The breezy-yet-powerful rock of Bonny Doon, experimental films at Off The Wall, farewells from No Hoax and Matt Joyce, and more events of note in Madison this week.
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THURSDAY AUGUST 2
Timbuktu, directed by Mauritanian filmmaker Abderrahmane Sissako, offers a harrowing glimpse into the daily lives of people living in Timbuktu when the West African city was occupied by the radical jihadist group Ansar Dine in 2012. The film closely follows a small family, one of the few who refused to leave their home, living outside the city. They’re eventually forced to confront the invaders when a boy they take care of makes a mistake, and one of their cattle is killed by a fisherman. Kidane (Ibrahim Ahmed dit Pino) accidently kills the fisherman in the dispute, and is sentenced to death under Ansar Dine’s radical interpretation of Sharia law.
While Kidane’s fate is all but sealed, Timbuktu includes additional scenes of suppression throughout the city, as people are arrested and lashed for playing music, participating in sports, or having sex outside of marriage. These scenes are expertly woven together to give a full sense of a city and its people in peril doing what they can to thrive and endure, as the population continues to sing, and teenagers play soccer without a ball. The punishments that follow these beautiful moments of defiance, including a public stoning, are gruesome in their stark and brutal portrayal.
The film also lingers on the jihadists secretly breaking their own rules, as they chat about soccer history and smoke cigarettes. Much of the dialogue in the film is repeated, sometimes multiple times, as the characters jump between the five languages present in the film. The audience is often left to wait for translation alongside the protagonist. Timbuktu is a beautiful, sad film, that according to the director, was intended to be a documentary. Unfortunately, the jihadists Sissako portrays still terrify the population he intended to document. —Reid Kurkerewicz
Cameron Esposito has successfully brought LGBTQ+ triumphs and trials to the mainstream in a multitude of mediums. She stars in her own show with her real-life wife and fellow comedian Rhea Butcher on Take My Wife, hosts the Queery podcast where she interviews LGBTQ+ icons like Roxane Gay and Milwaukee-native drag queen Trixie Mattel, and has released a collection of essays—all in addition to the stand-up career she first gained notoriety for.
Esposito’s latest stand-up special, Rape Jokes, was released for free on her website this June, with donations going to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. As the title suggests, Esposito charges immediately into confrontational territory, starting with the current political landscape: “This is just me. I feel, just me… that every moment of the current administration is a living nightmare!” And she goes on, “I’m a survivor of sexual assault, and I don’t like that he brags about assaulting people! I just think that’s weird! I think he’s a weird guy!” Esposito’s direct rebuke of the Trump administration is hilarious in its directness. With incredible simplicity, she lays out a political problem that often seems complex: there’s a bad person making bad choices.
As she smoothly transitions into anti-political-correctness, Esposito’s bubbling optimism is wielded like a weapon to taunt people in power or who think the #MeToo era has gone too far. With plenty of detailed asides, the hour-long show mainly tells the story of her survival of sexual assault at the hands of a boy she was dating, along with her experience of coming out at a Catholic college where she had to keep her identity a secret. She finds comedy in the absurdity of awkward situations created by a stringent society, but lingers on serious notes like straight allyship and the difficulty of recognizing trauma has happened to you. Her boisterous energy and literal yelling help her to wade confidently into the topics we are only beginning to discuss openly. —Reid Kurkerewicz
FRIDAY AUGUST 3
Detroit’s Bonny Doon write lyrics that are as unrestrained and relaxed as Bill Lennox and Bobby Colombo’s meandering, charmingly detached guitar lines. The words themselves are earnest at their core, but Lennox’s vocal delivery also gives the songs a feeling of breezy acceptance. On “Lost My Way,” from the band’s self-titled 2017 debut LP, Lennox sings about being off-track and out of place: “Where do I belong, what should I believe, who have I become, do I even recognize me?” But delivered with a carefree, almost confident tone, the line only lifts the listener up. The music itself is gently buoyant as well: Throughout this album, Bonny Doon filled out its songs with organ whirls, a range of production styles, and a mix of Felt-like jangle with a bare-bones country vibe.
