The eccentric videos of George Kuchar, boundary-pushing pop from Yves Tumor, music meets spoken word and comedy at Gender Fest, and more events of note in Madison this week. | By Scott Gordon, Edwanike Harbour, Mike Noto, Caleb Oakley, Grant Phipps, Joel Shanahan, and Henry Solo
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THURSDAY JANUARY 31
Yves Tumor, DJ Speedsick. Memorial Union Play Circle Theater, 9 p.m. (free)
For the past few years, the moody experiments of Turin, Italy-based producer Yves Tumor have evolved rapidly and plummeted deep into uncharted territory. On 2018’s Safe In The Hands Of Love, Tumor (née Sean Bowie) deconstructs elements of hip-hop, industrial, post-rock, emo, and R’n’B and melts them down into a potent tincture of abstract and confrontational pop. One of the album’s biggest head-turners is “Lifetime,” a melancholy pop tune that’s guided along by the slanted, shuffling rhythms of Evan Johns—former drummer of nu-metal band Hurt. “I miss the days out in Biscayne / I miss my brothers,” croons Tumor over a bed of ominously dreamy piano, murky synth bass, and drifting pads. Despite Tumor’s pop elements coming deeper into focus on this album, “Hope In Suffering (Escaping Oblivion & Overcoming Powerlessness)”—a collaboration with post-industrial doom-bringer Puce Mary and Oshy—offers a confrontational counterbalance with its urgent spoken word, grueling textures, and no beat to lean into for comfort. —Joel Shanahan
Melodrama / Melodiary: Three Videos By George Kuchar. Arts + Literature Laboratory, 7:30 p.m.
The Mills Folly Microcinema series leaps into 2019 with the accessible eccentricities of the late George Kuchar, whose 1989 visit to the UW-Madison campus inspired the cheeky meta diary-film, 500 Millibars To Ecstasy, now celebrating its 30th anniversary. Every so often over the years, local screening series in Madison have featured Kuchar’s work, including one of his most famous and influential avant-garde shorts, Hold Me While I’m Naked (1966), which simultaneously embraces high art and kitsch. Kuchar blurs the line between mocking and celebrating the internal melodrama of amateur filmmaking, instilling it with an enchanting performance art quality that inspired provocateur and “Pope of Trash” John Waters.
In this program that shares a similarly irreverent, self-referential spirit, curator James Kreul has gathered a triptych shot on videotape in the latter part of the 1980s. Calling Dr. Petrov (1986) reveals more direct ties to the staging of the creative process in Hold Me, while the successive two offer a sort of comic meditation on the personal video diary (predating the modern “vlog”). Widening his coy commentary, absurdist first-person observations, and an askew, reflexive collagist editing style, Weather Diary 3 (1988) and 500 Millibars starkly and immediately provide an artery into Kuchar’s distinctive methodology. Where Petrov is more theatrically claustrophobic, the skies of El Reno, OK, in Weather Diary are spacious, and precipitate Kuchar’s escalating fascination with weather patterns and meteorology that resurface in 500 Millibars through his encounters with former UW-Madison student Mike Kuetemeyer. Traveling with his creative partner Jerome in the latter, Kuchar concurrently narrates his experiences from the past and present with a leering hilarity as he scouts several presently iconic and former establishments in the State Street vicinity. —Grant Phipps
FRIDAY FEBRUARY 1
Kacey Musgraves, Liza Anne. Sylvee, 8 pm. (sold out)
Kacey Musgraves’ most recent album, Golden Hour, burst through 2018’s everlasting clouds like a rush of celestial light. That light still shines in 2019, largely due to the record’s emotional depth and a genre-mixing approach—though still with a country nucleus—that will help the record hold up over the long haul. Musgraves exhibited a sleeve-worn sincerity on past hits like “Follow Your Arrow,” but this time she pairs the sweetness of those songs with the substance needed for proper balance. The album’s title track is a perfect example. Though the song is compositionally similar to “Follow Your Arrow,” mainly built around Musgraves’ voice and acoustic guitar,” Musgraves seems more content here to let her emotions and lyrics radiate naturally rather than channel them into a straightforward message. Instead of directly addressing the listener, she sends lyrics like “You make the world look beautiful / I thought I’d seen it all before / But looking through your eyes / It looks like paradise” to a nameless second-person. But Musgraves also buoys the album’s replayability with the bubbly synth line that appears on “Butterflies” and the Bon Iver-ish auto-tune on “Oh, What A World” and the danceable “High Horse.” Golden Hour captures a young artist completely confident in the ability to inject grounded and well-meaning sincerity into even the bleakest of situations. —Henry Solo
