Gentle comedic brilliance from Joe Pera, crusty hardcore from Pyroklast, Afro-Latin explorations with Tribu Baharú, and more events of note in Madison this week. | By Emili Earhart, Scott Gordon, Abe Sorber, and Steven Spoerl
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THURSDAY AUGUST 9
The singer-songwriter Justin Townes Earle headlines this edition of the Central Park Sessions, with Toronto’s rollicking rockabilly/country/surf melders The Sadies serving as his backing band. It’s a good fit, as Earle’s latest album, Kids In The Street, tumbles together cheeky R&B and plaintive, restrained folk, spanning from the New Orleans boogie of “15-25” to the eerie country blues of “If I Was The Devil.”
But the two Madison-based acts on the bill are arguably doing more interesting work, and bring just as much charm to this outdoor show.
First up is Mal-O-Dua, in which guitarists Chris Ruppenthal and Cedric Baetche make their playful way through a mix of fluttery Hawaiian music, swooning French pop (complete with Baetche’s raffish crooning), and Django Reinhardt-inspired swing, with a tinge of country acting as a through-line. It sounds like an ambitious hybrid, but in Mal-O-Dua’s live sets all these elements sit together with warmth and ease, and Ruppenthal’s guitar leads (as also heard in Caravan Gypsy Swing Ensemble) skip across styles with conversational grace. The duo’s releases so far have tried to showcase different aspects of its repertoire—Hawaiian slack-key guitar on 2015’s Mahalo Dua and mostly the French and swing side on 2016’s Duo De Choc—and new recordings are on the way soon.
Up second here are singer-songwriter Nick Brown and the electric band he assembled after putting out a sparse solo debut, 2013’s Slow Boat. Brown and band developed an amiably rugged electric sound on 2017’s Contender EP, and Brown’s songwriting delved further into character sketches that balance humanity with wry humor. On the title track, Brown uses his sly baritone to tell the story of a guy who can’t stop fucking up but also can’t be defeated, at least spiritually: “I’m running on empty / I’m running my mouth / I’ll put my shit up against anybody’s in this town / ‘Cause I’m a contender, that’s what I am / Throwing my punches with bandages on my hands.” He’s got his tender moments, too, especially Slow Boat‘s opening track, “Living That Way,” but I wouldn’t be surprised if his set here favors his rowdy, smart-assed side. —Scott Gordon
FRIDAY AUGUST 10
The Madison New Music Festival returns for its third year with a three-night showcase of 20th- and 21st -century classical works. Founded in 2016 by Madison native and New York based composer Zach Green, the festival has featured local musicians as well as guest artists and composers at multiple venues in town. This year, the festival kicks off on Friday at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art with an extensive program of work connected to 1960s counterculture. Corresponding with the current MMoCA exhibit Far Out: Art From The 1960s, much of the program weaves together social and historical themes present in the museum’s exhibition, such as in Evan Williams’ work “Bodies Upon the Gears.” scored for clarinet, viola, and the audio of Mario Savio’s 1964 speech on the importance of protest. Highlighting musical styles emerging in the ’60s, such as minimalism and electroacoustic music, the program includes Steve Reich’s “New York Counterpoint” for amplified clarinet and tape, and Andy Akiho’s 2011 composition “Stop Speaking” for solo snare drum and digital playback. This opening night will also feature guest ensemble Conduit, a New York City-based percussion and clarinet duo.
The festival shifts gears in its programming for the second night, in a program at Bethel Lutheran Church. In observance of the space itself, this program features works for solo organ, spiritually inspired compositions, and spatial 20th-century works by Morton Feldman and Toru Takemitsu. The Feldman and Takemitsu are particularly fitting for Bethel Lutheran’s open hall––an acoustically appropriate, resonant, amplifying listening space. The final night of the festival will take place at Robinia Courtyard on Sunday evening, featuring a performance by local multi-instrumentalist B.C. Grimm, and a large group performance of Julius Eastman’s massive, monumental Stay On It. —Emili Earhart
SATURDAY AUGUST 11
Madison band Pyroklast had its initial run from 2007 to 2013, playing a strain of hardcore charged up to near-epic proportions with metallic filth and grandiose, dystopic rage. Pyroklast’s members have played in a lot of other very good hardcore and metal bands, including Panther, Dos Malés, and No Hoax, but Pyroklast had a distinctively bleak and crusty vision. Highlights on the band’s 2012 album, The Madness Confounds, ranged from the rapid-fire hammer-on riffs of “Extermination Of Permanence” to the thrashing fury of “Alcohol May Have Been A Factor.” The band plays a one-off reunion show here to celebrate its 10th anniversary. Joining Pyroklast here will be the Madison synth-punk outfit Cave Curse and a new Madison hardcore band, Warbastard. —Scott Gordon
SUNDAY AUGUST 12
The Makeshift Festival launched in 2017 with an ambitious day of temporary art installations and food from regional chefs in Olbrich Park. It’s the one summer festival in Madison that seems to make a point of not having music—there’s plenty of outdoor music to go around, and anyone starting a new festival might as well make a deliberate effort to do something a bit different. This year, Makeshift moves over to another idyllic east-side location, Tenney Park, setting up on the fanciful island in the park’s lagoon. Restaurants represented this year include Madison standouts like transcendent sandwich shop Casetta and the popular El Grito taco cart, but branches out across the region too, with out-of-town participants like Martha’s Daughter, one of the newer restaurants blowing up Duluth’s food scene.
