Seaton Smith, Zola Jesus, Julian Lage, Venus in Furs and more of the best stuff in Madison this week. | By Scott Gordon, Chris Lay, and Joel Shanahan
THURSDAY SEPTEMBER 24
It was a shame when John Mulaney’s sitcom, Mulaney, biffed it so hard despite such a talented bunch of folks working on it. One of the most memorable talents involved was comedian Seaton Smith, who played Mulaney’s pal Motif on that doomed ship. As a standup, though, Seaton’s been around for quite a while, having worked the college circuit for more than a few years before making it to network TV, however briefly. Seaton’s mix of politically minded and observational bits, all delivered with a slightly manic energy that can shift gears from high speed to a breezy conversational level on a dime, made him a perfect for for a recent and memorable spot on the panel of The Nightly Show With Larry Wilmore. Jesse Baltes will be the feature, and Madison’s Funniest Comic 2015 winner Geoffrey Asmus hosts. For anyone wondering what happened to Cameron Esposito, she’s rescheduled for the first weekend in December due to being in the latest Garry Marshall movie based on a holiday, because the world needs more of those for some reason?
London-based lysergic electronic pioneers The Orb have been splicing together prime cuts of dub, meditative German synth composers, Detroit techno, and much more since 1988. When swirling around in headphones, the sonic depths of landmark long-players like 1991’s The Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld and 1992’s U.F.Orb tend to inspire far more cerebral movement than physical—despite often packing an alluring, slow-burning groove (like that of “Close Encounters” or “Into The Fourth Dimension”). However, the duo of Alex Paterson and Thomas Fehlmann have never shied of away from making their listeners crawl through miles of active ambient textures, mangled samples, and field recordings to reach their mutant rhythmic payoffs (see “Supernova At The End Of The Universe” and “Outlands”). This year’s warmly stunning Moonbuilding 2073 AD is remarkably true to form, using longform compositions packed with shards of dub techno, trip-hop (which they kind of helped develop), moody and deconstructed synth washes, and carefully selected and chopped samples to tell massive, arching stories (four of the album’s seven tunes each clock in both around and over the 10-minute mark). While that new album should be more than enough to pull you in, Wyatt Agard, a Madisonian mainstay DJ, has promised to leave the decks behind to tell a story of his own, as he harnesses a stable of old synthesizers and drum machines for a rare live-PA performance.
There’s comedy, and there’s anti-comedy, and then there’s Neil Hamburger, who’s worked his way into a category all his own. Hamburger (a creation of musician and performer Gregg Turkington) is in many ways the spiritual ur-Tim & Eric, and those two managed to acknowledge the debt by bringing him into their ranks in various capacities. With his crummy suit and crummier combover, Hamburger is the washed-up comedians’ comedian, delivering apocalyptic and searingly crude variations on perfectly balanced “so, my ex-wife...” jokes. If you’ve ever wondered if conceptual art could involve poorly balancing a dozen half full cocktails in the crook of an arm, well, buddy, you’re in luck. Expect long rambling bits excoriating the utter sucking void of talent contained within the collective Red Hot Chili Peppers, an over-the-top and arguably unnecessary drubbing of “The Widow” Courtney Love, and perhaps even an earnest admiration of The Four Tops, if you’re lucky. The opening act will be the triumphant return to the stage after almost a year’s absence by Alan Talaga EXCUSE US... Dan Potacke, and Los Angeles based *Major Entertainer* Mike H.
If you were one of the lucky bunch to have gotten in to see either of the sold out screenings of The Russian Woodpecker at the 2015 Wisconsin Film Festival this past spring (our short comment on the film can be read here), you already got a glimpse of Wisconsinite Brian Hollendyke’s cinematographical work with the short “Winterlude,” which screened before Woodpecker. Winterlude is only one of the films screening as part of a program of Hollendyke’s work curated by Madison film site LakeFrontRow. Also screening will be Hollendyke’s directorial work Kaylee. Hollendyke has been involved in a handful of other short films as a ton of other positions, so there’s no telling what other fun stuff might pop up to flesh out this program.
When singer-producer and former Madisonian Nika Danilova was first getting her Zola Jesus project going in town in 2007 and 2008, we’ll remind you, she was among the noisy underdogs and certainly didn’t have the local press calling her a “worldly rocker” (whatever that’s supposed to mean in this context) . Zola Jesus’ early live sets at venues like the Corral Room were mostly abrasion and caterwauling, and early singles and EPs showcased her stately, charismatic vocals, but mixed in with fractious, briny soundscapes—and that even goes for The Spoils, her 2009 album on Sacred Bones and one of her first breakout releases. Anyways a tenacious work ethic (ZJ put out a ton of EPs, singles and albums in those early years, plus split efforts with acts including Burial Hex and Fucked Up) and a dark pop sensibility found her a bigger audience and increasingly sharp, self-possessed material. From The Spoils to 2010’s be-sundaed Stridulum EP is something of a leap, and from there to her latest album, 2014’s Taiga, is a bigger leap still. Taiga showcases a balance of polish and nuanced production, and a persona that combines icy charisma with unabashed yearning.
FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 25
We find it a bit puzzling that this year’s What For?, the latest full-length from San Francisco’s Toro Y Moi, has met a relatively lukewarm response when compared to the groovy, R’n’B-laced psych-pop of 2011’s Underneath The Pine. Granted, in the current dance-powered climate, shedding a few layers of disco influence and replacing it with the Brit-rock influence of The Move or the artisanally crafted power-pop of Big Star is a bold move, and for that we’ve got to applaud mastermind Chaz Bundick. Because guess what? It works. Bundick’s slick and heady production sounds spot-on when he’s channeling it subtly into guitar-heavy pop-rock tunes like infectious stomper “What You Want,” which features a twisty chord progression that rolls out under catchy, harmonized crooning and synth melodies that spin around the listener’s skull. Another serious highlight is dynamic, down-tempo shuffler “Ratcliff,” a stony, piano-tinged slap of fuzzy-guitar-coated sweetness. However, the funky backbone of Bundick’s prior efforts is far from gone. The filtered, Rhodes-powered dance-grooves of “Buffalo” and “Spell It Out” may boast syncopated riffs that do more to channel the smoothness of the Doobie Brothers than Jamiroquai this time around, but the immediate head-bob immersion remains the same.
Isn't this... where we came in? The UW Cinematheque’s year-long celebration of Orson Welles’ body of work comes to an end this weekend with a two-fer that kicks off with the Wellesiana odds ‘n sods collection and wraps up Saturday with The Magnificent Ambersons, which was also screened way back at the beginning of this whole thing. The Wellesiana program screening tonight will be a collection of rare short films, TV appearances, rushes from various Welles works, and a a grab bag of newsreels and other things that will surely fascinate anyone with more than a passing interest in the man and his work. The whole thing will all be authoritatively annotated in person by film scholar and author of multiple books on Welles, Joseph McBride who will also be on hand for Saturday’s Ambersons screening (more on that below).
Madison trio The New Villains haven’t put out any recordings since forming in 2011, and haven’t been playing many shows lately either, but they’re still a strong addition to Madison’s lively jumble of power-pop and garage-rock bands. Guitarist and singer Logan Kayne was The Midwest Beat’s founding bassist, and did his share of songwriting and lead vocals in that band as well, and it’s mostly just exciting that he has a vehicle for his deep-reaching take on pop, with Justin Aten (The Grizzlies) on bass and Rob Oman (Knuckel Drager, Roboman) on drums.
SATURDAY SEPTEMBER 26
Madison band Wood Chickens, who talked with us recently for our Tone Madison/WORT-FM podcast, will play here to kick off a tour of the Midwest and South. The band has been going in some form for about six years, but with 2014’s album Have A Cow, a 2015 split cassette with Paint, and a lot of live sets in town, the band’s spirited and unpredictable smear of punk, country, and psychedelia has come to feel like one of the more vital and distinctive parts of music in Madison. Wood Chickens also have been putting together a live cassette for new Madison label Rare Plant, and might have it ready in time for this show.
The end-all-be-all of UW Cinematheque’s centennial Orson Welles celebration, The Magnificent Ambersons is the only repeat serving of the ambitious retrospective, but with a slight twist. Like a handful of Welles’ films, The Magnificent Ambersons was significantly altered by the studio, in this case RKO, resulting in a finished product that was so far from the fussy director’s intended vision that the composer demanded that his credit be removed due to the studio mucking about with his score. Despite the meddling of the studio suits, Ambersons is still a remarkable film that was nominated for a bunch of Oscars (yes, even Best Picture, but it lost to Sidney Franklin’s Mrs. Miniver) and is in the Library of Congress's National Film Registry (almost two decades before Mrs. Miniver made it in, so suck on THAT, Sidney Franklin!). Like Friday’s Wellesiana presentation, film historian and author of a number of books on Welles, Joseph McBride will make an hour long presentation on this film and likely provide a bunch of illuminating context as to what Welles’ had up his sleeve that is sadly lost to the sands of time.