Jenny Slate. Comedy Club on State, 8 & 10:30 p.m. (also Feb. 2, all shows sold out)
Though she’s best known for her voice acting, Jenny Slate has deep roots in stand-up, and makes it so that you pretty much have to get to shows like this in-person to experience that part of her work. After being axed from Saturday Night Live after one season, Slate hit it big voicing the adorable animated short Marcel The Shell With Shoes On (which has a staggering 30 million views on YouTube) while picking up smaller television roles on Bob’s Burgers, Parks & Recreation, and Kroll Show. Slate broadened her film career from voice acting roles to starring in the indie hit Obvious Child in 2014 and Landline three years later. Slate’s recent projects include season 2 of Netflix’s Big Mouth, where she plays the precocious and abundantly nerdy Missy, and the action film Venom. Although Slate’s voice may seem hard to escape behind a screen, most audiences have seen little of her behind a microphone. To be fair, she played a comic in Obvious Child, but many of her character’s sets in the film more closely resembled diatribes than a tight five. She has refused offers to record a special and hates to be filmed on stage, so if you were hoping to see Slate in this medium, this may be your best chance. —Caleb Oakley
Detour. Vilas Hall, 7 p.m. (free)
This semester’s UW Cinematheque schedule features a series of several films Universal Pictures released between 1928 and 1936, a diverse and fruitful period for that studio. While Edgar G. Ulmer’s steely 1945 noir Detour is not part of this specific retrospective, it’s got some thematic kinship with it, in that it’s a great film that belies its low budget and boasts rich black-and-white cinematography.
Tom Neal stars as Al Roberts, a struggling pianist in New York City whose girlfriend is pursuing an acting career in California. He decides to hitchhike west to meet up with her. He gets into a convertible with one Charles Haskell Jr. (played by Edmund MacDonald). An unexpected tragedy befalls the two during this trip and Roberts is faced with an ordeal that will have him regretting every decision he has made that led him up to this point.
Detour‘s runtime on the is only 68 minutes, but it is worth every minute to see Ann Savage’s performance as the vituperative, scheming hitchhiker Vera, whose only goal is to turn the other characters’ misfortunes to her own advantage. The narrative and tight script keep the film moving at a good clip. It can feel claustrophobic at times, with Savage and Neal having to carry most of the film, but this a great introduction into American film noir for those who are unfamiliar with the genre. —Edwanike Harbour
SATURDAY FEBRUARY 2
Bongzilla, Tubal Cain, Ruin Dweller, Decarabia. High Noon Saloon, 9 p.m.
What do you get when you put together a collection of relentlessly swinging hard-rock riffs tuned low enough to vibrate reinforced concrete with hilariously monomaniacal drug references and vocals that hiss like a snake trying to thrash its way out of a mongoose’s mouth? Reports vary, but chances are it isn’t the new Vampire Weekend. Bongzilla has been Madison’s primary stoner-metal export since its foundation in 1995, and the formula was perfected on LP at some point in the early 2000’s after a scattering of EPs and dedicated touring. Many point to 2002’s Gateway as the best record the band has put out thus far, but guitarist/vocalist Michael “Muleboy” Makela is on record as preferring the earlier and grindingly heavy 12″ EP Apogee. After a one-off show at Capital City Tattoo following 2005’s Amerijuanican, an album crafted during a period of internal difficulty, Bongzilla unofficially broke up and remained inactive until 2015. Then the group reunited its the Gateway-era lineup (crucially featuring Makela’s songwriting partner, bassist Cooter Brown) and began playing metal festivals, which helped expand their already substantial following.
