David Murray, Bluelight Fest, Ra’Shaun, Mad Max Elliott, and more events of note in Madison this week.
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THURSDAY JUNE 8
The Madison Public Library’s “Bad Cinema” program has usually focused on films from the 1980s and 1990s, so it’s a surprise that this is a screening of the original 1958 version of Attack Of The 50 Ft. Woman and not the less-remembered 1993 version directed by Christopher Guest and starring Daryl Hannah. Going all the way back to the OG is a good call, though, since it dips the series’ toes into the warm waters of low-budget Cold War-era schlock that’s too good for the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment, but still technically crappy enough to warrant an ironic viewing. Get those engines running early on some post-screening hot takes about how it’s a metaphor for the threat to masculinity from a powerful woman with legitimate axes to grind. By which I mean definitely do not do that. —Chris Lay
Bone Thugs-N-Harmony are kind of like your favorite quirky sitcom that the networks greenlit, then promptly did their damndest to bury: Only the most devoted and open-minded fans would be able to defend and explain all the permutations and retoolings it endured to survive. A once-tight Cleveland group that has spent decades succumbing to splintering, solo albums, offshoots, and inevitable and various configurations of reunions, Bone Thugs return here to perform 1995’s E. 1999 Eternal in its entirety. Regardless of the changes the group has gone through, the one constant is that the name Bone Thugs is synonymous with a fast-paced sing-song delivery with an emphasis on melody and a splash of R&B. The group has mastered the ability to somehow sound menacing and somber at the same time, as the group has demonstrated on two recent singles, “Coming Home” and “Rolling Stone.” While it wouldn’t be far-fetched to hope to hear these and other new tracks, this show will focus on reminding people why they liked Bone Thugs in the first place and have followed them through all the twists and turns. If you’re a newcomer: E. 1999 Eternal was the album that convinced critics that the group wasn’t a one-hit wonder. Also, expect to be surprised that you recognize a lot of these songs. —David Wolinsky
Rapper and singer Ra’Shaun’s embrace of funky, bubbly hooks and crush-happy lyrics placed him among the people making Madison a suddenly quite exciting hip-hop town, especially when he released his debut EP, Kolors, in 2016. (A preceding single, “What’s Up,” was also pretty irresistible.) Since Kolors, Ra’Shaun has released a few one-off tracks. The latest, “No Questions,” twists his bouncy flow and aching melody into a darker space, so here’s hoping that the future brings more versatility from this promising young artist. This Frequency appearance will be his first-ever headlining show, and it’s a great lineup overall, featuring fellow Madisonians including the dynamic five-piece 3rd Dimension and fiercely intricate MC Broadway Muse. —Scott Gordon
Stand-up comedians tend to have resumes full of odd entries, but Barry Rothbart’s goes from Punk’d to The Wolf Of Wall Street to Downward Dog, a strange new sitcom on ABC about a talking dog and its owner (which is apparently on shaky ground after just a few episodes). Despite these off-beat extracurriculars, Rothbart is first and foremost a damn fine stand-up with a penchant for crass absurdity and a charming approach oversharing. He sports a beard and a plaid shirt in most of his clips, so you might not be able to pick him out of a dude-comic lineup, but once he’s on stage his presence and cheerily edgy material sets him apart from the pack. Danny Solomon features and Phil Davidson hosts. —Chris Lay
FRIDAY JUNE 16
Isthmus Jazz Festival. Memorial Union Terrace & Union Theater, through June 17, see link for full schedule.