The 14 artists and artistic collaboratives represented are just as varied. Eric Adjetey Anang, a native of Ghana, is known for making elaborate coffins, and Stoughton-based Actual Size Artworks specializes in site-specific installations. More performance-oriented participants include Swing State Aerial and Clean Lakes Circus, and in between there’s everything from Pennsylvania sculptor/painter Jeff Repko to the Madison multimedia duo Anti Alpha. How all of this comes together in a public park in the daytime is a big question mark, but Makeshift seems well-equipped to once again transform a familiar space. —Scott Gordon
Two percussionists who’ve studied at UW-Madison, DeLane Doyle and Aaron Gochberg have both established diverse early-career track records inside and outside of contemporary classical music: Gochberg plays in the Acoplados Latin Jazz Project, and Doyle has experimented with improvisational performances that incorporate electronics They’ll continue to explore the intersection of percussion and electronics in their work as Filament Duo, while also mining the works of contemporary composers. Even though this is already a good weekend for contemporary classical music in Madison, thanks to the Madison New Music Festival, it’s worth heading to the Terrace for this show. The two are aiming for an accessible look at their work here, playing original compositions alongside music by composers including Andy Akiho, Mark Applebaum, Anna Ignatowicz, Juri Seo, Alyssa Weinberg, and Wally Gunn. The Seo piece, “Wah,” sounds particularly adventurous: Filament Duo’s program for the show describes it as “Terry Riley’s In C, but for two wah wah tubes, much shorter, and nothing like In C.” —Scott Gordon
TUESDAY AUGUST 14
“Iron. It makes up most of the Earth’s core and is in our blood. It’s also the reason we’re here, for the most part.” These are the words that Joe Pera chose to open the first season of Adult Swim’s Joe Pera Talks With You, one of 2018’s most singular television shows. Quietly poetic, the show pivots with ease between moments of reverence and irreverence. It’s a near-perfect mirror of the wise, gentle Midwestern elder character that Pera’s been cultivating in his act for more than a decade. Like that character, the show’s shot through with nervous energy, neuroses, a gentle politeness, and unbridled warmth. For all of the show’s hard-left absurdist laughs, there are moments of deep gravitas and unflinching humanity. While there’s a plethora of jokes about things like how carving a pumpkin is a transaction that requires forfeiting 1/16th of your soul, there’s a slew of aching reminders of our own mortality and how our legacies will pale in comparison to the stoic splendor of the Upper Peninsula’s nearly 200 named waterfalls.
There’s an uncommon ebb and flow to Joe Pera Talks With You that renders its best moments unforgettable. A large part of this can be attributed to the collaborative efforts of the names attached to the show, The Tonight Show‘s Jo Firestone and Late Night‘s Conner O’Malley. That duo will be accompanying Pera on “The BlueBerry Tour,” which looks to be one of the more inspired comedy tours to run this year. All three of those comics have spent a long time climbing the ranks of NYC’s highly competitive scene and more than earned their spots as some of the city’s most respected comedic voices. —Steven Spoerl
Bogotá, Colombia band Tribu Baharú play the Afro-Latin folk music known as Champeta. Combining the fleet melodies and call-and-response vocals of African genres like highlife and soukos with the rhythmic traditions of Caribbean and indigenous Latin American peoples, the genre sprouted during the 1970s and 1980s amid a specific set of political and social circumstances, as a reaction to the marginalization of Afro-Latino people in Colombia. In Tribu Baharú’s hands, the music is dense and brightly electric, and only seems to benefit from having more things thrown into the mix, including elements of contemporary funk and reggae. Live footage of the band is invariably lively, with two vocalists coordinating lots of crowd interaction and venturing into the audience when possible—which should make for a wonderfully raucous show at the intimate North Street Cabaret. Tribu Baharú will also be headlining the Central Park Sessions on August 16. —Scott Gordon
WEDNESDAY AUGUST 15
The Ukrainian group DakhaBrakha, slated to play two sets at this Central Park Sessions show, induced about 10 minutes of mild wonderment in its 2015 video for NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series. I don’t know for sure why this outfit makes such a strong impression on me, but I have three hunches. One is the Ukrainian style of singing which, like the music of Bulgarian women’s choirs, has a particular harmonic and polyphonic texture and permits a distinctive, ringing tone of voice. Another is DahkaBrakha’s smart repackaging of folk songs in varied and exciting structures, to say nothing of their incorporation of elements of western pop and folk music of other cultures. Take the song “Sho Z-Pod Duba”: it features a call-and-response introduction that’s not a far cry from ’50s rock tunes like “Tutti Frutti” or “Jailhouse Rock,” an a capella breakdown, and a climactic ending that gives the familiar intro a boost of vigorous drumming. But most of all, I would like to think the secret is that the musicians are self-possessed, mature performers who can match the dramatic range of the music they’ve constructed.
The political context of DakhaBrakha only makes the music more urgent and vital—remember when Russia forcibly took the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine several years ago? DakhaBrakha’s music is not overtly political, although it sounds as though some of the group’s members were present at the “Euromaidan” protests in Kiev (their hometown) that preceded this takeover, and they are sisters of a more aggressive project called Dakh Daughters. I suspect they realize that they’ve found a music that has its own power. In one 2014 interview, one of DakhaBrakha’s goals is to “create new myths for a new generation of Ukrainians.” That is, this hybrid of old and new is not just for outsiders, but also to give Ukraine itself a glimpse of what its future could be. —Abe Sorber
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