Pat Keen, Rooftop Cinema, Wood Chickens, a haiku contest, and more events of note in Madison this week.
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THURSDAY JUNE 1
Being John Malkovich. Central Library, 6:30 p.m. (free)
At the tail-end of the 1990s, self-referential metacinema was revived by David Fincher’s Fight Club (1999) and the psychological comedy Being John Malkovich (1999), prodigy Charlie Kaufman’s first screenwriting effort in collaboration with director Spike Jonze. In retrospect, it may be easy to scrutinize the labyrinthine Kafkaesque absurdism in Malkovich as a microcosm of Kaufman’s magnum opus, Synecdoche, New York (2008), or the literal 3D-printed puppets in the stop-motion Anomalisa (2015). But Kaufman’s unmistakable vision arrived fully formed in this feature, which unites a surreal concept with a tender human story of love and gender. Kaufman distorts and transforms ideas of vicarious escapism and the celebrity crush into an intimately tortuous tale of self-identity that involves an out-of-work puppeteer, Craig Schwartz (John Cusack, the curious spitting image of David Foster Wallace), who secures a job as a file clerk on floor 7½ at LesterCorp. He immediately develops a fondness for his striking coworker Maxine (Catherine Keener), which goes unrequited. At the same time, Craig happens upon a secret door behind one of the company’s filing cabinets that magically transports him directly into the first-person perspective of the titular character actor with the ability to sense everything Malkovich experiences… but only in 15-minute intervals. Unable to suppress this amazing discovery, he reveals the inexplicable portal to Maxine, and they devise a plan to charge others to use it. From here, the film’s two narrative strands begin to entwine, thus embellishing the chaos inherent in both. The Madison Public Library’s Cinesthesia series will be presenting a newly restored transfer via the Criterion Blu-ray edition at this screening. —Grant Phipps
Dwarves, JFA. Frequency, 9 p.m.
The Dwarves used to play sets that lasted 20 minutes at most and involved all sorts of violence, nudity, and hatefully repulsive behavior that was also really, really funny to watch. It was a hugely calculated schtick, but an effective one, and 1990’s Blood Guts & Pussy is still a brilliant and indescribably stupid 14-minute document of ’60’s garage-influenced hardcore that stands up even when divorced from the onstage theatrics. Since then, the Chicago-founded punk band have become more sedate onstage, played longer sets, and flirted with ill-conceived accessibility moves that haven’t suited them, which makes one wonder if there’s a sell-by date attached to bands that make sex-obsessed idiocy their entire aesthetic. That the Dwarves managed to make it work as long as they did (up to 1993’s Sugarfix) is in itself a bit miraculous. They appear here with the well-loved ’80’s Arizona skate-punk band JFA. —Mike Noto
Maggie Faris. Comedy Club on State, through June 3, see link for all showtimes.
Minneapolis-based comedian Maggie Faris is the epitome of a journeyman comedian. Her YouTube channel is topped off with booker-friendly clips that are identified by their length and level of cleanliness. Her site is loaded with links to attempts at online virality like “Squirrel Gets Punked,” “Extreme Sister Diet Coke,” and “Dog On A Raft.” Does she have a podcast? You better believe she has a podcast. Faris’ material and sensibilities are bright and effervescent in a way that’s solidly engaging and entertaining, but it’s hard to deny that a lot of her comedic identity is transparently tied up in the process of professional ladder-climbing. Spencer James features and Madison’s own Ian Erickson hosts. —Chris Lay
FRIDAY JUNE 2
Tippy, Pat Keen, And Illusions. Arts + Literature Laboratory, 8 p.m.
Minneapolis-based musician Pat Keen is probably best known as a member of the abrasive avant-jazz ensemble Wei Zhongle, but his new solo album, Albatross, released on the date of this show via Philadelphia’s Ramp Local label, heads in a more ruminative direction. The instrumentation on songs like “Indigo” and “Wannabes” often feels light and unobtrusive, with Keen’s acoustic guitar carrying deceptively complex chord progressions and odd rhythms. The real charm of the album, however, comes from Keen’s vocals: A bit like The Dismemberment Plan’s Travis Morrison, Keen always sounds as if he’s tackling his vocal melodies from a bit of an oblique angle, but also comes off as earnest and committed to his meandering but unhurried melodies. At times Keen veers into layers of tense vocal harmonies or restive percussion, yet the emphasis here is on restraint and intimacy, especially on closer “Sore Thumb.” In other words, Albatross captures an oddball musician trying to make a singer-songwriter album and actually succeeding. —Scott Gordon
Rooftop Cinema: Fantastic Planet. Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, 9:30 p.m.
In 1973 René Laloux’s Fantastic Planet (La Planète Sauvage) won the Cannes Grand Prix, barely 11 years after Algeria gained independence from the French following more than a century of colonization. Laloux’s animated science fiction drama tells a story of conflict between two groups, the Traags and Oms, with the former exercising total control over the latter primarily because their bodies are significantly larger, but also because they have greater access to education and information. While the plot can be projected onto anything from racism to animal abuse, Fantastic Planet is, at its core, a tale of oppression and class conflict. This, perhaps, prompted the film’s critical acclaim in light of the recent Algerian Revolution, by humanizing (or at least Om-inizing) the experience of colonization. Alain Goraguer’s original score is just as good as the film itself, touting lines of jazz fusion and French psych rock as it works alongside on-screen action in supreme heady fashion. Between the score, writing, and Roland Topor’s surreal animation, Fantastic Planet sits high in the canon of woke tripper classics. It screens here to open MMoCA’s Rooftop Cinema: Dystopian Futures series. —Zack Stafford
Xasthur, Johanna Warren. Frequency, 8:30 p.m.
