Nectar at the High Noon, new songs from Solid Freex, “Lady Bird” on the Terrace, and more events of note in Madison this week. (Photo by Molly Kinnunen.)
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THURSDAY, AUGUST 1
Along with Hal Hartley and Richard Linklater, Steven Soderbergh significantly shaped the American independent film landscape in the late 1980s and early ’90s with his writing/directing feature debut, Sex, Lies, And Videotape (1989). It owes its instant international success not just to the intrigue of its cast of familiar faces and up-and-comers alike (Andie MacDowell, Laura San Giacomo, Peter Gallagher, and James Spader) but also to its unabashed and provocative plumbing of the depths of its troubled suburbanites. Thirty years on (the anniversary being the occasion for this Cinesthesia screening), it’s evident how strong a role the psychologically complex characterizations have played in Soderbergh’s own prolific output and filmography (see: 2009’s The Girlfriend Experience), and in forecasting the power dynamics and dialogue in Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut (1999).
In simple strokes, Soderbergh manages to transform a chamber drama largely confined to the house of Ann and John Mullany (MacDowell and Gallagher) into something grandly inquisitive and probing. Preexisting intimacy issues in their marriage and John’s wrongheaded affair with Ann’s permissive sister Cynthia (Giacomo) subtly and dramatically escalate with the arrival of John’s old college friend, the enigmatic and bohemian Graham (Spader), who harbors a most unusual kink and interest in privately filming women talk about their sexual preferences and histories. With cinematographer Walt Lloyd, Soderbergh instills each scene with a sense of voyeuristic unease, teasing out sensitive details in arresting conversation.
Those exchanges perpetually seem like they’re on the precipice of interrogation, as if every character is acutely aware of the other’s underlying secrets, but desires to hear them spoken aloud for ultimate validation. In this aspect, Sex, Lies, And Videotape‘s concluding act is a masterclass in suspenseful screenwriting fundamentals. But perhaps most overlooked is Soderbergh’s touch as an editor, further intertwining the fragile states of existence. This approach is most notably evidenced in an early scene between Graham and Ann bonding at a café, which is perfectly juxtaposed with a risky sexual encounter between John and Cynthia in his own home. —Grant Phipps
Madison father-and-sons punk band Solid Freex will get a bit more time than usual to stretch out at this show, and in the past couple of years they’ve amassed enough material to make for a set that covers a lot of stylistic territory. Drummer Steve Coombs (best known for his long-running project Trin Tran) and two of his sons, guitarist Josh Coombs-Broekema and bassist Evan Coombs-Broekema, have released two albums since forming the band in 2016, and have continued to write new material at an impressive pace. “The newer Solid Freex songs are about clock watchers, Canada, phones, cadaver dogs, and a spare scribe,” the elder Coombs says, and the band has been rolling them out with a run of mostly out-of-town shows this summer.
What those new songs will actually sound like is pretty up in the air, given where the band has gone so far. On 2018’s Peeled Guest and this year’s Plastic Mystery, the trio pieced together shards of boisterous shout-along punk (“Teenage Evil,” “Fite!”) with dissonance and fractured rhythms that leaned toward noise-rock (“Rabbit Die From,” “Why Not”), and on top of that the occasional detour into the more melodic territory of psychedelic pop (“You’re Here,” “End Of The Summer”). It’s all over the place, but the band’s playing seems to thrive on twists and turns. Evan Coombs-Broekema’s bass parts inject a springy tension into the songs, and Josh Coombs-Broekema’s guitar veers constantly between nimble, mangled figures and noisy outbursts. Coombs, so used to having to do a little of everything at once in Trin Tran (which has mostly been a one-man band), seems to relish the opportunity to focus his own cleverly clacked grasp of rhythm on just drums. All three members pitch in on vocals, trading playful shouts and bellows and at times joining up in three-part harmonies. Solid Freex share the bill here with Seattle-based glam-rocker Scott Yoder, who will also be playing a longer set. —Scott Gordon
SATURDAY, AUGUST 3
This show raises money for the Rape Crisis Center, an organization founded in 1973 that provides services to survivors of sexual violence across Dane County, including at its satellite offices on the UW-Madison, Madison College, and Edgewood College campuses. (If you’re interested in supporting the RCC but can’t make it to this, you can also donate online.) Headlining is Wash, a youngish band that built up a strong local following before releasing its debut EP, Ritual, in December. The four-piece has an ear for both murky distortion and yearning melody. The EP’s title track bridges shoegaze with darker, grittier territory, creating suspense through singer/guitarist Alexandria Ortgiesen’s at once quivering and cutting vocal performance and guitarist Indigo Smith-Oles’ slow-building hook. But the two guitarists, along with drummer Alex Kaiser and Adam Flottmeyer, also know when to pull back, creating passages that feel more detailed and textured than your typical loud-quiet-loud dynamic.