Unsurprisingly, the group doesn’t play in town very often these days. But when it does, the shows now tend to be extravaganzas, and this is no different. The band’s using this appearance at the High Noon to introduce its own “Amerijuanican” beer, an IPA made by the Minneapolis brewery Fair State Brewing Cooperative. More importantly, the bill is also a stacked, and surprisingly subgenre-diverse, sampling of Madison metal. The awesomely energetic and enjoyable first-wave black metal stalwarts Tubal Cain will appear alongside the nastily feral blackened death metal of Ruin Dweller, and the notably slug-paced doom metal of the newer group Decarabia. Considering that the band could have picked any number of famous out-of-town metal bands to punch up the bill even further, Bongzilla should be commended for keeping the bill so specifically Madison-heavy. This promises to be a very fun and extremely loud performance, since the band’s walls of Sunn and Green amplifiers are definitely not for show. Bring earplugs. —Mike Noto
Gender Fest. Bos Meadery, 6 p.m.
Madison punk duo Gender Confetti are hosting and playing Gender Fest, billed as a variety show that places an emphasis on trans, non-binary, and gender-non-conforming artists. In addition to Gender Confetti’s defiant queer-punk affirmations, the music portion of the evening will feature the complex but always catchy R&B of Dequadray, the earnestly searching rhymes of MC KiloSkitL’z, and rock outfit Call Them Q. The show will also branch out into spoken-word performance from Ameer(a) and comedy from Cal Smith and Lev Simmons. At 10 p.m., festivities will move down the street to the Black Locust Café for an after-party featuring DJ and electronic producer Saint Saunter. —Scott Gordon
TUESDAY FEBRUARY 5
The Bomb. Union South Marquee, 7 p.m. (free)
The hour-long 2016 documentary The Bomb may open with a satellite’s view of Earth, a serene, wide-angle panorama of humanity’s achievements and aspirations, but it quickly plummets back down to the surface to face the realities of geopolitical fear-mongering and existential threats in oppressive military parades, rocket contrails, seismic blasts from atomic tests, and ensuing fallout. Often favoring a silent impressionism, co-directors Smriti Keshari, Eric Schlosser, and Kevin Ford embrace the ethos that once guided Godfrey Reggio throughout his Qatsi Trilogy (1982-2002) in re-contextualizing archival footage through shrewd editing and an evocative, engaging score. Here, electronic quartet The Acid‘s compositions oscillate between ambient techno, drone, and lyrical, moody alternative R&B in an effort to capture not only the gravity of nuclear armaments in Operation Upshot-Knothole and Atlas Missile launches through the 1950s, but also the downright absurdity of “duck and cover” civil defense demonstrations. The latter, for example, were sold to appease the public and quite distinctly adopted in Raygun Gothic style and parodied by the Fallout game series.
While the film does not adhere to the linear analysis of nuclear development one might expect in a scientific documentary, it’s significant to acknowledge the filmmakers’ compassionate concerns for the average civilian, as the proliferation of nuclear weapons seems to be setting us up for an inevitable catastrophe. The Bomb is indeed a catalyst to a long overdue public conversation. Aptly, following this co-presentation by Outrider Foundation and the Holtz Center for Science and Technology Studies, co-director Keshari will lead a discussion panel with Rachel Bronson, President of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, as well as Tom Weis, faculty member at the Rhode Island School of Design. —Grant Phipps
2/1: February Night Light. Central Library, 6:30 p.m. (free)
2/2: Rue De L’Estrapade. Vilas Hall, 7 p.m. (free)
2/2: Isaiah Collier And The Chosen Few. Café Coda, 8 p.m.
2/3: Back Street. Chazen Museum of Art, 2 p.m. (free)
2/3: Solid Freex, Black Cat, Dumb Vision, Usufruct. High Noon Saloon, 8 p.m.