingston Street, in solidarity with the victim. Everyone deserves to feel safe on the bike path and in all public spaces, but it’s another instance in which women particularly are threatened and in this case subject to heinous sexual violence. That is an outrage, and it’s heartening to see Madisonians gathering to take a stand against it.
You wouldn’t necessarily call Sean Patton a comedians’ comedian, since he’s literally is one of the funniest guys out there these days, but he definitely plays by his own rules, eschewing the usual premise-setup-punchline joke structure in favor of longer stories, carried along by his confident and arresting delivery, that have massive payoffs at the end. Sometimes absurd and occasionally crude, Patton released his debut stand-up album, Standard Operating Procedure, in 2012, and recently taped a shorter set on Comedy Central’s The Meltdown.
As a solo artist, Monotonix guitarist Yonatan Gat plays in a stripped-down instrumental trio format and sprawls out into more tuneful and rhythmically complex material. On this year’s album Director and the new Physical Copy EP, Gat’s guitar combines brightfully chirruping, reverb-smacked melodies with a volatile undercurrent, at times recalling the worldly dissonance of bands like Ponytail and Abe Vigoda. Drummer Gal Lazer and bassist Sergio Sayeg have enough finesse to help carry Gat’s ideas across disparate influences that span from punk to Latin jazz, but also bring out his raw ferocity. Opening up here are Madison duo Lover’s Spit and local garage-punk outfit The Minotaurs.
UW Cinematheque has gotten a lot more aggressive the past few years about bringing in newer independent films that might not otherwise play in Madison (shout out to Sundance Cinema’s “don't hold your breath” programming), and this season’s Premiere Showcase begins with Bob Byington’s new comedy 7 Chinese Brothers. It star Jason Schwartzman as a likeable drunken fuck-up named Larry, Jason Schwartzman’s dog Arrow as Larry’s dog, TV On The Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe (who has many credits as a filmmaker and actor, including his role in Jonathan Demme’s 2008 film Rachel Getting Married) as Larry’s somewhat-more-together friend Major, and Olympia Dukakis as Larry’s grandmother. Larry talks to his dog a lot and makes mixed efforts at pulling himself together, and early reviews suggest how you feel about this film will depend on how much you like Jason Schwartzman and how much you’re into the quirky-misanthrope-outcast strain of comedies.
FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 18
The casual shorthand about Low is that they’re a slow, quiet, delicate band, but that completely belies the sonic and emotional multitudes this long-established Duluth, Minnesota band contains, and the variety in the records they’ve put out over the past 21 years. The live setting especially brings out the deftly controlled volatility behind drummer Mimi Parker and guitarist Alan Sparhawk’s gorgeous vocal melodies: You might get an extended drone-out version of “Do You Know How To Waltz?” from 1996’s The Curtain Hits The Cast, or a ruggedly distorted take on “Clarence White” from 2013s The Invisible Way. While The Invisible Way was a warm and largely acoustic effort, the band’s new album, Ones And Sixes, released last week, bears a bit more eerie electronic scarring—you might call it the spiritual cousin of 2007’s rather bleak Drums And Guns. It’s also the first Low studio album that, to our ears, does enough to highlight the combustive precision of current bassist Steve Garrington (another feature that becomes far more prominent in the live setting).
The Strollin’ series, which populates Madison neighborhoods with free performance by Wisconsin jazz artists, finishes up its second year with, well, not necessarily a neighborhood, but the busy Hilldale shopping center. But it’s the same basic spirit of eclectic bookings and embracing the character of the different spaces involved. The student stage, at Metcalfe’s grocery store, will feature UW-Madison’s Contemporary Jazz Ensemble (comprised of students and directed by Johannes Wallmann), while an outdoor stage will feature Madison stalwart Tony Castañeda’s Latin Jazz Sextet and the New Orleans-style Kid Jordan’s Second Line band (featuring Jordan Cohen of Chance). The far swankier Sushi Muramoto will host saxophonist Bob Kerwin and guitarist Dan Flynn in a duo performance and Madison swing outfit The Stellanovas. Things will close out on a more raucous note at the Hilldale Great Dane, with sets from the Latin-jazz band Madison Choro Ensemble and funk band The Big Payback.