On “Alien,” Wash takes more of a frantic noise-rock approach, but still keeps a lot of sonic nuances in the mix, from its blasted-out bass tone to a guitar solo that indulges in a bit of grungey grandeur. The EP’s third and final track, “All Animal,” is also its darkest, evoking anxiety and frailty in the spare guitar lines and almost tentative singing of the verses, then tumbling into a chorus that sharply plays one of Ortgiesen’s most raw and powerful vocals against Flottmeyer’s nimble bass hook. The band plans to take a break after this show to focus on working on new tracks for either an album or an EP to follow Ritual. —Scott Gordon
The High Noon’s “Tony Hawk Appreciation Fest” event is maybe actually about the famed skateboarder and maybe just a playful way to get a bunch of local and regional punk rock, much of it with a melodic bent, under one roof. Attendees will apparently be able to play some Pro Skater while taking in the nine-band lineup, which ranges from hardcore to full-on pop-punk. One welcome tangent here is Nectar, from Champaign, Illinois. There’s enough melody and brightness on the band’s 2018 debut album, Knocking At The Door, to make a connection with anyone who appreciates a good hook, but this music doesn’t always take its punk influences completely head-on. Guitarist-vocalist Kamila Glowacki embraces vulnerability and frayed edges in her songwriting, even when the music is seemingly at its fastest and happiest: “Need to find another way / Hard to stare back at your defeated face,” Glowacki sings on “Smile.” Glowacki and fellow guitarist Aaron Shults favor warm, shaggy tones and slip just a bit of dissonance into their punchy figures. Bassist Isabel Skidmore and drummer Jake Mott give the band a lot of flexibility, whether plowing into the giddy tempos of a song like “Days” or slowing down to bolster the sense of both tension and weariness on the album’s excellent closing track, “Birthday.” Nectar played with Proud Parents at Art In about a year and a half ago and won me over immediately, so I hope they keep coming back to Madison.
Milwaukee’s Direct Hit headlines here, playing cheerfully catchy punk that often takes a volatile turn and pulls in a little bit of everything from across the continuum represented in this lineup. Another kinda-outlier on the bill is Madison band Dear Mr. Watterson, which recently put out a new single, “Adam Flottmeyer Must Be Stopped.” Named for a member of fellow local outfits Wash and Like A Manatee, the charmingly frantic track manages to pack in a lovely rapid-fire guitar hook and lyrical images that range from pillow forts and a “big green couch” to dark corners and monsters. We’d usually list all the bands in the headline of these previews, but there are a lot, so here are the rest: Why Not, Coasting, Delinquents, Middle Aged Overdose, Mud Dog, and Schmoolio. —Scott Gordon
SUNDAY, AUGUST 4
Based on the 1990 Michael Crichton novel, Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park (1993) has cemented itself as the most enduring blockbuster of the 1990s. Spielberg appeared to be at the height of his powers in the ’80s, but Jurassic Park has aged quite well in our modern era of special effects. We may not be able to say the same thing for the still-expanding Jurassic Park franchise, but there is nothing like the original, which breathed new life into extinct velociraptors (with some embellishment).
Most of the film takes place on a fictional island near Costa Rica, where a team of scientists has managed to harvest dinosaur DNA and birth a new generation of the magnificent lizards. The scientists have financial support from an eccentric billionaire (is there any other kind?) to create an amusement park filled with dinosaurs so the entire family can come, relax, and see these majestic beasts from the safety of remote-controlled SUVs. Well, as the sultry nerdbomber Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) puts it, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” And indeed, the ill-advised venture goes wrong, and the carnivorous thunder lizards soon have everyone running for their lives.
It is a shame Jurassic Park wasn’t able to spawn the caliber of sequels that, say, Spielberg’s Raiders Of The Lost Ark did. Some classics are better left untouched and un-franchised. John Williams’ score manages to make a moving, dead-solid-perfect contribution to every scene it accompanies. What makes the adventure compelling is the fact that Spielberg invests so much humor and heart into the thrilling dinosaur chase sequences, and the story arc comes to a satisfying conclusion. Remember Avatar (2009)? Yeah, neither do I, but I’ll never forget Jurassic Park. —Edwanike Harbour
MONDAY, AUGUST 5
Greta Gerwig set the current prevailing standard for mother/daughter coming-of-age films with 2017’s Lady Bird. Her work starring in and co-writing 2012’s Noah Baumbach-directed Frances Ha made me a true believer already, but there wasn’t a cinephile alive who wasn’t pulling for Lady Bird to win Best Picture. Gerwig would have to settle for a Best Director nomination, but succeeded in pulling off a heartwarming and surprisingly not sappy tale.
Saoirse Ronan plays Lady Bird McPherson, née Christine, a defiant, free-spirited teen who deals with some of the same stressors that every teenager faces, but in a much more unconventional way. Gerwig forgoes many of the tiresome tropes that can plague other coming-of-age tales, instead giving this character the complexity she deserves. Lady Bird can be annoying, stubborn, sweet, and bewildered, all at the same time. You may be frustrated with her decisions to figure out who she is but you are rooting for her all the way. Laurie Metcalf is a seasoned veteran of television comedy (Roseanne, Desperate Housewives), and her comedic acting skills make her superb fit here as as Lady Bird’s mother. The film can cut close to the bone at times but its sweet hint of redemption, and the notion that there will always be a little bit of you left behind in the places you come from, gives viewers the warm fuzzies without the toothache. —Edwanike Harbour
8/3: Corridoré, Bereft, Ruin Dweller. BarleyPop Live, 9 p.m. (Read more about this in our story about Corridoré’s new album.)