Oxbow, Jason Isbell, the return of UW Cinematheque, and more events of note in Madison this week.
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THURSDAY AUGUST 31
NYC-based guitarist and composer Dave Scanlon might be best known lately as a member of the bracing experimental rock outfit Jobs (which features Madison’s own Rob Lundberg on bass), but his collaborators have ranged from avant-garde heavies like Jessica Pavone to the lush electro-pop outfit Leverage Models. At this Tone Madison-presented show, Scanlon will play solo behind the recently released Coupling Duet, an album of minimalist but subtly melodic pieces for guitar and piano. Glassmen is a Madison rock duo playing songs of eerie, cracked urgency, and Terran is the solo project of Terrance Barrett, guitarist for psych-rock outfit Carbon Bangle. Tickets here. —Scott Gordon
Poney formed in Wausau in 2005 and gradually became one of the best-loved heavy bands in Wisconsin, harnessing the ferocity of hardcore but also gamely plunging into the prog-tinged far reaches of metal—tendencies that went hand-in-hand on the 2010 album Seamyth, based on Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem “The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner.” The band has been laying pretty low since the release of 2013’s Rorschach, with drummer/vocalist Ben Brooks and guitarist/bassist Tyler Spatz living in Madison and starting up the punk band No Hoax. But they’ve been at work on a new album, tentatively titled Pagan Nouveau, and plan to play all the tracks from it at this show. They’ll share the bill here with tumultuous North Carolina post-punk outfit Wailin’ Storms, Madison doom duo Dosmalés, and Madison power-pop outfit Heavy Looks. —Scott Gordon
FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 1
San Francisco’s Oxbow play a strain of noise-rock that draws a great deal from the avant-garde fringe and a heightened compositional awareness. On Thin Black Duke, their first full-length in 10 years, Oxbow deviate from the traditional elements of noise rock both in instrumentation and structure. A melodic whistle starts off opening track “Cold And Well-Lit Place” with metrical irregularity, giving the music a certain sentimental character, but only for a second. A cacophonous, fully-orchestrated interlude interrupts, and then in come the full-fledged vocals of Eugene S. Robinson. Robinson’s voice sometimes parallels the wired, berserk ravings of David Yow or the paranoid yet impassioned vehemence of Nick Cave, but it’s always commanding. As the whistling returns for a moment at the end of the song, echoing the original melody now placed under Robinson among post-rock nostalgia and agitated guitar, Oxbow leaves you excited and a little bit terrified for the journey ahead. Oxbow plays here with Chicago post-metal supergroup RLYR and local noise-rock trio Coordinated Suicides. —Emili Earhart
SATURDAY SEPTEMBER 2
Leave it to Taste Of Madison to wait until the last possible second to announce a giant headliner. This year the dubious food festival’s 93.1 Jamz stage will be graced by East Orange, New Jersey hip-hop trio Naughty By Nature. Probably best known for infectious and anthemic singles like 1991’s “O.P.P.” from their eponymous debut album and 1993’s “Hip Hop Hooray” from 19 Naughty III, Naughty By Nature were early to the crossroads of gangsta rap and pop music, blending dirty, break-heavy production, cautionary street lyrics, and massive party hooks. It’s been six years since Anthem Inc., Naughty By Nature’s latest outing, was released. Member Vin Rock has been both fired and rehired in the time that’s passed, and a new album doesn’t feel very likely, so I strongly doubt this lineup will be active too much longer. —Joel Shanahan
The latest film from Academy Award-winning documentarian—and UW-Madison alum—Errol Morris clocks in at a lean 76 minutes but, like Gates Of Heaven and Vernon, Florida, it packs a whole lot into its breezy run time. In The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography, whose Wisconsin premiere kicks off UW Cinematheque’s fall schedule, Morris profiles his friend, the genial and charming Dorfman, whose main medium is oversized Polaroids. Over her long career she’s snapped pics of famous folks and pedestrians alike, and it’s through her experiences behind the lens that Morris manages to explore the nature of how we see each other and ourselves. Also of note is the looming death of large format Polaroid film and what it means for Dorfman and for photography as a whole. As with all of Morris’s best work, expect The B-Side to find humanity in places where most documentarians don’t even look. —Chris Lay
Now in its third year, the annual Punk’s Picnic finds the members of Madison band Venus In Furs hosting a day-long potluck and lots of music at somewhere idyllic on the outskirts of town. This installment features 11 bands, most of them in the punk-rock ballpark, but with a good bit of variety among them. Venus In Furs themselves will be playing, mixing elements of surf-rock and sugary-snide pop with their menacing volume and swagger. Fellow Madisonians Sassy Come Home take a more raw approach, but with a bit of a vulnerable streak, on a self-titled release from earlier this year. Ladyscissors contribute a bit of charming lo-fi pop to the proceedings. —Scott Gordon
