“The American Soldier” screens at Cinematheque, Nnamdi Ogbonnaya lets genres bleed together at the High Noon, Johannes Wallmann celebrates a new album, and more events of note in Madison this week.
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THURSDAY NOVEMBER 8
Chicago songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and producer Nnamdi Ogbonnaya’s solo records, including last year’s Drool, show us what pop sounds like to someone who never learned to fuss too much about the borders between different genres and influences. Or, more likely, understands a lot of different kinds of music very well—from hip-hop to R&B to post-punk to experimental electronic music—and doesn’t see why they shouldn’t all just melt and warp together in ever-changing ways. Ogbonnaya makes something cohesive and touching from the wild musical bleed of Drool, thanks to his gift for writing tight, brain-sticking melodies and an earnestly overstimulated persona. And his vocals are just as versatile as the instrumentation and production choices around them, often jumping from nimble raps to playful baritones in the space of a few measures.
On “Should Have Known,” an arpeggiated synth skitters around Ogbonnaya’s drums and the short but indelibly mournful refrain of “you should know,” capturing a compelling mix of sadness and restlessness. “Hop Off” is a little more firmly in the hip-hop vein, with a smooth, slow-rolling hook, fritzy percussion, and rapid-fire verses threaded through with off-kilter melodies. The opening track, “Cindy,” features contributions from fellow Chicagoan Sen Morimoto, who joins him on this bill and creates a charming pop/hip-hop hybrid of his own on this year’s album Cannonball. Madison-based Son!, the similarly wide-open project of rapper/singer/songwriter/keyboard player Daniel Kaplan, kicks things off. —Scott Gordon
“Do you have any idea who I think I am?” Natasha Leggero asked on her 2011 stand-up album Coke Money, summing up an act that incorporates both her real working-class upbringing in Rockford and a more affected diamonds-and-fur social-climber persona. (There’s a bit more where that came from on 2016’s Live At Bimbo’s.[https://youtu.be/Lqod_FfAIEM]) This works perfectly for Leggero when she uses it to disdainfully unpack the garishness of Las Vegas or the classist spectacle of LA “gang tours”—”Ever since that NWA song, I’ve been dying to see Compton,” she says in an oblivious blue-blood Transatlantic accent during the latter bit—and somehow manages to punch down and punch up all at once. For just the latter, skip on over to Leggero’s brutal takedown of rape-culture reptile Tom Leykis.
She deepens this approach, and gets into slightly more personal and vulnerable territory, on The Honeymoon Standup Special, a trio of short Netflix specials in which Leggero and fellow stand-up Moshe Kasher perform solo and collaborative sets about their marriage and having a baby together. (Leggero was pregnant when the special was made, and the kiddo arrived in February.) Leggero plays this solo date at the Comedy Club on State, which should be a good setting for her evolving glam-on-garbage act and gift for crowdwork. —Scott Gordon
FRIDAY NOVEMBER 9
Madison cowpunk trio Wood Chickens play here behind their latest full-length, Well Done!, kicking off a month-long tour. Well Done! finds Wood Chickens blazing deeper and stranger trails into the psychobilly spirit, with a maniacal absurdity varies from song to song, and certainly departs at times from the band’s past output. The basic sound—a common ground between country and hardcore—hasn’t changed. Instead, the band relies on inventive songwriting, bizarre lyrics, and psychotic interjections and fillers to flesh out the singular nature of each track. Wood Chickens defined their sound early on, but have proven their ability to not wear out their psycho-cowpunk character, never pigeonholing themselves into redundancy. The recently released single “Mall Cop,” for instance, stands out among more straightforward hardcore tracks such as “Vortex 4” and “We Skate In Boots,” as Wood Chickens deliver a driving, grooving bass line, interludes of guitar both spaced-out and flashy, and catchy, trashy lyrics. —Emili Earhart
SATURDAY NOVEMBER 10
Half-Stack Sessions, Madison’s advocacy group for women and non-binary people in music, hosts events for both members and non-members year-round, ranging from skill building workshops and socials to group discussions and a new monthly DJ series at the Nomad World Pub. For Half Stack’s fall showcase this year, at all ages DIY space Communication, rather than simply curating a selection of pre-existing bands, the group’s organizers and members decided to do something a little different. Last month, 18 musicians/members of Half-Stack—including members of Dash Hounds, Gentle Brontosaurus, Glassmen, and the sadly disbanded Exploration Team—entered their names to be randomly drawn into what would become six new bands. The new bands—Big Mood, 7-Pound Deathbird, The Meet Raffle, GlssGrrrl, Chuffed, and Polar Walkmen—will each play seven new and original songs for the event. You’ll see a lot of familiar people from around the local music community, but what you’ll hear is anyone’s guess. —Katie Hutchinson
Earlier this year Anna Burch unveiled Quit The Cure, a record that saw the Detroit songwriter fully embracing the spotlight. For years, Burch had been involved in acts like Frontier Ruckus and Failed Flowers, but Quit The Curse suggests that those outlets tempered Burch’s creative impulses. Indie powerhouse Polyvinyl saw the record’s appeal early on and snapped it up for release. Anyone who stuck with Sleeping In The Aviary after the band departed Madison will be able to draw some connections between that band’s later works and what Burch is doing here, marrying decidedly pop sensibilities to doo-wop flourishes and lacing both with attitude. Take “Tea-Soaked Letter,” which sees Burch leaning into the candy-coated girl group stylings of the ’60s but adding a selective, venomous bite through sardonic observations about things like the uncanny nature of burials.
