Tani Diakite, Robbie Fulks, Pachinko, Amanda Shires, and more events of note in Madison this week. | By Emili Earhart, Joel Shanahan, Chris Lay, Grant Phipps, Chali Pittman
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THURSDAY DECEMBER 1
Amanda Shires, Andrew Leahey. Frequency, 8 p.m.
One of the most striking features of Amanda Shires’ latest album, My Piece Of Land, is how much power the singer/songwriter/fiddler finds in elements that would otherwise seem slight and quiet. Songs like “Pale Fire,” “Mineral Wells,” and “Harmless” build around Shires’ understated vocal melodies and violin phrases, leaving their emotional imprint through gentle but firm insistence. Really there’s nothing frail about it—Shires’ songs have sturdy foundations, and she builds around them with an expert subtlety, yielding a refreshing and disarming take on country. —Scott Gordon
Strange Sounds At Nottingham. Nottingham Co-Op, 7 p.m.
While a full night of live electronic music Madison is already a rarity, Strange Sounds At Nottingham is extra-special in that it’s a chance to hear electronic music through the lens of a few celebrated, leftfield rock locals. For starters, acrobatic Myrmidons drummer Courtney Jarman will debut an updated version of her Mori Mente project, which was last heard from in 2015 with the cryptic lounge-pop EP In There Somewhere. Jarman recently teased out a tune from her upcoming album Zenith called “Hyperion”—a swinging, synth-charged dance tune with playfully unsettling chords, muted guitar, and a deep, slinky bassline. Tyranny Is Tyranny frontman Russell Hall will break off a rare live set with his trip-hop-inspired Bell & Circuit moniker, under which he dropped a pair of 2015 EPs in the scratchier and more abrasive Hunting Down The Killers and the groovier, more subdued Latency. Finally, the solo version of sonic shapeshifter Spencer Bible’s Tippy project will round out the bill. —Joel Shanahan
Moomins On The Riviera. Union South Marquee, 7 p.m. (free)
WUD Film’s Thursday Starlight Cinema programming usually favors the avant-garde, but 2014’s Moomins On The Riviera brings the modest charm of animated family comedy to the series. Featuring cuddly, carefree hippopotamus-like creatures from the mind of Finnish artist Tove Jansson, this latest English-dubbed adaptation recalls Jansson’s original mid-20th-century comics in the sincerest of hand-drawn fantasies by co-directors Hanna Hemilä and Xavier Picard. An amalgam of Jansson’s various scenarios dressed in a soothingly warm color palette, the ebullient plot follows the Moomin family, innocent Snork Maiden, and tenacious Little My of Moominvalley, who all head to the French Riviera to chase romantic adventure only to unwittingly become seduced by the opulence of the locale. After checking into a five-star hotel as “Les Moomins” without acknowledging its exorbitant rates, they find themselves schmoozing, gambling, and lounging with chic and conceited celebrities. Hemilä and Picard avoid the manic pacing that may define many Stateside animated features of the last half-decade and leisurely capture the gang’s follies in a droll commentary on class and privilege. —Grant Phipps
Blind Boys Of Alabama, Liz Vice. Wisconsin Union Theater, 7:30 p.m.
It’s pretty remarkable that veteran gospel outfit Blind Boys Of Alabama still boasts original member Jimmy Carter, who co-founded the group at the Alabama Institute For The Negro Blind a whopping 77 years ago. Somehow, the group didn’t truly hit mainstream prominence until pulling a Grammy win for 2001’s Spirit Of The Century, which was produced by longtime Donovan collaborator John Chelew. From there, the Blind Boys probably caught their biggest break when their cover of Tom Waits’ bluesy Bossa Nova cut “Way Down In The Hole”—with its deep, elastic bass line and gritty crooning—caught a placement in the opening credits of The Wire‘s first season. Throughout the past 15 years, Carter and company have endured extensive lineup changes, but have collaborated with everyone from Peter Gabriel to Vince Gill to, most recently, a cast of indie-folk types like Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and My Brightest Diamond’s Shara Worden on 2013’s I’ll Find A Way. —JS
Greg Fitzsimmons. Comedy Club on State, through Dec. 3, see link for all showtimes.