Well, it’s been a quiet week in Madison, Wisconsin, my hometown, out there on the edge of the Driftless area. It’s been a wetter-than-average summer, it’s been too wet for some of the crops, and the rivers are high. Too rainy most days for a picnic, but we know this much: when Garrison Keillor’s “Love & Comedy” tour and the folks at Breese Stevens Field come together, a $500 curated picnic experience is possible. Two bottles of wine, Potter’s crackers, Emmi Roth cheese, sausage, four bottles of water, two apples, two pears: a picnic for four, with a keepsake basket and corkscrew, and you’d be forgiven for thinking $500 ought to buy four people more than two pears, but ponder that from the $45 first-come-first-served uncovered bleacher seats. And that’s the news from Madison, where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the picnic baskets are curated. —Erica Motz
Madisonian noiseheads may remember Connor Camburn from when he lived here, performing bleakly busted, rhythmic passages under the name Slag Heap. Since moving back to Chicago several years ago, Camburn has continued tempering and evolving his patiently cold synth pieces under the name Litüus, and that project’s 2016 release 1980.-19905 oozes refinement. The EP is a collection of sonic implications that almost work more as installations than songs, like something a listener could hang on a wall or step right into. Camburn plays here as he readies a couple of new releases for later this year. Rounding out the bill are Hogg—one of Chicago’s finest hybrids of mutant industrial electronics and deconstructed post-punk energy—and Madison-based piano explorer (and Tone Madison writer) Emili Earhart. —Joel Shanahan
SUNDAY SEPTEMBER 3
UW Cinematheque’s sprawling, semester-long, 15-film retrospective on Pedro Almodóvar commences with his international breakthrough, 1988’s Women On The Verge Of a Nervous Breakdown. The farcical melodrama, which landed Almodóvar an Oscar nomination in 1989, reveals the visual vivacity, ribald antics, and tangled affairs that continue to define his best work and status as one of Spain’s most imitated contemporary filmmakers. Almodóvar’s influence has surfaced this decade in You And The Night (directed by Yann Gonzalez) and The New Girlfriend (by François Ozon). However, Almodóvar’s most significant hallmark may be a dogged adherence to the Bechdel test. Not only do his screenplays celebrate one complex female lead, but they often feature a multitude of striking, daring roles for women. Such is the case in Women On The Verge…, which first focuses on the emotional distress of voiceover actress Pepa (Carmen Maura), who threatens to commit suicide by sleeping pill-spiked gazpacho after her boyfriend Iván (Fernando Guillén) dumps her over the phone in an opening scene that recalls Jean Cocteau’s play The Human Voice (1930). However, before Pepa can go through with it, she is interrupted by her best friend Candela (María Barranco) and an eccentric cavalcade of characters, including Iván’s son Carlos (a bespectacled Antonio Banderas) and his narcissistic fiancée Marisa (Rossy de Palma), who are apartment-hunting. From here, Almodóvar weaves his chaotic, provocative slapstick with an irresistible personality that’s matched only by costumed chicness and the high-rise apartment’s eye-popping detail. At cursory glance, the over-the-top events may appear to be shaping up to be a grand soap opera, but the joy in watching the film is its persistent self-awareness, lovingly staging and then skewering those tropes of daytime TV. —Grant Phipps
Jason Isbell And The 400 Unit, Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls, Communist Daughter. Breese Stevens Field, 5 p.m.
Jason Isbell’s solo career technically started with 2007’s Sirens Of The Ditch, after the Alabama songwriter left the Drive-By Truckers, but you could be forgiven for thinking it started with his fourth album, 2013’s Southeastern. That record at least marked the start of a new chapter, with Isbell’s songs attaining a new clarity, balancing brutal honesty with wry tenderness and inhabiting characters so thoroughly that it’s easy forget Isbell isn’t always exactly singing about himself. Plenty of songwriters can craft a respectable sad tune, but it takes finesse and a rare grasp of one’s own lived experience to crush the listener nice and slowly, as Isbell does on Southeastern’s grief-ridden “Elephant.” On 2015’s Something More Than Free, he continued the streak and kept building up a well-deserved following. This year’s The Nashville Sound is more explicitly a full-band record, billed as Jason Isbell And The 400 Unit. Some of the more rocking moments on Nashville Sound can feel forced and overwrought, especially on the seven-minute “Anxiety,” but some, like “Cumberland Gap,” inject a new and compelling tension into Isbell’s work. If this album isn’t at quite the same knockout level as Southeastern and Something More Than Free, it’s still written with a lot of the same care and keen instincts, and across these three records alone there’s more than enough for Isbell and band to deliver a stellar set here. —Scott Gordon
Madison punk label Kitschy Manitou Records is hosting another huge show featuring a varied spread of seven national and local bands. Olympia, Washington’s Quayde LaHüe plays classic hard rock behind the 2017 release Day Of The Oppressor. Minneapolis outfit The Chinchees amp up their lovable power-pop songs with overdriven guitar and a loosely produced but full sound. Champaign’s Kowabunga! Kid is a loose cannon of energy wound within a tight pop-punk songs sung by two passive powerhouses. Chicago’s Nightcrawler lift you up with downer indie rock, while local outfit Greenhaus confuse you with quirky power-pop along with locals Real Boy (formerly, Number #1 Band Very Good) and Momotaros. —Emili Earhart