Southern California musician Scott Conner made his name with the mostly-solo black-metal project Xasthur, attaining a mix of abject grit and foreboding grandeur on a well-received albums like 2006’s Subliminal Genocide. But in 2010 he retired the project and began making plaintive, if still dark, acoustic-centered records under the name Nocturnal Poisoning. Conner brought back the Xasthur name a couple years ago, but stayed on in the unplugged-dirge vein, and now tours in an acoustic trio comprising two guitars and a bass. The new stuff has a tangled, gloomy beauty, and Conner seems pretty unsentimental about leaving the old Xasthur behind. —Scott Gordon
Imelda Marcos, The Central, Nonzoo, Sinking Suns. Art In, 8 p.m.
Chicago math-noise duo Imelda Marcos constructs an amorphous wall of sound from dense, totalist guitar textures and thick, entangled drum arrangements. Bright, animated guitar tones and a patient structural build up of ideas, algorithms, and characters pervade this wall––contorting it, then reshaping it. On the band’s 2017 release, Dalawa, all these elements cohere into a nebulous structure made up of tightly aligned, mathematical remnants. Joining them on this show are No Wave-influenced Chicago outfit Nonzoo, local spaz-grindcore outfit The Central, and Madison post-hardcore noise-rockers Sinking Suns. —Emili Earhart
Big Neck Fest Night 1. High Noon Saloon, 9 p.m.
Big Neck Records is a small rock label based in Leesburg, Virginia, but its connection to Madison began when it released the 2014 debut album from Madison’s Fire Heads (then named Fire Retarded), Scroggz Manor. The first night of the two-day Big Neck Fest, at the High Noon Saloon, will celebrate two new releases from Madison acts, with a solid lineup of three Madison favorites as well as Memphis “heavy pop” outfit Fresh Flesh, who combine a nostalgic 1970s punk quality with energetic garage rock. Following their Skunk Ape EP release this past February, Madison band Wood Chickens are back with their latest full-length, Countrycide. The cow-punk trio blur the line between country and hardcore, and reliably play energetic and weirdly comedic live sets. Below you can see the video for one of the album’s songs, “Full Speed Ahead,” which captures footage from Wood Chickens’ live shows around Wisconsin. Countrycide exhibits the many sides of Wood Chickens, while maintaining an accessible sense of cohesion. Much of the album favors the more hardcore side of Wood Chickens, such as on “Song For Flightless Birds,” while “Guys In Big Trucks” cranks up a classic southern guitar twang and a stab at the Good Ol’ Boys caricature. The trio also incorporates plenty of psychedelic elements within tracks, particularly on “King Of Siam,” which takes a spaced-out surf rock turn. Due for a new release since adding their third member, Tyler Fassnacht (Fire Heads, Proud Parents, TS Foss), garage-pop stalwarts The Hussy are back with a new 7-inch on Big Neck. No Hoax starts off the night with fuzzed-out, noisy post-hardcore and one of the most dynamic live sets in town. The “fest” moves over to Mickey’s Tavern on night two for a bill featuring Fire Heads and Milwaukee band Gallery Night. —Emili Earhart
Cribshitter, Something To Do. The Wisco, 10 p.m.
Madison band Cribshitter formed more than a decade ago on what seemed like a sick dare, playing bizarre scatological songs aimed squarely at your inner 12-year-old and performing with accessories like a tuba and a lion mask. But the joke kept on getting more elaborate and turned out to have a whole lot of pop-songwriting sense behind it. It takes a special band to write a genuinely catchy country song called “Where You Going With That Hard-On?” or a comical but wistfully beautiful electro-rap track like “Sunshine,” both of which appear on 2015’s Acapulco, which is a concept album about a timeshare in Mexico. Cribshitter’s live show has also gotten more ambitious, expanding with additional percussion, guitar, and saxophone from members of Oedipus Tex and ska-pop outfit Something To Do (who share this bill). Here’s hoping the band breaks out its face-breakingly inept cover of JJ Cale’s “Cocaine” in between all the perversely masterful pop numbers. —Scott Gordon
TUESDAY JUNE 6
Hand-To-Hand Haiku Match. Arts + Literature Laboratory, 7 p.m.
There is probably no literary form that lends itself less to competition or aggression than haiku, a meditative, 17-syllable style of poetry that took root in 17th-century Japan. Nonetheless, slam poets do sometimes engage in “haiku battles,” and a Virginia-based writer named Raven Mack has adapted that practice into what he calls the “hand-to-hand haiku match.” The idea comes to Madison with eight poets competing in three judged elimination rounds, presumably trying to out-contemplate each other in 5-7-5 form all the while. The contestants are F.J. Bergmann, Donna Carnes, Heath Langreck, Dana Maya, Jessika Pasch, James Roberts, Richard Roe, and Jeanie Tomasko. —Scott Gordon