Closing out this year’s Live On King Street series is Virginia Beach-based contemporary blues-rock crooner and songwriter Benjamin Booker. While Booker’s moderate garage-pop tunes make him a reliably safe choice for the series (granted, it probably should be), the fervent urgency of his self-titled 2014 debut also makes this an absolutely worthwhile (and free) show. The sonic framework from which Booker operates is a particularly tough one to find your own voice within, which makes all of the clever riffing of “Violent Shiver,” the brave dynamic shift of “Spoon Out My Eyeballs,” and the wandering progression of “Happy Homes” all the more rewarding. Booker’s brightest moments arrive when he hits the brakes and shifts into spacious balladry, his raspy croon eschewing Starbucks melodrama, for a far more soulful and contemplative tone in tunes like “I Thought I Heard You Screamin’” and the waltzing “Slow Coming.” As an aside, it’ll be interesting to see how Madison’s own relentless dirt-rock outfit The Hussy translate in this environment, too.
Well, the end of UW Cinematheque’s wonderful Orson Welles tunnel is finally (and sadly) in sight with this, the penultimate film of a year-long examination of the Kenosha-born giant from a myriad of angles. Were there blind spots? Sure, but good lord they hit just as many hard-to-find cinematic highlights (Othello, Mr. Arkadin, The Magnificent Ambersons) and oddball semi-forgotten mid-lights where Welles played smaller yet memorable roles like the 1969 comedy adventure The Southern Star, based on Jules Verne’s The Vanished Diamond, which screens this Friday in a 35mm print. Pay extra attention to the opening scenes since they were actually directed, though uncredited, by Welles and not Sidney Hayers.
As usual, this year the free Madison World Music Festival is split between the Wisconsin Union Theater and the Willy Street Fair, but it’s especially worth getting over to the Union Theater half on Friday. That starts off at 5 p.m. with Niger band Tal National, who bring across bright, expansive guitar work with raucous grooves (and who had to cancel their last planned Madison show due to visa issues, so don’t miss the chance for a make-up here). It gets more meditative for the next couple of sets: Zedashe is a somber and vocal-centered group from the small Georgian city of Sighnaghi, and South Korean duo 숨[suːm] use a 25-string zither called the gayageum and an array of wind instruments to create gorgeously tense, ethereal and at times jarring instrumental landscapes. Algerian band Fanfarai are scheduled (visa issues pending, fingers crossed) to close out Friday with their careening melodies and frantic rhythms. Fanfarai also are slated to start things off on Saturday at the festival’s Willy Street Fair stage, followed by Cuban band Pellejo Seco and Ethiopian-Israeli singer Ester Rada.
This week marks another return to the Cardinal Bar’s House Of Love series for much-lauded Chicago house institution Gene Farris, whose decades-long career has left him beloved as a DJ, producer, and leader of longtime house label Farris Wheel. Expect to see Farris dominating the decks and educating his audience, as he sends the crowd gliding through a thumping history lesson, traversing the genre’s sweetest, deepest, and nastiest gems past to present.
SATURDAY SEPTEMBER 19
Organized by the same team that delivers the incredible Musique Electronique stage at La Fete De Marquette, the Willy Street Beats stage at the Willy Street Fair, while still pretty great (last year’s brought DJ Nature and DJ Heather), is like M.E.’s baby cousin. This year’s installment slaps a bit more emphasis on locals, with Foundation, Foshizzle Family, and Chicago transplant and Orchard Lounge DJ Ben Silver manning the decks, and Madison’s bizarro R’n’B staple and synth tweaker Mister Jackson playing a live set. Bogota, Colombia-based future-beat duo Mitu will headline, jamming the seamless blend of of slanted, cumbia-tinged rhythms and hypnotic techno that populates this year’s stellar Siempre EP.
