Readings from Tiana Clark and Monsters Of Poetry, warped math-rock from Jobs, and more events of note in Madison this week. | By Scott Gordon, Reid Kurkerewicz, and John McCracken
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THURSDAY MARCH 7
Jobs began a decade ago in New York City as an instrumental math-rock trio, and originally went by the name Killer Bob, but the band’s past two releases have taken it through a few dramatic evolutionary turns. On the 2015 album Killer Bob Sings, Jobs made the name change official and introduced vocals, first enlisting guest singers and then spreading out those duties among drummer Max Jaffe, guitarist Dave Scanlon, and bassist Rob Lundberg. (Full disclosure: Lundberg, now based in Madison, has worked closely with Tone Madison on event planning.) Rather than making things more accessible, the vocals only heightened the tension in Jobs’ music, providing a new set of sounds for the band to dice up into bizarre harmonic and rhythmic shards, as on the melodic but punishing “Threes.”
The transformation accelerates on the 2018 album Log On For The Free Chance To Log On For Free, which also finds multi-instrumentalist Jessica Pavone joining the band as a fourth member. Vocal elements begin to feel far more integral to the band’s songwriting on Log On, especially on the strangely uplifting “Cable To The Sky” and amid the sickly march of “Came To Take,” a song that benefits greatly from Pavone’s staccato viola figures. Much of the record dives straight into brain-rattling abstraction, doing justice to the circular logic of its title. On “Cell-Service,” for instance, Jaffe’s drums steer the band through a stark and episodic soundscape, where ringing guitar figures rub up against entrancingly cryptic vocal phrases like “you’re a malleable capsule that moves.” For the most part, Jobs no longer sounds like a band rooted in noise-rock or post-punk or however one might shorthand abrasive, complex instrumental rock. Instead, it has worked its way into a territory that references minimalist classical music, electronic music, and the far reaches of experimental jazz.
In addition to playing here as a member of Jobs, Pavone will play a solo set behind In The Action, her third album of solo-viola compositions. Erik Kramer, a Madisonian who melds folky guitar explorations with lo-fi psychedelic elements, will also support. —Scott Gordon
FRIDAY MARCH 8
Washington, D.C. trio The Messthetics opened up a fresh and invigorating vein of instrumental rock with a self-titled debut album in 2018. Drummer Brendan Canty and bassist Joe Lally are best known for their work in Fugazi, but that doesn’t overshadow the distinctiveness of what they’re creating in this new collaboration with guitarist Anthony Pirog. Lally and Canty’s tense chemistry can work in all manner of contexts, and Pirog has a long history of slipping between jazz, rock, and abstract experimentation, as captured on his 2014 solo album Palo Colorado Dream. All the implied possibilities are in play in The Messthetics: “Serpent Tongue” and “Quantum Path” push blistering riffs against Canty’s rumbling drums, an approach that escalates to virtuosic, rhythmically chopped-up extremes on “Crowds And Power.” The music is just as powerful when the trio pulls back, winding through the gentle gloom of “The Inner Ocean” and performing a radiant cover of Sonny Sharrock’s “Once Upon A Time.” As you’d expect from a gifted avant-garde improviser and the rhythm section of a legendarily road-hardened punk band, The Messthetics feel fiercely present in live sets.
Opening up is Helen Money, a solo project in which Chicago-based cellist Alison Chesley combines her love of heavy music with her classical training. Chesley (who also founded the indie-rock band Verbow and has collaborated with artists including Bob Mould and Russian Circles) uses loops and rugged distortion to arrange her cello lines into multi-layered compositions, but pretty much always keeps a charging rhythm or a weeping melody front-and-center. Everything Helen Money has put out works on that visceral level while resourcefully expanding the range of an already sonically vast instrument, starting with the project’s 2007 self-titled debut. Chesley has a knack for tackling unlikely covers alongside her original compositions—Neil Young’s “Birds,” Minutemen’s “Political Song For Michael Jackson To Sing”—and has incorporated other elements into the mix over time, including drums from Neurosis’ Jason Roeder. But the fourth and latest Helen Money release, 2016’s Become Zero, is Chesley’s most emotionally affecting yet, consisting of eight cavernous pieces that meditate on grief and hope. —Scott Gordon
Monsters Of Poetry: Derrick Austin, Natalie Eilbert, Natasha Oladokun. North Street Cabaret, 6:30 p.m.