Greg Fitzsimmons’ resume has the regular old “popular podcast” and “lots of late night sets” sort of stuff that just about every other comic worth their salt has going for them these days, but with some odd twists. On top of his status as a “frequent guest” on the podcasts of Adam Carolla and Joe Rogan, he was on Tough Crowd With Colin Quinn, where he held his own sharing a couch with Patrice O’Neal and Greg Giraldo. For me, Fitzsimmons is still fairly middle of the road, with material that, while it might be personal, still manages to feel just a hair too broad to win over hipper folks. He’s a career comedian who’s managed to savvily diversify his talents, a high-ranking jack of many trades. I feel like I’m underselling the guy, but for real, he’s the sort of old-school comic who knows the ropes and, even if he’s not going to be incredibly challenging, the comedy club stage is where he’s at home. Jacob Williams features, and Esteban Touma hosts. —Chris Lay
Black Narcissus. Central Library, 6:30 p.m. (free)
It’s still shocking to think that the films of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger nearly slipped out of the cinematic canon but for the efforts of Martin Scorsese and his coterie of Movie Brat director pals, but there was a legitimate moment when their films, including The Life And Death Of Colonel Blimp, The Red Shoes, and Black Narcissus, were almost lost to us. Starring Deborah Kerr as Sister Superior Clodagh, 1947’s Black Narcissus concerns the low key struggles of a convent in the Himalayas. While it’s perhaps neither the best jumping-in point for Powell and Pressburger’s oeuvre nor the flashiest example of the technicolor fireworks that they were capable of together, its strengths can be found in its erotic subtleties and unobtrusive yet masterfully inventive visual effects. It’s no wonder that the cinematography and art direction eventually earned the film some Academy Awards. —CL
FRIDAY DECEMBER 2
WORT 41st Birthday Bash: Fury Things, The Apologists, Robbie Fulks, Son Del Atlantico, Hirt Alpert. High Noon Saloon, 5 p.m.
Chicago-based singer, guitarist, and songwriter Robbie Fulks (billed weirdly in the middle of WORT’s annual anniversary show) has, since the early 1990s, traded on a blend of deep-reaching country songcraft and mischievous, at times absurdly erudite humor. There’s always been a great deal of emotional range to Fulks’ work, from his blue-collar-desperation anthem “Let’s Kill Saturday Night” to the complex romantic sketches of 2001’s album Couples In Trouble. But on his last two albums, 2013’s Gone Away Backward and 2016’s Upland Stories, all his nuances and contradictions yield up a new maturity against a backdrop of sparse, bluegrass-style instrumentation. The charmingly nasal vocals, cleverly constructed tunes, prickly guitar virtuosity, and occasional swerves into dark comedy are still here, but somehow these two records feel like a new vantage point from which to consider Fulks’ depth. Perhaps that’s because both albums feel so reflective in their subject matter—the characters in songs like Backward‘s foreboding opener “I’ll Trade You Money For Wine” and Upland‘s wistful “Never Come Home” find themselves looking back on their past and, more often than not, feeling at odds with it, no more peaceful despite all the perspective they’ve gained. Fulks’ live shows can be goofy and raucous affairs—maybe he’ll give Madison a preview of his infamous annual “Rap Of The Dead,” which should be quite a piece of work this year. —SG
Night Light: Art and Dance. Central Library, 7 p.m. (free)
Madison Public Library’s Night Light, a monthly curation of after-hours arts and entertainment, continues in December with a mixture of art installations and dance performances. The wealth of pieces in this month’s curation makes this Night Light especially promising. On the art side, there will be an installation exploring the essence of spatial construction from Nashville-based mixed media artist Mandy Rogers Horton, a piece exploring the lived experience of fear from photographer and “emotional archivist” Jennifer Bastian, sculpture from local artist Amy Bethel, and a piece exploring chess play in popular culture from artists-in-residence Amy Mietzel and Marcia Yapp. UW-Madison’s Dictionary of American Regional English promises a “random scoot” through their work, and there will be screenings from the now-defunct film lending library the Bureau of Audiovisual Instruction (BAVI). At 7 p.m., enjoy an interdisciplinary collaboration between textile artist Meeta Mastani and her students and Li Chiao-Ping ensemble’s interpretation of the work through a dance performance called “Rubedo.” —Chali Pittman
Nils Bultmann. Arts + Literature Laboratory, 8 p.m.