One wouldn’t necessarily peg Bonny Doon for a band of restless experimenters when listening to this debut—it’s a substantial release that feels comfortable in its particular sonic pocket. But on this year’s Longwave, Bonny Doon home in on a stripped-down, minimalistic sound that puts the songwriting at dead center. Released at the end of March, Longwave rolls the summer out slowly, with an anticipation that still captures a whiff of the last cold, rainy days. On “I Am Here (I Am Alive),” a simple guitar line sneaks in out of nowhere, not quite aligned with the song’s vocal melodies, but it echoes the hint of contentment in the lyrics—”I just want to be where I’m going.” Spaced-out steel guitar swells in and out of the mix, while Jake Kmiecik’s rustic yet almost new-wave, mid-tempo drum pattern rests underneath—a satisfying backbone Bonny Doon follow throughout this album. —Emili Earhart
The Sugar Maple Traditional music festival, which marks its 15th anniversary this year, has a lineup and a structure that consistently aims to add a bit of context to how local audiences conceive of American folk music. The artists themselves tend to have a genuine interest in pursuing and re-interpreting the elusive strands that informed the folk music we hear today, highlighting little-known material and reminding us that folk music can’t and shouldn’t be neatly codified. Carolina Chocolate Drops member Hubby Jenkins (Saturday, 5:30 p.m.) uses banjo, guitar, and a supple but gravelly voice to make songs from across the history of blues, ragtime, and “old-time” music feel fiercely present—not really through attempting to update these traditions, but by inhabiting them with neither inhibition nor pretense. Nashville quartet Hawktail (Friday, 7:30 p.m.) channels bluegrass traditions into instrumentals that often make space for complexity and contemplation, favoring lyrical bowed bass parts as much as it does rapid-fire fiddle and mandolin.
In addition to a dozen-odd musical performances, over the course of two days, the festival offers audiences the chance to engage more deeply with traditional music via talks and workshops. This time around, the offerings include fiddle workshops, in-person interviews with Jenkins and Pieta Brown (who also plays Saturday at 7 p.m.), and even a session of “musical yoga.” —Scott Gordon
SATURDAY AUGUST 4
Singer, songwriter, and guitarist Matt Joyce has been playing in bands and in solo settings around Madison and Milwaukee for well over a decade now, and is getting ready to move away to Colorado. He’s best known for his role as leader of The Midwest Beat, a band that formed in 2005 and played a fertile swirl of psych-rock, cosmic country, and rugged R&B. Songs like “Girl Gone West,” from The Midwest Beat’s self-titled 2006 debut EP, and “Vortex Hole,” from 2014’s Free Of Being, showcase Joyce’s ability to neatly pin together all those influences with sharp, propulsive vocal melodies and jangly, swerving guitar figures. His other projects over the years have included The Grizzlies, The Honey Slides, and the Neil Young cover band Shakey. For the past few years he’s been organizing the Super Serious Singer Songwriter Series, a recurring night at Mickey’s where he invites musicians from around the state and the Midwest to perform stripped-down solo sets. These shows usually include solo performances from Joyce as well, and perhaps a few collaborative numbers with Joyce and his guests. Before he moves, he’ll be hosting this night at Mickey’s, hopefully pulling from a variety of originals and covers, and, given how deeply involved he’s been in local music, likely welcoming a big cast of guest performers throughout the night. —Scott Gordon
Madison-based artist-curator duo Simone Doing and Max Puchalsky’s Off The Wall series, now entering its third year, is a summer experimental film series that will take place in the alleyway outside Arts + Literature Laboratory every Saturday in August. Simone and Max (as the duo is known professionally), are themselves multimedia artists and MFA candidates at UW-Madison, and aim to showcase Madison filmmakers alongside an international array of experimental contemporary artists.
From the two filmmakers we were able to preview for the first night of round two, Off The Wall promises to be as eclectic as it was last year—if not more, which, yes, is a good thing. Adrián Regnier Chávez’s N (2017) is an animated portrayal of the Three Basic Principles of Formal Logic, a set of rules theorized by the likes of Aristotle to explain how humans make basic sense of the world. The voice-over and blocky cartoon style are initially simple elements that become more tangled as multiple speakers begin to argue over each other, while the animation sometimes seems like an apocalyptic PowerPoint demonstrations. Gaia Alari’s We Never Left The Ground (2018) is a stop-motion clay animation that the artist says is “about womanhood, society and human condition in general, life, illusions and death, through a non-linear, symbolic narration.” The film explores the absurd specificity of family life, and we are subtly reminded that the actions of the simple yet expressive clay figures are guided by external hands, as they jab themselves with sticks and undertake strange rituals. —Reid Kurkerewicz
SUNDAY AUGUST 5
No Hoax played its first live shows just three years ago, and quickly established itself as a fierce and refreshing presence in Madison’s music community. Rachel Kent’s bellowing vocals, Tyler Spatz’s thrashing guitar riffs, and the pulverizing rhythm section of drummer Ben Brooks and bassist Anthony Moraga all made for punk songs that blasted the cobwebs out of listeners’ skulls with a minimum of pretense and a fearsome emotional undertow. Well, No Hoax recently posted a terse announcement that things are over, and that this opening slot for Southern California punk veterans Agent Orange will be its last show; the band members haven’t said much on record about why they’re breaking up. No Hoax released a debut EP in 2016 and plan to have a full-length cassette available at this show. Members will still be actively playing in bands including Poney and Cave Curse, and might be getting some new projects off the ground soon too. —Scott Gordon
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