The Monsters Of Poetry series is a breath of fresh air when it comes to poetry, fiction, and creative-writing readings in Madison, creating a warm, welcoming, non-stuffy space in eclectic venues across town. This installment, the series first of 2019 and part of its recent comeback, features reading from Madison transplants Derrick Austin, Natalie Eilbert, Natasha Oladokun. After the readings, Madison’s Ray Rideout Jazz Quartet will close out the night, continuing the series’ on-again, off-again tradition of mixing in live music.
Austin is a poet whose work fuses art, mythology, religion, landscapes, and popular culture to confront what it means to be queer and black in America. He is a Cave Canem fellow whose debut collection, Trouble The Water, was the winner of 2015 A. Poulin Jr Prize in poetry. He’s also a former Ron Wallace Poetry Fellow and a finalist for the Kate Tufts Discovery Award. His work has been featured in Poetry Society of America, BOAAT, and Poets.org (the latter published his jaw-dropping poem “The Lost Woods As Elegy For Black Childhood,” which combines The Legend Of Zelda: Majora’s Mask with an elegy for black children), among others.
Eilbert is the author of the 2016 Noemi Press Poetry award-winning Indictus. This collection navigates trauma and healing with a staunch, heart-wrenching approach to form and language. Her work delves into the unsaid and confronts the myriad of ways that women endure violence, and it has been featured in Buzzfeed, Poets.org, The New Yorker, and elsewhere. She is the editor of The Atlas Review and a former Jay C. and Ruth Halls Poetry Fellow.
Oladokun’s poetry and essays have explored a variety of approaches to voice and form, but always has a strong sense of self and frequently focuses on black womanhood. She is a former Cave Canem fellow and is currently the inaugural UW-Madison First Wave Fellow. She is an associate poetry editor for storySouth whose work has been featured in Kenyon Review, Harvard Review Online, and The Adroit Journal, among others. —John McCracken
TUESDAY MARCH 12
Tiana Clark’s poetry immerses readers in powerful images: “BBHMM” uses a blood-soaked Rihanna video to confront black exploitation, and the unwavering long-form poem “Indeed Hotter For Me Are the Joys Of The Lord” wrestles with social anxiety and confidence. Clark’s first chapbook, 2016’s Equilibrium, opens with these lines: “Took me / thirty years to say / I’m glad / I don’t pass for white,” opening the floodgates of her relationship with race and self reflection. Clark’s latest collection, I Can’t Talk About The Trees Without The Blood, examines every thread of America’s racist, violent history and present. Clark writes of gentrification displacing majority-black spaces, white people stealing and appropriating black culture, and how she sees the landscape of this country as an overflowing graveyard that no one wants to talk about.
Through her essay work, Clark provides more thoughtful examination of society and culture. In Buzzfeed, she pointed out that American culture tends to overlook the black experience when observing and writing on millennial burnout. For Oxford American, she wrote a heartfelt tribute to Nina Simone. In addition to garnering several poetry prizes, she has received scholarships and fellowships to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and Kenyon Review Writers Workshop. Clark was the 2017-2018 Jay C. and Ruth Halls Poetry Fellow and teaches creative writing at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville. Her talk and reading here will focus on I Can’t Talk About The Trees Without The Blood. —John McCracken
WEDNESDAY MARCH 13
Documentary filmmaker Stephen Maing’s 2018 film Crime + Punishment takes us inside the New York Police Department, where 12 current and former police officers teamed up with community partners and activists to expose rampant pressure to increase arrests in minority communities. Though New York City abolished its quota system, in which officers must make a minimum number of arrests to maintain good standing, the documentary is full of secret footage of NYPD higher-ups demanding numbers. There’s an awareness throughout the film that whatever happens in America’s largest city (and supposedly one of its most progressive) will echo throughout the country, as NYPD’s “broken windows” philosophy of policing did throughout the ’90s. That approach, as former police commissioner William Bratton explains in the film, puts more cops in areas with “historically higher levels of crime.” If you’ve followed police-reform debates recently, you’ve seen this fallacy broken down before. Putting more officers in targeted areas means more arrests and more documentation of supposed crime. This increase then necessitates even more cops, and more people go to jail for minor offenses that their counterparts in other neighborhoods get away with, like jaywalking or smoking pot.
There’s ample objective evidence in the film that cops under professional pressure target vulnerable individuals, and even frame them, knowing full well that a young person of color is less likely to escape the clutches of the law. The hero of the otherwise bleak documentary is private investigator Manuel Gomez. The former police officer finds young people trapped in court proceedings, and works to keep them out of jail by amassing evidence and working through a bureaucracy that he understands. Gomez is boisterous and optimistic, as he believes strongly enough in his own moral code to sacrifice his time and career for individuals who might become another statistic without his guiding hand. —Reid Kurkerewicz
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