Our Best of 2019 Listening Party, “The Hate U Give,” Null Device at Crucible, “Die Hard” on 35mm, and more events of note in Madison this week.
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 12
This week, Tone Madison rolled out its year-end coverage of local music, including our annual top 20 Madison records list. As always, we’ll tried to do justice to the ever-changing variety of music people create in and around our city, across a range of genres and backgrounds. We’ll also be putting together a big playlist of some of our favorites from across the year (and maybe a few from across the whole past decade) and sharing it on Thursday, December 12 at our Best of 2019 Listening Party at Giant Jones’ taproom on the east side. I’ll be hanging out there along with other folks at Tone Madison, and look forward to talking with you about the year in local music and answering your questions about what we do here. Come hang out, enjoy some great beer and snacks, and help us celebrate a busy year of local music and local journalism. We’ll also have some special buttons available for Tone Madison Sustainers, and opportunities for more readers to sign up and support our work. —Scott Gordon
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 13
Across mediums, the young adult genre gets its fair share of rightful criticism for churning out new iterations of the same stories faster than the blink of an eye. Usually, they’re stories about what it is to be a white teen. Some may be set in our world, others in a more futuristic dystopia, but ultimately, and especially where film adaptations are concerned, they tend to boil down to the same key plot points skillfully repackaged into brand-new, admittedly often compelling, stories about whiteness.
George Tillman Jr.’s 2018 film The Hate U Give, based on the novel of the same title by Angie Thomas, is a welcome disruption to this trend. Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg) is a high school student whose life is split between two worlds—Garden Heights, the Black neighborhood where her family lives, and Williamson Prep, the predominantly white prep school she attends. Starr manages to set clear boundaries between the two halves of her life until one day, while driving home from a party, she witnesses the murder of her best friend Khalil (Algee Smith) at the hands of the police. As Khalil’s tragic death is mourned across the country, the boundaries that Starr has so carefully crafted and maintained begin to disintegrate.
Stenberg’s performance here is a standout. She flutters effortlessly between the lighthearted joy of gossiping with friends, the exhaustion that accompanies the tedium of code switching, the heartbreak of tragedy, and the fiery confidence that comes along with finding your own voice. The film makes a convincing case that it’s about time to broaden the scope of what young adult film can look like. Or, at the very least, that it’s about time to give Stenberg more roles that allow her to really show off her range as an actor. —Sannidhi Shukla
Madison-based band Rocket Bureau began as a solo outlet for multi-instrumentalist and recording engineer Kyle Motor’s inexhaustible love for power-pop, and over time Motor (who has also played in bands including The Motorz and The August Teens) has built it out into a live band as well. If anyone can elevate sugary hooks and burly guitars into a fine craft, it’s Motor, who compiled some of the project’s early singles on the 2016 release Phantoms Ringing 67-73, and offered a surprisingly personal, vulnerable effort on Rocket Bureau’s 2015 EP Low Times, High Anxiety. Rocket Bureau is currently trying to wrap up a new album that’s been in the works for three years, and Motor reports that the band has “been messing with weird covers at practice to entertain ourselves,” so the band might have a “weird-ish set” here.
Green Bay band Beach Patrol has also honed some of rock’s familiar comforts into something of unusual quality, in this case with a sunnier touch and a more overt element of big-hearted R&B. Formed in 2002, Beach Patrol still sounds focused and energetic on two recent albums, 2016’s Eudaimonia and 2019’s Levity. “Standing In The Light, from Eudaimonia, finds the band dialing in on a balance of jangle and soulful boogie, complete with a joyful but not sugarcoated vocal from singer/guitarist Domenic Marcantonio. Madison’s own Cribshitter has been around almost as long, writing nightmarishly comical pop songs and wrapping them in all manner of concepts and performance antics, like the epic timeshare pitch that frames the 2015 album Acapulco, a recent branding effort that touts the band’s “strategic music leveraging,” or last year’s staged feud with a crappy video-production company. The band is planning to include some new songs in its opening set here. —Scott Gordon
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 14
The Madison-based electronic project Null Device has existed in some form or other for 25 years, and over that time has cohered into a four-piece band in love with ’80s synth-pop. Vocalist/producer/multi-instrumentalist Eric Oehler, synth player/vocalist Jill Sheridan, producer Eric Goedken, and cellist Kendra Kreutz are all-in on what that genre term suggests: sweeping yearning, the marriage of elaborate production with accessible hooks. But those constraints have never stopped Null Device from expanding its own finely honed sonic palette. The band’s new album, Line Of Sight, has an almost sinister polish to it, using prickly synth patches and plenty of open space to build up an air of suspense and yearning. Null Device will play here to celebrate the record at a special installment of Edges, Crucible’s quarterly “dark dance music” night, so in addition to Null Device’s live set, series creators DJ ellafine and DJ senseless will be spinning some of their favorite darkwave and synth-pop released in 2019.
Line Of Sight pairs its bracing and frosty sonic atmosphere with lyrics (mostly by Sheridan and Goedken) with lyrics that often reflects on struggles with temptation, or at least with compulsions that people know aren’t good for them: “I’ll say it’s only sometimes / I’ll say it yet again / I’ll say it over and over / The same right now as then,” Oehler sings on “And I Fall.” The album’s closing track, “In Love With The Bad Idea Of You,” spells it out pretty clearly (“I’m pretty sure that I / Am never gonna forget this / But I’m probably gonna regret this”) over twinkling synth melodies that feel warm and ominous in equal measure. As always, the earnest purity of Oehler’s voice gives a lot of the songs their core, but Line Of Sight reminds us that Null Device is truly an ensemble effort, especially on the brief string-driven instrumental interlude “Peripheral Vision” and the mostly instrumental expanse of “Skaftafell.” Null Device has been a dependable standby in Madison for years, but this album finds the band as lively, engaged, and restless as ever. —Scott Gordon
SUNDAY, DECEMBER 15
Before its playfully debated status as a Christmas classic, John McTiernan’s 1988 film Die Hard held up as the ultimate action film, not just of the ’80s but of all time. No amount of John Wicks or Mad Max: Fury Roads will ever unseat it from its majestic throne of eternal re-watchability and zippy one liners. Die Hard (1988) is, for my money, the standard for action films, and the Christmas season is not complete until we take a trip down to Nakatomi Plaza to salute the ultimate action hero, John McClane.
McClane (Bruce Willis, in what’s still his finest role to-date) is an off-duty New York officer decides to reluctantly fly to Los Angeles to spend Christmas with his daughter and estranged wife, only to find himself at odds with a fine-tuned group of terrorists. Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) has his plan whittled down to a fine point, but did not count on the grit and moxie of McClane interfering with his plans to steal $640 million in negotiable bearer bonds from the company. What follows is McClane taking on the role of a one-man army against a heavily armed terrorist group while leadership within the police force makes one bungling error after the other.
Interestingly enough, Die Hard initially opened to lukewarm critical reception. But time and repeat viewings have cemented its greatness among thrillers and modern cinema in general. Even the special effects were realistic and have held up over time, which is rare. It screens here on a 35mm print to close out UW Cinematheque’s fall 2019 season. —Edwanike Harbour
12/12: Black Belt Eagle Scout, Labrador. High Noon Saloon, 8 p.m. (Hear the Record Store Dropouts podcast with Black Belt Eagle Scout from May.)
12/14: JAMS: Leesh, Kitty Spit, DJ Millbot. Robinia Courtyard, 10 p.m. (Read more about JAMS in our recent report on the series.)
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