BingBong at Eken Park Fest, a stacked Hot Summer Gays finale, and more events of note in Madison this week.
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THURSDAY, AUGUST 15
Madison band The Low Czars has elevated rock ‘n’ roll covers to a discerning craft over the course of more than a decade. There’s nothing flashy about the band’s live sets, which draw from a repertoire of more than 200 songs across the realms of power-pop, classic rock, psychedelia, and R&B, but this group of serious record nerds has a keen sense for how better-known songs (say, The Kinks’ “Victoria”) fit next to relatively obscure ones (like Bubble Puppy’s “Hot Smoke And Sassafrass”). They’re able to fuss over the details of the material while still providing the fun and familiarity that any cover band needs to deliver. Perhaps most importantly, among the band’s core lineup (bassist/vocalist James Leaver, drummer Larry Braun, guitarist/vocalist Peter Fatka, guitarist/vocalist Bob Koch, and guitarist/keyboardist/vocalist Aaron Scholz) and frequent guests (vocalist Adam Zar, guitarist/vocalist Kyle Motor, sax player Nate Tredinnick, guitarist/vocalist Justin Aten) are a bunch of people who can actually sing. Koch is also the author of Isthmus’ long-running Vinyl Cave column, and will be spinning records between bands at this show under his DJ 45 Freakout moniker.
Negative Example is the current project of Madisonian Bucky Pope, best known as the guitarist and vocalist for one of the most distinctive punk bands of the 1980s, Tar Babies. The band’s 2015 album Negative Examples and 2016 EP Double Negative center around Pope’s warped, resourceful guitar style (The New York Times once compared his playing to James Blood Ulmer’s) and lyrics that dwell on slights and confrontations. On Double Negative‘s “Platitudes,” Pope alternately sings and speaks the kind of lines that might come out during a fit of resentful muttering: “You think you have to please all these people? / If that’s all you care to share / You might not have been so lucky to have met me / With full remorse, of course, they’re trying to fake it / They don’t bend it, they break it.” All that uncut anger, combined with the band’s brightly dissonant chord voicings and jaggedly funky rhythms, creates an effect that’s at once unsettling and funny. This show starts off with a reunion set from Brat, a Madison duo from the early oughts with a fanciful, varied sound and a cracked worldview of its own. —Scott Gordon
SATURDAY, AUGUST 17
The Eken Park Festival launched in 2017, celebrating a new era for the North Side neighborhood. The nearby Oscar Mayer plant shut down that same year, and the neighborhood’s working-class character seems up for grabs in a rapidly gentrifying city. Still, long-time residents and a good number of younger folks buying their first houses in Eken Park have turned it into a lively place. The North Street Cabaret, Tip Top Tavern, and Ogden’s North Street Diner have brought a center of gravity (and a lot of good live music) to the corner of North and Commercial, though of course there will always be a Trachte shed-shaped hole in my heart where Resale Records used to be. The Eken Park Fest is also creating an identity of its own among Madison’s slew of outdoor music events, offering compact but varied lineups of music that’s close to home.
This year’s five-band lineup includes a headlining set from BingBong (6:30 p.m.) and a mid-fest performance from Tani Diakite And The Afrofunkstars. BingBong is a mild-mannered power-pop band, combining punch with a bit of breezy melancholy. The band’s 2018 debut album, Pop Restoration, consisted of 13 concise, sharply crafted songs that combine jangly warmth with guitarist/singer Pam Barrett’s affecting vocal melodies. Diakite, a longtime Madisonian who emigrated here from Mali, leads his band with a powerful voice and the ecstatic, rippling sounds of the kamele n’goni, one of a family of elaborate West African stringed instruments that are also precursors to the banjo. On the 2012 album Dalonkan, The Afrofunkstars use layers of hand percussion and drumkit, prickly guitar, and whirling keyboard melodies to explore Malian music’s ancestral connection to the blues, tastefully working in elements of reggae and funk as well. From the rousing “Nungulunba” to the plaintive “Yelema (Change),” Diakite and band invest these songs with a vivid emotional range and musical complexity. Joining these two standouts in the lineup are Slag (noon), Lose Meskales (1:30 p.m.), and November Criminals (4:50 p.m.). —Scott Gordon
London-based electronic musician Seb Wildblood will be spinning a DJ set at this edition of Robinia’s Jams series, but the best preparation for it might be to listen to his recently released first album of original productions, Sketches Of Transition. The gently gyrating vocal sample on “Twenty Eight,” the swelling synth chords of “One For Malcolm,” and the frizzy snares of “Small Talk” all fit into a sound world that evokes the strange peace and longing of watching the dawn after staying up all night. The album follows a busy run of singles and EPs, but it’s still an accomplishment for a producer to stretch such a cohesive atmosphere across a debut full-length, and to tease out the variety of rhythmic and melodic nuances Wildblood does here. It’s as if he has one foot in ambient music, but the other still firmly planted in more dance-friendly realms.
Wildblood’s DJ mixes reconcile that sense of lush restraint with a slightly more aggressive pulse. I especially enjoy a set he created for DJ Mag in February, embedded below—it plays joyous house beats off of spacey comforts, letting listeners/dancers hover in an at once lively and meditative zone. Also spinning here is Madison resident Ben Silver, a member of the Chicago-founded DJ trio Orchard Lounge and a skilled solo DJ in his own right, who discussed his taste for “the more psychedelic side of house, techno, and everything in between” in a 2016 interview with Tone Madison‘s Joel Shanahan. The other Madisonian on this bill, DJ MCG, does solid work as the host of WSUM’s Sunday-night House Every Sunday program. —Scott Gordon
Hot Summer Gays—an annual series of queer-centric music and social events organized by Dyke Dive and Madison DJ/producer/booker Sarah Akawa—brings its 2019 season to a sweaty, ecstatic conclusion with this lineup of DJs sets and performances from rappers and singers. Akawa will be playing under her Saint Saunter moniker, and DJ Kalycho, anther mainstay of queer nightlife in Madison, will kick things off. Rapper/singer God-Des, best known for her work in the duo God-Des And She, released a new single, “Wasting Time,” in February and will be performing solo here.
Closing out the night is Minneapolis’ DJ Keezy, who’s been making a big mark on the Twin Cities’ hip-hop scene and throwing events there like the all-female-artists dance party The Klituation. As the evening works toward its blowout dance-party conclusion, be sure to also catch performances from Madison rapper Kiloakaskitlz and singer/rapper/multi-media artist Dequadray. Kiloakaskitlz’s 2018 mixtape L.I.A.R. (Living In A ReignBow) tackled complex personal and social themes, while showcasing the sharp, from-the-gut delivery that comes through in her live performances. Dequadray explored an ambitious mix of hip-hop, R&B, and colorfully varied electronic sounds on the two releases he put out last year, the album Dequadray! A Black Sitcom and the Antares EP. ―Scott Gordon
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