Dave Rempis, Scammers, 3rd Dimension, LakeFrontRow Cinema, and more events of note in Madison this week. | By Emili Earhart, Scott Gordon, Chris Lay, Erica Motz, Grant Phipps, Zack Stafford, David Wolinsky
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THURSDAY FEBRUARY 16
Kansas crooner Phil Diamond operates fearlessly in his project Scammers, incorporating anything from spooky psychedelia to synth bangers into an oddball pop persona for the postmodernist. Through earnest songwriting, striking individualism, and a confused concoction of personal storytelling and a cultured sense of lighthearted irony, Diamond plays between all corners of your psyche. From track to track, new characters are introduced, old diary entries exposed, achieving a multi-dimensional outsider-opera. Tippy, the project of Madison musician Spencer Bible, will headline behind some new material to follow up his two 2016 releases, a self-titled album and an EP titled Public Displays Of Affection. Bible has many projects, but his sincerity shines through perhaps the clearest in Tippy’s outsider singer-songwriter pop. The night will also welcome the debut of Rox Lee, synth outfit of Max Arthur, known as the frontman of local garage project The Minotaurs and a member of electronic outfit Double Ewes. —Emili Earhart
Madison Pop Fest: Real Numbers, Proud Parents, Pollinators, Jonesies, Exploration Team. High Noon Saloon, 8 p.m.
Madison Pop Fest assembles some of our town’s finest janglers and evergreen Minneapolis mod outfit Real Numbers at the High Noon Saloon for a shameless evening of pop devotion. Real Numbers have played Madison pretty frequently over the years, but not since their long-awaited debut LP Wordless Wonder came out on Slumberland Records late in 2016. The group’s newest material is sun-soaked mod worship, not unlike previous recordings, teetering somewhere between Television Personalities and feel-good Nikki Sudden tracks—delightfully stripped down, but never too thin. Along with Real Numbers, Proud Parents (who released one of Tone Madison’s top Madison records of 2016), Pollinators, Jonesies, and Exploration Team (ex-Automatically Yours) bring their own distinctive takes on emotionally earnest garage, twee and indie rock to the lineup. Before and between these acts, DJs will spin indie pop hits, making for a relentless evening of saccharine sweet tunes, and possibly tears. ––Zack Stafford
The UW-Madison Center for the Humanities’ Terra Incognita art series uses the arts to explore different cultures’ understandings of the complex ecology of our planet, both in how humans use the environment to serve our own ends (as in the production of energy) and in how humans form a more symbiotic relationship with the natural world. Chicago-based dancer and choreographer Ayako Kato writes that her goal is “to enhance the contemporary audience’s sensibility of “the beauty of being as it is,” inspired by the traditional Japanese aesthetic of “furyu (風流),” literally “wind flow.”
FRIDAY FEBRUARY 17
Chicago-based saxophonist Dave Rempis has been an active force both as a performer and as a coordinator in the improvised-music world. Formerly a member of Chicago’s notable The Vandermark 5, and having collaborated with internationally distinguished jazz reeds musicians such as Peter Brötzmann and Roscoe Mitchell, Rempis has also worked extensively within the Chicago community. Since 2002, Rempis has curated a weekly series featuring improvised music at Elastic Arts in Chicago, bolstering the local scene and bringing international artists to town. For this spring 2017 tour, Rempis will appear solo but perform with local musicians from each city in an effort to connect with improvised musicians around the country. For this show, he will be joining outsider jazz trio Stray Passage, featuring Brennan Connors, Brian Grimm, and Geoff Brady. —EE
Julie Dash’s Daughters Of The Dust (1991) has enjoyed a resurgence of interest since last April’s premiere of Beyoncé’s visual album Lemonade (our true Grammy-winner)—specifically, the set and costume design in the video segment for “Love Drought” strongly evoke Dash’s landmark turn-of-the-20th-century period drama. Widely recognized as the first film directed by a black woman to receive national distribution, it screens here in a new 4K digital restoration for its 25th anniversary. Set in 1902, Daughters Of The Dust depicts the earthly and faith-based struggles of the descendants of slaves who were brought to the swampy isle of Ido Landing near the South Carolina Coast. In this isolated Gullah community, the Peazant family has managed to maintain their many native African/Yoruba customs through the decades. However, a generational conflict now threatens to tear the community apart, pitting mother Haagar (Kaycee Moore)’s desire to move to mainland America against matriarch Nana (Cora Lee Day)’s wishes. Dash’s spiritually focused storytelling augmented by Arthur Jafa’s intimate and mesmerizing landscape cinematography, help the film live up to critic Richard Brody’s superlative accolade: “one of the greatest American independent films ever made.” —Grant Phipps