This month’s Evening At Maria’s installment expands on the series’ so far impressive record of booking diverse local music, with Madison garage-R&B exploders Cowboy Winter playing an acoustic set, and Kleptix bringing his playfully crazed electronic antics. But more surprisingly, the evening will also feature spoken-word from Thax Douglas, who became famous/notorious in Chicago in the ’90s and early-aughts for delivering his free-verse poems at rock shows. Douglas left Chicago in 2006, and after stints in New York, then back in Chicago, then Austin, he’s settled in Broadhead, about 35 miles south of Madison. At these events, music and poetry share equal billing with art and local non-profit organizations, and this time Maria’s will feature art from Grace Lorentz, Guzzo Pinc, Eric Cobb, and Jimi Reinke, and the Dane County Timebank Youth Court.
Heartless Bastards stood out early on for their muscular but warm-hearted rock songwriting and leader Erika Wennerstrom’s powerful, emotionally versatile voice. Those constants have served the band well as it evolved from their sparse 2005 debut album Stairs And Elevators to more layered albums like 2009’s The Mountain and this year’s John Congleton-produced Restless Ones. On songs like the surging “Gates Of Dawn” and the ruminative “Pocket Full Of Thirst,” Restless Ones expands on Heartless Bastards’ sound but also emphasizes its crisp immediacy, and Wennerstrom still brings across the mix of resolve and vulnerability that made the band special in the first place.
Madison band Venus In Furs has spent the last five years playing rugged, tartly melodic surf-rock and they’ve had some real strengths in their favor, especially Marlo Dobrient’s monster drumming and Victoria Echeverria’s barbed guitar lines. (Adding Cynthia Burnson of Screamin’ Cyn Cyn And The Pons on guitar and keyboards didn’t hurt either.) But on the tracks the band has shared from its new album, Just Try It On, which they’ll celebrate at this show, those elements really starts to click: Opening track “Curse Of The Ninth” starts with a pummeling roar, putting things on a more confident and sonically expansive footing right away, while “Left Mitten” and “Still” center on snarly but catchy vocals.
John Hodgman floats above us all in a rarified comedy-nerd stratosphere. Sure, he played the “PC” foil to Justin Long’s “Mac” in those commercials all those years ago, and was a bright spot in the already luminescent Daily Show correspondent list, AND his sprawling trilogy of un-factual reference books, which push 850 pages collectively, are a modern marvel of humor, but mostly we know him for his set of manly mustaches. Hey, YOU take from him what YOU want, and WE’LL take from him what WE want (that sweet n sassy ‘stache, yo). Hodgman’s surreally raconteurial style will enlighten, entertain and, if we’re lucky, provide new insight into the minutiae of the hobo lifestyle. You should definitely catch him at The Barrymore this weekend if you somehow missed him at any of his previous stops in 2014, 2013, or his Ragnarok tour stop here in 2012 which... **buyer beware** ...if he’s still selling those kits of his you’re gonna wanna make sure that “survival mayonnaise” is still good.
New York-based guitarist Julian Lage’s musical life has been a whirlwind of collaboration and early accomplishment—as a child guitar prodigy, he was the subject of a short documentary and recorded with mandolinist David Grisman, and he’s recorded a duo album with Nels Cline and played in a variety of jazz and folk settings. It’s only this year, at age 27, that Lage has finally released an album that’s just him alone with an acoustic guitar, World’s Fair. Despite Lage’s obvious skill and range, the instrumentals on World’s Fair are neither flashy nor in a hurry to leap across idioms, and that’s what makes them so engaging and refreshing. Standouts like “Japan” and “Peru” have plenty of harmonic complexity and dextrous layering, but Lage unfolds his ideas patiently and keeps melody in the foreground. It’s a gentle record, but gentle in a way that takes a great deal of confidence and finesse to pull off.
Six-piece Madison band Caravan Gypsy Swing Ensemble plays here to mark the release of its second studio album, The Waiting Game. As its name suggests, the band often centers on Chris Ruppenthal and Ed Fila’s Django Reinhardt-inspired gypsy-jazz guitars, but The Waiting Game’s 14 tracks encompass many other influences. Opener “After You’re Gone” creates plenty of mellow space for Greg Smith to stretch out on clarinet, and Spanish and Latin American subgenres factor in frequently, on numbers including the bossa nova-informed “Caprihina” and on the sinuous groove of “Brazil.” It’s been eight years since the band’s self-titled debut album, but they make up for it by coming through generously on this record.
SUNDAY SEPTEMBER 27
We know that the Micro-Wave Cinema series is trying to be as contemporary as possible with the artistic and cultural importance of its selections, but there’s no way that curator Brandon Colvin could’ve predicted the geopolitical prescience of The Winds That Scatter when they were plotting out their schedule. Centering on the trials and tribulations of a Ahmad (Ahmad Chahrour), a Syrian immigrant in rural America, Christophee Bell's film delivers a weighty meditation and moving character study where Horatio Alger’s “boot straps” myth (in an uncredited, and purely metaphorical, role) lies perpetually out of reach for the “other” in America’s supposed melting-pot, and paints a fairly bleak outlook for the futures of current displaced Syrian refugees headed to our shores. Bell will be joining the audience via Skype for a post-film Q&A.
