Makaya McCraven, Robyn Hitchcock, and more events of note in Madison this week.
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.
Editor’s note: Make sure to catch up with our preview coverage of the 2019 Wisconsin Film Festival, running April 4 through 11.
THURSDAY APRIL 4
Songwriter Robyn Hitchcock has been rattling staid sensibilities since his days fronting the Soft Boys, in a murky time when 1970s punk rock origamied itself into new wave. This gives him a lot of creative territory to cover when he takes a stage. As the man himself recently noted, he’s charged with “distilling 40 years into 90 minutes.” Happily, he’s drawing from a rich, rollicking songbook that was further bolstered by last year’s self-titled album, his strongest full-length effort in many years. A relatively modest level of popularity means he has no obligation to trudge through obligatory performances of bygone hits, leading to especially freewheeling sets. He can follow his psychotropic fancy wherever it leads.
Hitchcock’s songs combine a lovely emotional openness with twisty, macabre imagery. One of his lyrical phrases, “Like a chandelier festooned with leeches,” is a finer description of his aesthetic than anything I could ever conjure up. Even a seemingly straightforward track such as “I Want To Tell You About What I Want,” from Hitchock’s self-titled 2017 album, includes a delightfully inscrutable reference to “our cannibal overlords” and longing for a “non-invasive kind of telepathy.” The delicacy of his compositions is only enhanced by the recent touring model that often sets him on the proscenium with only his guitar as a companion. The chief appeal of the tousled troubadour in concert, however, could be the stage patter, which finds Hitchcock seemingly free-associating through logic-defying fictions and ruminations of curlicue invention. (Hitchcock also deployed his spoken-word skills to great effect on Madison-based electronic artist David Last‘s “Mister Seaweed Part 1,” a track from the album Constructions Vol. 1.) For devotees of the genially absurd, Hitchcock is truly one of the rare artists who can promise a show without a dull moment. —Dan Seeger
Chicago-based drummer and producer Makaya McCraven has created an omnivorous body of work that draws on both jazz and hip-hop, not so much splicing those two things together as exploring and expanding the spaces where they’re already inextricably linked. McCraven recorded with a trio for debut album as a bandleader, 2012’s Split Decision, and since then has taken a more sprawling approach to his albums, recording improvised sessions with a vast array of collaborators and cutting them into pieces he has called “organic beat music.” (Madison’s own Tony Barba shows up on his 2015 album In The Moment.) This process yields astonishing results on his 2018 double album Universal Beings, recorded in Chicago, London, New York, and LA with musicians including cellist Tomeka Reid, guitarist Jeff Parker, bassist Junius Paul, and saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings.
It feels unsatisfactory to think of McCraven’s production approach as beatmaking in any familiar sense, because it matches the fluidity and openness of the source material to the point that one rarely notices that anything has been looped or chopped up. Universal Beings tracks like “Voila” and “Atlantic Black” derive rich, episodic compositions from improvised sessions. It’s music that gives us the benefits of both hindsight and being wrapped up in the moment. “Inner Flight” and “Turtle Tricks” have a lot in common with the more chilled-out and spacey reaches of hip-hop production, yet are as alive and inquisitive as any of the more aggressive moments on the record. McCraven has played Madison several times recently as part of the excellent Trio Mokili, but it’s exciting to have him showcasing his solo work here. —Scott Gordon
Hailed as an inspiration for contemporary neo-noir like Breaking Bad and Christopher Nolan’s Batman, Miami Vice director Michael Mann’s 1981 feature debut, Thief, lacks the tight editing of its successors. The Chicagoland thriller drips with alluring lighting, and is stuffed with details like uncut diamonds, steel-melting rods, and unnecessarily long conversations. The highly stylized adventure follows ex-con master thief Frank (James Caan), who learned the craft from his prison mentor Okla (Willie Nelson?!). After 10 years locked up and four years free, Frank wants to use his powers for good by stealing his way into the upper middle class. He also harasses a waitress (Tuesday Weld) into marriage.
Thief is procedurally obsessed to the point that you watch heists in real time, as Frank works tools like a huge portable drill, the camera analyzing his movements in documentary style. The best scenes involve dialogues with crime boss Leo (Robert Prosky), who acts as the emotionally manipulative father figure that Frank apparently craves. In a movie with such an impressive mix of poetic dissertations on urban crime, symbolic shadows, and neon visuals, there are some confounding scenes. The visions of domestic bliss always feature Frank’s loyal pal/partner (Jim Belushi), and we actually spend five minutes with the hardened criminal family frolicking at the beach. Esquire praised Thief as “a movie for guys who like movies,” which probably isn’t so far off from its intentions. Still, Thief’s surreal attention to detail is genuinely hypnotic, and I’ve never been more bewildered by climactic explosions. —Reid Kurkerewicz
SATURDAY APRIL 6
Percussionist Tatsuya Nakatani has unlocked a vast palette of sounds from drumkits, gongs, bows, singing bowls, and any number of other resourcefully applied objects, and is probably best known for playing improvised solo sets that manage to create a suspenseful, engaging musical arc while reaching toward the revelatory edges of discipline and technique. Nakatani last came to Madison to conduct his touring gong orchestra project with a group of quickly trained local musicians, a way of wringing yet further possibility from his harmonically complex approach to playing gongs with bows. However, Nakatani has also collaborated widely in the jazz and avant-garde music realms, and one of his longest-running exchanges is with Israel-born, New York-based saxophonist Assif Tsahar. The 2012 release I Got It Bad finds Tsahar responding to Nakatani’s uniquely dynamic percussion with both strands of melody and abstract textural explorations. The two will play an improvised show here, presented by Tone Madison. We have tickets available online, and there is a discount available for Tone Madison Sustainers. —Scott Gordon
This show brings together a few different artists who’ve made valuable contributions to hip-hop in Madison, largely through UW-Madison’s First Wave program but with resonance beyond campus. Two of them, rappers Rich Robbins and Broadway Muse, have returned to Chicago since graduating from UW and continued building on what were already conceptually bold and deftly executed bodies of work. Robbins’ last performance in Madison was in December, and since then he has released a new mixtape, DEMone. The 23-track release deliberately departs from the conceptual tightness of his three previous full-length albums, showcasing music that in some cases is still in the works, but it all hangs together in a loose, open-ended way, much like the sketchbook-style art that accompanies the mixtape. Broadway Muse is one of the most technically gifted rappers to have spent time in Madison’s music community of late, ripping through sly and complex rhymes, and also experimenting with woozy R&B. Son! is the solo project of Daniel Kaplan, who over the years has branched out from rapping to writing tender, disarming pop and R&B songs. Knowsthetime, the multi-faceted moniker of producer and DJ Ian Carroll, will spin a DJ set here. —Scott Gordon
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