SUNDAY SEPTEMBER 20
Sunday at the Willy Street Fair brings the return of the WORT-sponsored Underground Stage, where the highlights include 10-piece Madison hip-hop outfit Fringe Character (2:20 p.m.), multi-faceted post-punk band Vanishing Kids (4:40 p.m.), one-man surf-punk machine Roboman (5:30 p.m.) and finally the wonderfully fierce and fun Minneapolis psych-punks The Blind Shake (5:50 p.m.). Vanishing Kids’ recent live sets have featured a lot of full-on gloomy goth ballads as they work on new material to follow up 2013’s album Spirit Visions. The Blind Shake have been on a great streak the last couple of years, getting some much-deserved renown outside of the Midwest and tirelessly putting out new records, including the new album Fly Right and a surf-rock collaboration with John Reis.
It’s been a pretty great year for Josh Tillman aka Father John Misty. Sure, the deluxe edition of his sophomore album I Love You, Honeybear had to be (humorously) recalled due to the fact that the ornate packaging sadly damaged the colored vinyl contained therein, but once you got that thing onto a record player it ended up having a great deal of lasting charm, building on Tillman’s emotionally raw and goofily sincere folksy pop.. "Bored in the USA," arguably one of the best songs on the album, exemplifies Tillman’s profoundly dry wit, and a performance earlier this year on David Letterman (embedded below) highlighted his ability to push the boundaries of the surreal.
We don’t know about you guys, but if you’re anything like us, you’re probably tired of having your inheritance slip out of your hands unless you marry someone (anyone!) in less than a day. And then, once you settle on someone (a gypsy beggar, say), you ACTUALLY fall in love with someone else? Oh man, the only way it could get worse is if the person you fell in love with doesn’t love YOU, but in fact loves the main crush of the gypsy beggar you’re to marry later that day in order to keep the inheritance that started this whole silly thing off in the first place... Sure, to our 2015 ears the plot of Erik Charell’s musical melodrama Caravan might sound like a season of Bachelor In Paradise (OMG Jade and Tanner!), but for the folks in 1934 this was highbrow entertainment. Starring Charles Boyer (The Earrings of Madame de…) and Loretta Young (The Bishop’s Wife), Caravan, which has not been screened widely practically since its original release, will possibly find a new life through the brand new 35mm print from the Museum of Modern Art that will be screening Sunday at The Chazen Museum as part of their 35mm Forever series. For more of a deep dive on Caravan, including a nifty short video essay, check out this great preview from the folks at Madison Film Forum.
MONDAY SEPTEMBER 21
There are few documentarians who are as acclaimed as Les Blank. Just last year more than 20 of his films were masterfully collected on a 5-disc set from Criterion, but one that was left off of that set was A Poem Is A Naked Person, Blank’s study of singer-songwriter Leon Russell in Russell’s Oklahoma studio from 1972-1974 which, after a very short theatrical release, pretty much disappeared. This is the kind of free-associative music documentary the likes of which haven’t been seen since Robert Frank’s bummer of an abstracted deep dive into the banality of ’70s rock and roll excesses, Cocksucker Blues. Like Blues, the result in A Poem Is A Naked Person didn’t sit too well with its subject, and Russell’s disapproval resulted in its disappearance as well as a legendary status among music documentary nerds. But unlike Blues, Blank, in his typical fashion, opts to focus his lens on things that are delightful and invigorating. It’s a real treat to get a screening of this long-lost gem, so take advantage of it.
