Black Midi, “The Fate Of Lee Khan,” experimental music at the Tip Top, and more events of note in Madison this week.| By Maxwell Courtright, Scott Gordon, Edwanike Harbour, John McCracken, and Shaun Soman
Sponsor message: The weekly Tone Madison calendar is made possible with support from Union Cab of Madison, a worker-owned cooperative providing safe and professional taxi services.
THURSDAY, JULY 18
Grief, deceased animals, and a love affair fill the pages of Kristen Arnett’s 2019 debut novel, Mostly Dead Things. The book follows the story of a family coping with the intricacies of a tragic suicide. The protagonist, Jessa-Lynn Morton, is left to smooth out the skin of the family’s taxidermy business in the wake of her father’s death, all while coping with her own trauma. Setting the story in hot, humid, and bittersweet Central Florida, Arnett also focuses on putting the logistics of queer women’s lives on display. In a recent interview with Vulture, Arnett explained that she wanted the novel to explore this question: “What’s the day-to-day domestic routine if you just happen to be a queer woman?” The novel packs a one-two punch: It’s beautifully witty, but captures people stuffed with longing, hurt, desire, and other messy emotions.
Arnett comes to Madison in the midst of her book tour to give a reading in partnership with local literary incubator 702WI, at State Line Distillery alongside locally based author and teacher Michelle Wildgen. This won’t be the first time Arnett has talked shop with the backdrop of tasty drinks, as she literally had a book launch for her 2017 short-story collection Felt In The Jaw at a 7-11. Following a reading, Arnett and Wildgen will lead a discussion and Q & A. Perhaps you can ask a question about the book or find out if there is any truth to the claim that a library is just like a gas station; Arnett is sure to have an answer. —John McCracken
FRIDAY, JULY 19
For those who like their fight scenes with unusually balletic razzle-dazzle, the wuxia classic The Fate Of Lee Khan (1973) has it in spades. Featuring a main cast of predominantly women, King Hu’s action flick serves up plenty of sound-effects-assisted gravity-challenging sequences to punctuate a plot full of shifting allegiances and trickery.
The Fate Of Lee Khan transports viewers to central China in the later years of the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368), where a group of rebel fighters manage an inn as a front to ambush the titular Lee Khan, a ruthless general traveling through to obtain the war map of his adversaries. As employees of the inn (and characters in a wuxia film), the women of the resistance find many opportunities to rid their establishment of cheating gamblers, hot-headed soldiers, and ultimately Lee Khan’s entire entourage.
As with many entries in the wuxia genre, the main draw here is the expertly staged choreography. Hu’s creative camerawork has the ability to transform even the most rudimentary martial arts sequences into a disorienting display of soaring bodies, bounding their way through weightless action; it’s here that one can see the influence Hu would come to have on the modern wuxia epics of Zhang Yimou (House Of Flying Daggers, etc.). The film’s final sequence deserves extra attention just for the sheer scale of the showdown between Lee Khan’s entourage and the rebels of the inn. With inhuman leaps and amazing dexterity, Khan proves to be a formidable villain well worth an all-out battle royale. —Maxwell Courtright
Tone Madison has a special relationship with Communication, the all-ages, sober venue and arts space that opened in 2018 on Milwaukee Street: Communication is our non-profit partner and provides us with a home base of sorts. That said, this multi-functional space has accomplished something noteworthy in its first year of shows, art exhibitions, and workshops. Madison has struggled to support music venues that don’t sell alcohol, which means there’s often been a lack of healthy all-ages performance spaces with community-driven programming. The last one of note was the Project Lodge on East Johnson Street, which closed in 2012. We’re also lucky to have new non-conglomerated venues in town that care about elevating locally based artists and do sell alcohol—including Art In, The Winnebago, Café Coda, Crucible, and the North Street Cabaret—but it’s good to know that different models can actually work.
Communication’s one-year anniversary celebration, which will raise money for both Communication itself and for Tone Madison, starts off on Friday and features music from William Z. Villain, new Madison band Able Baker, and singer-songwriter M. Martin. It’s fitting that William Z. Villain, who plays devilishly weird amalgamations of Eastern European swing and theatrical Americana, also performed at Communication’s grand opening last summer. Friday will also mark the unveiling of an art show by T.L. Luke, Smere Tactics, and Clairanne Godfrey. On Saturday, things will start off with a 10 a.m. show for kids—building on Communication’s efforts to offer programming for youngsters—and at 1 p.m., there will be a dedication ceremony for a new mosaic that has replaced a formerly crumbling section of the venue’s facade on Willy Street. Saturday evening’s music lineup doubles down on Communication’s role as a space for local experimental music: Julian Lynch will be headlining in what I believe is his first Madison performance since the January release Rat’s Spit, his fifth solo album and a high point in his tender, transportively catchy, and genre-dissolving body of work. Drone duo Woodman/Earhart and playfully bizarre vocalist and multi-instrumentalist will round out Saturday’s music lineup. Saturday’s music acts will play with live visuals created by Jeremy Nealis, who is also a member of the band Double Ewes and an accomplished digital artist. —Scott Gordon
The modular synth pieces North Dakota musician Matt Taggart creates under the name Luer might be abstract and atonal, but on the 2018 release Auto-Expression, Taggart also creates an immediate sense of direction and boundaries. But a lot of the direction isn’t necessarily coming from Taggart directly: Instead, the two half-hour tracks here use a generative-music approach, which allows gear and software to make a lot of its own decisions within certain constraints. “This was recorded without help from the artist and with the volume turned down so the artist could not hear it and feel compelled to intervene,” Auto-Expression‘s liner notes explain. The result is a sequence of drones, interruptions, and ever-shifting textures, a minimal sonic landscape as tactile as it is musical. The unpredictability and volatility of it all is the point, and hopefully Taggart (and accompanying devices) can expand on that in the live setting.