This year’s Isthmus Jazz Festival boasts a ticketed headlining performance in the Union Theater by trumpeter Terence Blanchard (Saturday, 8 p.m.), whose career has spanned from playing with Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers to scoring most of Spike Lee’s films, in addition to a formidable body of work as a composer and bandleader. The festival’s free performances on the Terrace, though, include some younger jazz voices worth seeking out. Milwaukee drummer Kevin Hayden’s trio (Friday, 8 p.m.) has its beginnings in jazz, but has expanded its compositional approach over the years to incorporate elements from hip-hop and R&B. The band’s recorded output spans from conversational, keyboard driven jazz workouts to loop- and beat-rooted experiments to surprisingly mature jazz-vocal pieces. On Saturday at 6 p.m., the UW Jazz Orchestra will perform Madison-based trumpet player Paul Dietrich’s “Scenes From Lake Mendota.” Commissioned just for the festival, it’s a three-part composition that celebrates the Terrace itself. —Scott Gordon
Madison-based musician Spencer Bible (Tippy, Christian Dior) hosts the annual Bluelight festival on a plot of family land about 40 miles west of Madison in Highland, Wisconsin. It reflects the eclectic mix of local and out-of-town bands that tend to show up in the shows Bible books in Madison, heavy on punk and weird electronic stuff but by no means restricted to those genres. Highlights this year include the shadowy electronic pop of Madison band Mori Mente, furious Dubuque noise-jazz duo Sex Funeral, adventurous Milwaukee hip-hop producer Randal Bravery, cosmic Madison drone outfit Midwaste, and L.A. ambient artist Kevin Greenspon. It’s a lineup of about 30 bands over two days, and it should offer an unusual cross section of good local acts and the eccentric friends they’ve made on the road. Bible will be posting address details on the event’s Facebook page. —Scott Gordon
In an anomalous year of feature film showcases at Rooftop Cinema, Tennessee-based avant-gardist Leslie Thornton’s work is deservedly being billed as the central shorts program. Each of Thornton’s three ’80s Peggy And Fred films (which act as an open-ended serial) fit unassumingly into this summer’s Rooftop theme of “dystopian futures” with dizzying, grainy black-and-white visuals shot on 16mm. Escalating elements of fanciful dialogue and rambling songs and the utilization of found footage superimposed with live action combine to recall a post-apocalyptic America that seems to creep closer by the day. Modern political and ecological havoc aside, Thornton’s initial short, cheekily titled Peggy And Fred In Hell: A Prologue (1985), tackles the idea of escapism through the two titular children who are raised by the eternal presence of television and perform to an imaginary audience as a primary means of communication. The second and lengthiest part, Peggy And Fred And Pete (1988), sees the two protagonists joining a penguin named Pete amid the literal and metaphorical ashes of a once-bustling suburban landscape. To counter paralyzing feelings of isolation and desolation, the three create a more fertile but untamed fantasy world using strangely familiar cultural artifacts. After diving deep into these unknown interior worlds in scenarios that conjure Terry Gilliam’s Tideland (2005), Peggy and Fred make a stop In Kansas (1989) for the program’s finale. Directly influenced by The Wizard Of Oz (1939), In Kansas follows the children as they endure a ravaging tornado and then scavenge for food. Through the young actors’ improvisations, Thornton poetically explores notions of truth, unnervingly drawing no boundaries between established sciences and science fiction and the time-specific origins of various technologies. Considering the latter, Peggy And Fred may actually serve as a more sobering companion to the lessons and ironies in Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play (2012), which had a run at the Overture Center last year. —Grant Phipps
SUNDAY JUNE 18
Saxophonist David Murray emerged from the NYC free-jazz loft scene in the mid-1970s, standing out from the crowd with his knowledge of pre-Coltrane jazz traditions while still holding his own with his free-blowing contemporaries. While his playing is deeply influenced by older musicians such as Coleman Hawkins, he’s never been anything close to a traditionalist; Murray has worked with artists as diverse as Pharaoh Sanders, Saul Williams, Jack DeJohnette, Macy Gray and the Grateful Dead (his version of “Dark Star” is pretty amazing). Massively prolific throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Murray’s solo work leans towards lively large ensemble compositions that provide plenty of room for group improvisation and Murray’s own kaleidoscopic soloing. The 1987 version of his composition “Morning Song” (below) illustrates his ability to create music steeped in jazz history that’s still avant-garde. At Cafe Coda Murray will be performing with his longtime collaborator Kahil El’Zabar, a Chicago-based percussionist and AACM member whose group Ritual Trio has worked with Archie Shepp, Pharoah Sanders and members of the Art Ensemble of Chicago. —Ian Adcock