Following in the fascinating footsteps of this past June’s “What comes after farm to table?” and July’s “What Scott Walker's presidential campaign means for Wisconsin,” the latest Cap Times Talk, “Secrets of Sports Marketing in Madison,” could well be the most interesting installment yet in CT’s new series of panel discussions. It might initially come off as an oddball topic to dig into from the more culture- and politics-focused Cap Times, but in the past year they’ve been doing a lot to carve out a deeper niche covering Madison’s burgeoning business sector, and this seems like a really inspired angle to take on the topic of local (and... MIlwaukee) sports, covering all the bases(!) from the more obvious (Madison Mallards, UW Athletics, Milwaukee Bucks), to the less obvious curveballs(!) (Mad Rollin Dolls, Madison Radicals, Lumberjackery). It all adds up to what we expect will be an entertaining and enlightening conversation that will only be missing its own bobble-head door-buster giveaway to commemorate the event.
Maybe we’re just getting old, but we’re a few singles into the promotional cycle of Wavves’ fifth long-player, V and, now that frontman Nathan Williams has left behind the lo-fi stench that admittedly made his first couple albums somewhat charming and urgent, it’s pretty tough to see a major difference between these three heavily produced pop-punk rockers and the Good Charlotte singles that dominated the airwaves in the early aughts or that one Blink 182 album where they went all serious and Nightmare Before Christmas-like. However, where the latter two bands at least tried to feign some semblance of emotional depth, Williams seems content to rest in his spoiled slacker-punk vibe of “Whatever, I’m bored. Look how easy this is for me! I don’t care.” What we’re saying is that this approach was way more believable when he was recording to a four-track or Garageband or something, but it seems particularly lame and disingenuous atop such slick production this time around.
TUESDAY SEPTEMBER 22
Midwest Beat leader Matt Joyce is starting up a new Tuesday-night solo-acoustic series at Mickey’s. It launched in August with Claire Nelson-Lifson of Proud Parents and continues with the other singer-guitarist of that band, Tyler Fassnacht. In addition to making sweet, ramshackle power-pop in Proud Parents, Fassnacht is the raging screamer at the front of Madison punk outfit Fire Retarded, so it’ll be interesting to see what he pulls out in this setting. Joyce will also be playing a set. If Joyce’s goal here is to get some of Madison’s budding rock songwriters out of their comfort zone and into a more stripped-down setting, then we’re all for it and hope this series becomes a regular thing.
WEDNESDAY SEPTEMBER 23
While we fully acknowledge that Kool Keith’s (née Keith Thornton’s) output has been pretty spotty over the years, we also acknowledge that the Bronx emcee’s brand of inconsistency is merely a symptom of his drive to constantly experiment and challenge himself. Not even a painfully uneven double-LP like 2014’s Demolition Crash could begin to erase the influence he’s had on everyone from Outkast to Danny Brown to the old Anticon crew. He’s the untamed master of twisting shards of street rap into surrealistic, sexed-up, sci-fi sleaze. Between his formative work with the Ultramagnetic MCs in the late ’80s and early ’90s, his warped, seminal solo debut Dr. Octagonecologyst, his collaborations with everyone from Tim Dog to The Prodigy to Dan The Automator to Kutmasta Kurt, and his bizarre fleet of distinct monikers, he has always dressed against the climate. Sure, we’re hoping for a barrage of twisted classics, but Thornton has been talking about retiring in the past few years, so we’ll take whatever he wants to give us.
While we’re still waiting for Houston, thrashcore legends DRI to deliver a new EP they’ve been working on, we’re fine with being patient. The absence of new material only makes more room in the set for the punishing, frantic classics from 1983’s game-changing Dirty Rotten LP, the hardcore landmark featuring unrelenting brainshakers like “Violent Pacification” and “Sad To Be” that lured us in in the first place. DRI’s battering, stripped down, and innovative patchwork of hardcore, skate punk, and metal can be heard loud and clear in everything from Darkthrone to Slayer to Metallica, not to mention all those ’90s tough-guy hardcore bands from the old Victory Records roster. Madison band Zebras, who just dropped a flaming sledgehammer in freshly-released full-length The City Of Sun, will be a seriously tough act to follow.