San Francisco-based violist and composer Nils Bultmann is returning to Madison for an evening of solo-viola and multimedia performance. A UW-Madison graduate and former student of Pro Arte Quartet member Sally Chisholm, Bultmann has explored several spheres of classical and left-field performance in his career so far. After a stint as violist for the New World Orchestra, Bultmann has focused on composition and improvisation, working on a wide array of collaborations, including several projects with Roscoe Mitchell’s Transatlantic Art Ensemble. Bultmann has also released three solo albums featuring adventurous instrumentation, smoothly sliding among the spectrum of free-improvisation and complex, composed forms. Coupled with original, provocative musical elements, Bultmann’s multimedia endeavors have featured interactive components and video installations. —Emili Earhart
SATURDAY DECEMBER 3
The Goalie’s Anxiety At The Penalty Kick. Vilas Hall, 7 p.m. (free)
Wim Wenders’ brooding and absorbing second film, 1972’s The Goalie’s Anxiety At The Penalty Kick, finds the then-young director developing his voice through a literary scenario for the first time. In a classic art-house blending of existentialism with a distinctively detached sense of sophistication, this adaptation of the thrillingly surreal novel by Peter Handke explores the unraveling of goalie Josef Bloch (Arthur Brauss) after he’s ejected from a Vienna soccer game for protesting a referee’s call. Handke’s source text has often been compared to author Alain Robbe-Grillet’s sharply methodical influence on the French New Wave; but his harrowing and well-focused contributions to the screenplay here seem to foreshadow Paul Schrader and Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976). Under Wenders’ sturdy direction, the film reveals the main character’s itinerant desires and slowly emerging sociopathic tendencies as he pursues the company of cinema cashier Gloria (Erika Pluhar). —GP
Pachinko, Vanishing Kids, No Hoax, Clean Room. Crystal Corner Bar, 9 p.m.
Homebound and playing among a stacked bill of local rippers on this show is Madison-born oddball noise-rock group Pachinko. While Pachinko has accumulated a certain level of admiration for once being signed to Jello Biafra’s label Alternative Tentacles, the eccentric post-hardcore outfit has plenty of merit regardless of those credentials. Combining elements of thrash-hardcore, skronk/No Wave flavors, and a nod at Gibby Haynes-esque humor and vocalisms, Pachinko balances a nostalgic acknowledgement of the goofier side of 1990s noise rock, delivering an unorthodox take on a peculiar sense of brutality. Sharing the bill is an anomalous spread of local rock outfits, all playing behind 2016 releases. Back with their untitled EP is Vanishing Kids, who channel doomy psychedelia glazed in a wash of dark, dreamy synth. Punk act No Hoax will be rounding out the night along with Clean Room, whose music has a classic stoner-rock quality. —EE
Damsel Trash, Screamin’ Cyn Cyn And The Pons. Frequency, 10 p.m.
Back in the mid- through late-aughts, Madison band Screamin’ Cyn Cyn And The Pons built up an adoring audience with punk songs that mixed trivial subject matter with an aspect of wackadoodle performance art. Singer/keytar player Shane O’Neill and guitarist/singer Cynthia Burnson brought frantic charisma to songs about drinking at Pedro’s, demented dinner parties, and defying the government by having too many cats. O’Neill moved to New York in 2011, while the other band members have gone on to newer Madison projects—including Burnson with Venus In Furs, bassist Christian Burnson in The Flavor That Kills, and drummer Steve Shah in Paper Wasp. They make a welcome holiday-time return here, sharing the bill with their spiritual kin in theatrical Madison punk duo Damsel Trash. —SG
Players’ Ball. Memorial Union Play Circle, 7:30 p.m.
The innovative event-throwers at Intellectual Ratchet will center first annual Players’ Ball party around a DJ competition, and it’s structured in a way that actually sounds fun. They’ve taken an online vote to narrow the field down to six contestants: DJ Boyfrrriend, DJ deep.BLK, DJ *End Society, DJay Flo, DJay Mando, and DJ Robb Otics. The three rounds have themes that make sure the competition doesn’t come at the expense of partying and cull the field based on crowd response. First, all six DJ will trade hits from the ’90s and aughts, then the remaining four will spin a set of “Players’ Anthems” (“Players are defined as men, women, or gender non-conforming folks who get theirs,” organizers note), and then the final two will duel with sets of their own selection. Finally, the winner will have the rest of the night to spin and read the crowd as they please. —SG
SUNDAY DECEMBER 4
Gabriel Alegria Afro-Peruvian Sextet. Music Hall, 3 p.m.