TUESDAY SEPTEMBER 29
Last Comic Standing is the fusing of competitive reality TV and stand-up comedy. From a professional comedy standpoint, it’s a really useful credit that has a ton of national exposure attached to it, and even if you don’t crack the top ten, you can parlay that into a solid career if you play your cards right. Taking full advantage of the talent they have locked in, the producers of Last Comic Standing, in their infinite wisdom, also have a package tour worked out with the top five finalists hitting the road and performing together. Sure, it's a blatant cash-grab, and it’s not like the show hasn’t had its fair share of controversy, but it’s still gonna be a solid if stylistically all-over-the-place night of comedy. The top five comics from this season are Michael Palascak, Dominique, Andy Erikson, Ian Bagg, and the winner of the whole shebang ($250,000 and a development deal), Clayton English.
WEDNESDAY SEPTEMBER 30
Page Campbell and Daniel Donahue divide their lives between Madison and Athens, Georgia, but this will be their project Dream Boat’s first show in the area since they moved here about four years ago. Dream Boat’s 2014 album The Rose Explodes combines synth-driven arrangements and Campbell’s rich yet restrained vocals into dense psych-pop that feels at once hazy and purposeful. Campbell also plays in the duo Hope For Agoldensummer with her sister Claire Campbell, and both Campbells have played with Patterson Hood in his solo outings. Page’s other credits include scoring independent films and touring with Dark Meat. Donahue has contributed art and songwriting to bands including Elf Power and Of Montreal. Donahue doesn’t actually play in the live version of Dream Boat—here, the lineup will consist of both Campbells on vocals and guitar, Dark Meat’s Kris Deason on guitar, Ryan Vogel on drums and keyboards and, for part of the set, Madison experimental musician Ian Adcock laying down some drones. Read more about Campbell and Donahue in our interview from last year.
MMOCA's Spotlight Cinema series focuses on premiering new independent films, usually ones that don't otherwise screen in Madison in a timely manner. (And at $7 for non-MMOCA members, it's still cheaper than most first-run theaters these days.) This fall's season begins with Mia Hansen-Love's 2014 film Eden, set amid Paris' 1990s electronic-music explosion. The drama stars Felix De Givry as a DJ and promoter who comes up in the scene, and Greta Gerwig as an American expat he befriends, following them as they find their way after the glory days are over.
Before the great chamber-pop explosion of the mid-to-late aughts, when bands by the dozens began donning waist-coasts, wielding accordions, and belting out tender, Muppet-voiced folk-pop, there was a nice stretch when Portland-based folk rockers and conceptualists The Decemberists truly felt like singular artists. Guitarist-vocalist Colin Meloy’s well-wrought, immersive, and beautifully arranged concepts and songwriting were a giant gasp of fresh air. And while an album like 2006’s The Crane Wife may feel a little stuffy and pretentious right now, particularly in a musical climate that’s heavily focused on minimalism, sound design (things that we here at Tone certainly appreciate), or appearing to “not try so hard” (a trend we like considerably less), trust us, that shit is going to hold up well in 10 years. Sure, it’s fair to say that this band sometimes errs a bit on the precious side, but someday even skeptical listeners may revisit the anthemic, mandolin-laced sweetness of “O Valencia” or the hauntingly dynamic, prog-folk “The Island: Come And See/The Landlord’s Daughter/You’ll Not Feel The Drowning” and get their minds blown all over again. The Decemberists are currently touring behind this year’s What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World, their first album since 2011’s The King Is Dead, which trims away the lengthy, cinematic epics and album-wide concepts for more concise, personal, and self-contained folk pop-tunes.
This edition of Nerd Nite Madison will feature three informal talks, perhaps most interestingly one on HP Lovecraft and his essential influence on the horror genre throughout the generation. Also on tap: talks about breeding animals in captivity and “booze hacking.” We’ve been working with the Nerd Nite folks to create podcasts of some of the best talks that happen at these events, so look for those soon.
Alto Madness Orchestra bands have been formed in various cities at the direction of exuberant jazz saxophonist Richie Cole, and this show marks the debut of a new Madison chapter. The 10-piece band features saxophonist Eric Koppa, drummer Todd Hammes, trumpeter Paul Dieterich, and other solid Madison-area musicians, so whatever your feelings on Richie Cole’s music, it’ll absolutely be worth it to see what this bunch can do together.