SATURDAY FEBRUARY 18
Chicago electronic composer Brett Naucke operates on a line that straddles the various textural domains of synth music. Working primarily with modular synths, Naucke sculpts an intricate, multi-dimensional world of purposeful, individualized melodic and rhythmic figures. These figures seem to behave within this world on their own while simultaneously appearing magnetized by the grounding force of the soundscape. This balance of self-contained, pointillistic characters, operating atop a bed of silky serenity, is evident in the title track of his 2016 Umor Rex release, Executable Dreamtime. Opening the show are two local electronic standouts, Midwaste and Auscultation. Tone Madison contributor, Joel Shanahan (who also produces under Golden Donna), performs as Auscultation, weaving bright, rhythmic colors in and out of darker, ambient patterns. Midwaste is the guitar-tape duo of Epiphany Compton and Spencer Bible. Between dense guitar drone and a spread of tape-sample conversations, Midwaste constructs a framework for an expansive wash of sound. We discuss further this Tone Madison-curated event this week in our curator’s notes. ––EE
Seeing the Milwaukee band Head On Electric 9 or 10 years ago, you would likely have met a fierce expectoration of low-end-clogged grunge. But the band was always a bit of affable, scratchy country-rock mixed in there, and that’s come to the fore on albums like 2011’s Sleep Slaughter Sheep and especially 2014’s Daddy’s Home. There’s still a fair bit of unruly noise and eerie, echo-y space, but numbers like “Canberry Road” and the delightfully titled “Northwoods Candiru” share just as much in common with fellow Milwaukeeans The Goodnight Loving. They share the bill here with wonderfully no-frills Milwaukee punk outfit Static Eyes and a rare live incarnation of Rocket Bureau, a mostly-solo project of Madison power-pop auteur Kyle Motor. —Scott Gordon
The last double-feature in UW-Cinematheque’s “Fox Restorations From MoMA” comprises a pair of Raoul Walsh’s period dramas: A western based on a Bret Harte novella, Wild Girl (1932), at 7 p.m., followed by an adaptation of the Michael Morton stage play The Yellow Ticket (1931) at 8:30 p.m. (both screening in 35mm). Wild Girl is a lighter escapade through a scenic mountain town (filmed at Sequoia National Park in California), where lovable tomboy Salomy Jane (Joan Bennett) entertains the affections of several suitors, including dubious gambler Jack Marbury (Ralph Bellamy). When a handsome stranger (Charles Farrell) rides into town to settle a score with politician Phineas Baldwin (Morgan Wallace), it spells trouble, or rather, amusement. Regulars of Cinematheque programming may recognize the title of The Yellow Ticket as a silent film (1918) that was presented in November 2015 with live musical accompaniment; this later and more famous talkie version follows the same source material but features an expanded visual palette by cinematographer James Wong Howe. A young Russian Jew, Marya Kalish (Elissa Landi), is initially denied entry into St. Petersburg to visit her ailing father. When she finally comes into possession of a yellow ticket that will permit her to pass due to the discriminatory, sexist laws of Czarist Russia, she is forced into a life of prostitution until a chance encounter with a British journalist (Laurence Olivier, in his American film debut). —GP
Minneapolis-based multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Paul Fonfara has spent well over a decade exploring an ethereal intersection of Eastern European folk and spaced-out Western scores—though his work, for a long time under the name Painted Saints and recently just under his own name, is more flexible and empathetic than just a distinctive combination of genres. Fonfara also wrangles a distinctive combination of instruments—clarinet, guitar, keys, bandoneon, vocals, whistling, among other things—which makes him a resourceful performer, whether he’s playing solo or with his recent touring partner, oddball folk musician Jim White. His most recent release, Seven Secrets Of Snow, was recorded with a seven-piece band he dubs Paul Fonfara And The Ipsifendus Orchestra. He shares the bill here with the warm, cello-driven Appleton duo Auralai. —SG
Madison hip-hop crew 3rd Dimension make a virtue of having to cram in the perspective of five members, all of whom rap and most of whom contribute some production. Since the group formed in 2010, it’s focused on playing each of its MCs’ voices off each other—usually a song will feature several voices pitching in short, tightly constructed verses, with no one member hogging the spotlight. Over time, 3rd Dimension have grown more pared-down and stark in its approach, with their most recent album, Limits, making the crowded equation feel almost spacious, thanks in large part to member Burn$ampson’s increasingly restrained production, but also to the whole group’s keen sense of how their voices fit together and contrast. For more about that album, read our interview with 3rd from October. —SG