The endlessly energetic Peruvian trumpeter Gabriel Alegria incorporates the black rhythms of coastal Peru and that music’s African heritage into his study of jazz styles in the United States to create a compelling take on Latin jazz-fusion. Members of his sextet have a relaxed temperament and are able to play off of each other with ease—when they’re not playing, they love to cook together, which can only be a sign of good communication. Audiences should definitely pay attention to the percussion section on this one and note Shirazette Tinnin on the box drum cajón and Freddy “Huevito” Lobatón on the tiny wooden cajita as well as on the quijada (an instrument which the group’s website excitedly lists as the “jaw bone of an ass!”). —CP
Polish Film Festival. Union South Marquee, 1 & 3 p.m. (free)
Picking up from its previous screenings on November 20, the 2016 Polish Film Festival’s second and final date features a similarly divergent pairing in terms of subject matter and tone. The historical psychological chamber drama Blindness will screen at 1 p.m. in the Marquee Theater, and it will followed by the sprawling romantic comedy Planet Single at 3:15 p.m. The former, a sobering reflection by veteran director Ryszard Bugajski (Interrogation), takes place in 1962, when infamous Stalinist-era interrogator-persecutor Julia Brystiger (Maria Mamona) renounces Communism to seek God’s forgiveness for crimes against humanity. Its steady, searing tale of redemption is realized not only in guilt-ridden hallucinations, which slowly undo Brystiger’s longstanding ideology, but in her appeals for a conference with the country’s Primate, Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński (Marek Kalita), whose arrest she orchestrated not 10 years prior. In Planet Single, director Mitja Okorn diverges from those self-serious lamentations for a rollicking meditation on modern love. Planet Single concerns a fateful Valentine’s Day meeting between Tomek (Maciej Stuhr), garrulous host of a controversial late-night talk-show, and Ania (Agnieszka Więdłocha), a reserved music teacher trying to find companionship through the online dating service of the title. Stunned by Ania’s idealistic pursuit, Tomek offers to document her adventures in dating on his popular program, but his initial intention to expose and ridicule seems to take a turn when Ania encounters her perfect match. —GP
Micro-Wave Cinema: The Arbalest. Vilas Hall, 7 p.m. (free)
What we said back in September in our Micro-Wave Cinema season preview: “It’s impossible to watch the trailer for The Arbalest, which tells the story of a toy inventor’s seemingly less-than-whimsical obsession with a specific woman, and not pick up on some intense Wes Anderson vibes. That said, even though there’s some hero worship going on here, Adam Pinney is managing to troll some weirder waters than Anderson would ever take on, adding a dash of drive-in griminess to the stylistic zippiness.” —CL
Falter, Pissed On, Wolfxpiss. The Wisco, 9 p.m.
On 2015’s Darker, Milwaukee band Falter pull the nastier, more stripped-down shades of grindcore and powerviolence and blend them with the untamed screeches of pre-metalcore outfits like Shutdown and Will Haven. With EP opener and highlight “Slipping,” and its downtuned, growling guitars, punishing avalanche of boxy drum blasts, and frantically screeched vocals, the band refreshingly eschew any semblance of comforting stoner-metal fuzz. On tunes like “Captive” and “Discontent,” Falter even bring in the filthy, chugging hardcore breakdowns that were strategically (and exhaustingly) placed in virtually every metalcore tune of the aughts, but make them sound urgent and fresh. Falter will be joined by couple of piss-themed bands from Louisville in murky grindcore outfit Pissed On and thrash-punks Wolfxpiss. —JS
TUESDAY DECEMBER 6
Colin Matthes: Essential Knowledge. Arts + Literature Laboratory, 6 p.m. (free)
One of the strangest and wittiest parts of MMOCA’s ongoing Wisconsin Triennial exhibit is Milwaukee artist Colin Matthes’ series of drawings “Essential Knowledge.” The pieces use crude illustration and frantically scrawled handwriting to provide instructions for dicey and sometimes absurd situations—subjects include “making a boat from the ruins of a gas station” and “surviving a grizzly attack.” But as darkly comic as it is, the series raises some serious questions: What skills are worth cultivating, and which ones would you want to have if things got desperate? In a workshop at ALL, Matthes will ask participants to join him around a table and share their own “essential knowledge,” through both conversation and drawings of their own. The workshop is free, but advance registration is recommended. —SG
WEDNESDAY DECEMBER 7
Tani Diakite And The Afrofunkstars, Los Checos. Majestic, 8:30 p.m.
Tani Diakite is one of Madison’s under-appreciated musical treasures, not least when he’s singing and playing a stringed instrument called the kamale n’goni (a way-back ancestor to the banjo) with his large band the Afrofunkstars. That band’s last proper release, 2012’s Dalonkan, centers on Diakite’s powerful, flowing vocals and the rhythmically complex figures he plays on kamale n’goni, but fleshes things out with horns, densely layered percussion, guitar, and wurlitzer, bringing a diverse array of African music styles—as well as jazz, reggae, and funk—into dialogue with the music of Diakite’s native Wassalou region in Mali. The band plays here in a benefit for Madison-based non-profit Ceiba Foundation for Tropical Conservation. —SG