TUESDAY JUNE 20
Max Elliott has been in a bunch of Madison bands over the years, almost all of which featured his winningly confident yawp over deliberately primitive, thumping, often rockabilly-inspired punk. The Lonesome Savages were the most well-known of these groups, but they were essentially all vehicles for Elliott to indulge in all manner of hiccuping vocal theatrics while the band hammered, soloed and droned behind him to hypnotic and/or thrilling effect. It’s a style that works well for him, and it’s become a signature. Mad Max Elliott is his solo guise, and features him on acoustic guitar and a kick drum. It almost seems too stripped down initially, but of course that’s the point. Anyone who’s devoted this much time, skill and effort to conjuring up excitement from minimal means is clearly a professional, and soon enough Elliott’s energy and charisma shine through. The loose, experimental psychedelic punk group Spokes and Missouri punk trio Suzi Trash also appear. —Mike Noto
WEDNESDAY JUNE 21
Various cities around the world mark the summer solstice with a day of free musical performances across all manner of public spaces, open to pretty much anyone who wants to play. Make Music Madison, launched in 2013, is the local answer to that, and the city has spent a lot of public money on it as part of its music initiatives. This year about 270 different acts are involved, playing in locations ranging from the Henry Vilas Zoo to local residents’ porches. So it’s a lot, basically. At a glance, highlights would have to include performances from singer-songwriter Luke Arvid and nerdily dedicated Neil Young cover band Shakey, but the event’s not really about curation or even quality control—it just is. MMM’s organizers also offer some participatory “mass appeal” experiments in group music-making, including a chance to play large percussion instruments called Boomwhackers at Olbrich Park. —Scott Gordon
What’s better than a nice grimy caper flick from the 1970s featuring some marquee talent? One such example in this mode, Peter Yates’ The Hot Rock, kicks off UW Cinematheque’s summer season, as well as its series of films based on the works of Donald E. Westlake. Starring Robert Redford and George Segal, the feature (which earned screenwriter William Goldman an Edgar Allan Poe Award) introduces long-running Westlake character John Dortmunder and a crew of ne’er-do-wells who attempt to steal a diamond from the Brooklyn Museum. Things reliably go off the rails, resulting in a comedy of errors in which the guys have to steal and re-steal the titular hot rock multiple times. Catching this, in 35mm naturally, will be a great start to the Westlake series, and to Cinematheque’s summer schedule in general. —Chris Lay
Flip through any bin of used vinyl at your neighborhood music shop and you’re likely to spot a handful of iconic covers from British new-waver (and vocal cigarette enthusiast) Joe Jackson. He made his name with “Is She Really Going Out With Him?” off his 19799 debut Look Sharp, and followed that up with a handful of albums that consistently tossed solid singles onto the charts before embracing the jazzier side of his pop sensibilities. Jackson’s most recent album, 2015’s globe-trotting Fast Forward, included a cover of Television’s “See No Evil,” so don’t think he’s gotten that stodgy in his old age. —Chris Lay
Earlier this year, Gary, Indiana-based emcee Freddie Gibbs dropped a deep, soulful, and slickly produced rap EP in You Only Live 2wice. It’s also his first new outing since he was charged with two counts of sexual assault by two Austrian teens he’d met after a show. Gibbs spent several months in and out of jail in France and Austria, had his passport revoked, and wasn’t allowed to fly stateside until he was acquitted of both charges in September of 2016. Gibbs recently insisted upon his innocence in a lengthy interview with XXL. You Only Live 2wice precedes a long-awaited, upcoming follow-up to 2014’s Piñata, where he’ll once again join forces with producer and supreme sample-wizard Madlib. This show also features the first live set from Madison-based rapper Sincere Life since he was seriously injured in a car crash earlier this year. His March release King Poetic Vol. 2 continues to build on a versatile set of rhyme skills that veer between introspective and brash. —Joel Shanahan
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