SUNDAY FEBRUARY 19
In Janicza Bravo’s Woman In Deep, the first film in the Memory Presents Program No. 2 shorts collection, a woman calls a suicide prevention hotline and is put on hold. It’s a morbid joke, stopping just short of a “…I get no respect” punchline, but it sets the tone for the often darkly comical and dreamily mysterious works that follow. Music nerds might have had one of the films, Zia Anger’s My Last Film, spoiled for them when it hit the net as a news item on sites like Pitchfork as a news item thanks to Mac Demarco’s involvement (he plays God), but I’m sure it will look a lot better on the big screen in Vilas than it does on your iPhone’s Vimeo app. The Program No. 2 lineup runs a broad gamut, including shorts as diverse as a mini documentary on Native American hunting traditions, Elizabeth Lo’s Bisonhead, and a straight up music video for Jamie xx’s song “Gosh” directed by Romain Gavras. For my money, though, the real pick of the litter here is the spookily existential Beach Week by David Raboy, which manages to infuse some existential dread into an otherwise enjoyable vacation for a group of twenty-somethings. Like all shorts collections, Program No. 2 is a bit of a mixed bag, but the hits far outnumber the misses. —Chris Lay
When the third film in the Harry Potter franchise was released in 2004, I was an 11-year-old Harry Potter loyalist. I was upset about the death of Richard Harris, who I thought to be the more authentic Albus Dumbledore, and his replacement with the comparatively angrier and inauthentic Michael Gambon. I was resentful of the teen girl magazine I subscribed to at the time for writing how wonderful it was that the actors got to take off their “stuffy school robes” for the action scenes. Why would they wear Muggle clothing in the wizarding world? Gary Oldman as Sirius Black looked too healthy for someone who 12 twelve years disguising himself as a dog in Azkaban. Director Alfonso Cuarón, I was sure, didn’t have a clue what he was doing. Thirteen years later, I’m eating crow (you guys, I held myself back from saying “I’m eating hippogriff”)—Cuarón delivered the darkest, most memorable adaptation of the books with the most imaginative magical effects. The film screens here as part of a UW Cinematheque series honoring composer John Williams, whose score enhances the overall sense of discovering a magical world that contains both good and evil, an element that was somewhat lacking in the first two films. The Prisoner Of Azkaban focuses less on on the central conflict of the series—Harry Potter’s struggle with Lord Voldemort—and more on the orphaned Harry learning about his family, discovering connections to his forgotten past. —EM
The Great Stand-Up Boom of the 20th century that gave us Seinfeld and Home Improvement and countless others, in hindsight, presented a predictable career trajectory for aspiring performers who at the outset were only drawn to the stage out of tenacious compulsion. In the 1970s and 1980s, the notion that a comedian could earn a living telling jokes and doing TV and movies was not just quixotic, it was like describing an alternate reality. Sinbad seemed readymade for such success, and although he has a lot in common with Jerry Seinfeld (both are fixated on the minutiae of everyday life in their material and also tend to play clean), they obviously have charted different paths. Sinbad was ubiquitous in the ‘90s, and this century seems intent to surface to poke fun at his career (the 2010 Comedy Central special Where U Been) and expectations (turns dabbling with the straight-up weird on It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia and The Eric Andre Show, not to mention his revival of the vividly remembered but not-real genie movie Shazam). But, unlike other comedians from a bygone era and also oddly just like Jerry Seinfeld, Sinbad persists and evolves and always demonstrates that he’s game and has something to say. —David Wolinsky
WEDNESDAY FEBRUARY 22
As part of Madison film website LakeFrontRow‘s ongoing series showcasing independent Wisconsin filmmakers, Manitowoc-based writer-director Melonie Gartner will visit here to screen and discuss two of her dramatic short films. In 2014’s Two Rivers, Gartner and co-director Jay Hanning take an unflinching look at an abusive relationship between a couple (Gartner herself, and Wisconsin cult-horror hero Mark Borchardt) against a backdrop of blue-collar decay. The 2016 prequel, Where The Great Spirits Live, gets into the backstory of how the toxic couple got together. —SG
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