Joining Luer at this show, presented by Milwaukee experimental-music label FTAM, are Chicago’s J Soliday and Madison’s Louise Bock. Soliday’s modular-driven improvisations often steer into harsher territory, but there are still plenty of layered harmonics and eerie pulses to latch onto on releases like 2017’s Convolution Hive. Louise Bock is the solo outlet of Madison musician Taralie Peterson, best known as half of the avant-folk duo Spires That In The Sunset Rise. Peterson’s first album under the Louise Bock name, 2018’s Repetitives In Illocality, arranged elements including vocals, autoharp, and saxophone into masterful and hypnotically flowing pieces. —Scott Gordon
MONDAY, JULY 22
Anyone who had the childhood experience of a family road trip in the way, way back of a station wagon—for the uninitiated, that’s the area behind the second row of seats—knows the exhilaration of never, ever having to experience this again. Sure, it may have been fun as a little kid, but being the odd one out in the wasteland of a gas-guzzling suburban monstrosity is not anyone’s idea of a fun time. Liam James’ performance as Duncan in The Way Way Back (2013) embodies the shy-kid-who-overcomes story. While the narrative itself is pretty cliché, standout performances from an ensemble cast make this entry a winner from directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash.
Duncan’s mother (the reliable Toni Collette), has divorced his father and is in a relationship with Trent (Steve Carrell), who invites the family to his lake house for the summer. Trent’s daughter Steph (Zoe Levin) accompanies them, but she has no interest in being friendly with Duncan. Trent is domineering and horrible to Duncan, at a time when Duncan is really hurting for a positive male figure in his life. Duncan does form an unlikely bond with eternal man-child Owen (Sam Rockwell), an employee at the nearby Water Wizz water park. Duncan learns how to grow into being who he really is and stands up to his mom’s obnoxious boyfriend. Again, the narrative does not explore new territory but Duncan’s character really does have a lot of heart and evokes sympathy from the audience.
I was hoping to see a lot more from Liam James after this movie but he has not been in any major narrative features since. Toni Collette is gold in anything she touches, but this film remains buoyant thanks to its Faxon and Rash’s script and deft character development. While it is a film about a teenage boy, the story itself will resound with older audiences who appreciated films like Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade (2018). —Edwanike Harbour
TUESDAY JULY 23
Black MIDI is a term for music that uses irrationally dense sets of digital information to push into a realm of “impossible” music that surpasses the capacity of individual human performance. It’s also the name of a London-based math-rock quartet that operates in a similar spirit of disorientation and overload. From the outset of “953,” the opening track from their debut LP, Schlagenheim, Black Midi plays like the unfettered offspring of Captain Beefheart and prog rock outfit An Endless Sporadic.
To describe Black Midi merely as “post-” anything feels inadequate. While the frantic “Near DT, MI” does nod to Slint’s Spiderland, Black Midi tends to deconstruct genres rather than adhere to familiar patterns. For example, “Speedway” walks a line between krautrock and Afrobeat, whereas “bmbmbm” wanders into Yoko Ono territory. With such a far out vibe, one would expect Black Midi’s live presence to be equal parts absurd jaw-dropping, and it will be just as interesting to see what kind of crowd the group will draw. In Schlagenheim, one finds difficult music verging on the impossible; however, Black Midi’s metallic, avant-garde jazz for stoners, punx, and goofs somehow remains accessible without compromising its spirit. —Shaun Soman
7/19: Hot Summer Gays: Pants Off Dance Off. Robinia Courtyard, 10 p.m. (Hear more about this in our podcast interview with Hot Summer Gays booker Sarah Akawa.)
7/20: Hot Summer Gays: Gender Confetti, 90’sDreamboy, Natan Yael, SYM1, Lucky Vita, Cal Smith. The Wisco, 6 p.m. (Read more about this in our story on Gender Confetti’s debut album.)
7/20: Mike Cammilleri Organ Trio. North Street Cabaret, 8 p.m. (Hear more about this on our podcast episode about summer Madison music releases.)