Making this affair even more enticing is the fact that Burch’s live shows have been garnering strong reviews and playing into the word-of-mouth success that’s nicely augmented the record’s aggressive marketing campaign (a handful of ads are still popping up for the album, nearly nine months after its release). Throw in the allure of the Rathskeller’s intimate setting plus the free pricing and this becomes a can’t-miss affair. Tippy will sweeten the deal as the local support, providing an extra splash to what promises to be a memorable night. —Steven Spoerl
Coming-of-age tales in film and literature have overwhelmingly tended to explore the lives of young men and their struggles dealing with masculinity and identity (Stand By Me, The Outsiders, and Mid90s, to name a few). Last year, Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird definitely demonstrated that there is a wide audience that is open to watching movies that examine coming-of-age tropes from a feminine perspective. As popular culture gets more comfortable with themes of feminism and female empowerment, it’s an opportune time to revisit French filmmaker Diane Kurys’ 1977 film and feature writing debut, Peppermint Soda. This underrated gem screens here in a new digital edition, as part of UW Cinematheque’s New French Restorations series.
Drawing from her own youth, Kurys writes a poignant film revolving around two sisters, Anne (Eléonoire Klaerwein) and Frédérique Weber (Odile Michel), growing up in France during the early 1960s. Not unlike the United States during the same period, France was experiencing its share of social and cultural upheaval. Both girls are discovering who they are and how they feel about some of the day’s political issues in addition to dating, rocky friendships, and navigating their relationships with their mother. As you might expect from a French film, the drama in Peppermint Soda tends to be understated and pensive. However, Kurys also works in quite a bit of dry humor, making this take on a male-dominated literary trope all the more memorable. —Edwanike Harbour
SUNDAY NOVEMBER 11
Whether it is part parody or part homage or both, 1970’s Der Amerikanische Soldat (The American Soldier) is all Fassbinder in that it challenges viewers to crack through the muted layers of the actors’ performances. A signature of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s style is the concept that his actors are posing rather than bringing across an authentic portrayal of a specific emotional experience. While this may frustrate some viewers, it is very effective approach in this German film noir.
Karl Scheydt plays Ricky, an American soldier from Germany. He has just finished a tour in Vietnam and goes back to his hometown of Munich, where he becomes a hitman for three rogue cops. He reconnects with his childhood best friend Franz Walsch (played by none other than Fassbinder himself). Shadows are cast in a way that evokes classic American film noir. Ricky gets involved with the girlfriends of one of the rogue cops, making an already dangerous situation even more complex.
The Ricky character is an approximation of a caricature of American film noir hitmen, with his wide-lapeled suits, fedoras, and icy disposition. Again, this could be parody or homage, and Fassbinder handles it masterfully. This is one of the director’s earlier works and may not appeal to all viewers, but the black-and-white cinematography, combined with Fassbinder’s grasp of German expressionism, will still undoubtedly leave an impression upon an initial screening. —Edwanike Harbour
Since joining the music faculty at UW-Madison in 2012, jazz pianist and composer Johannes Wallmann has forged new collaborations with musicians in Madison and Milwaukee, and not just those within the academic music world, including on last year’s conceptually ambitious album Love Wins. He’s also maintained the artistic relationships he developed during a long stint in New York City’s jazz scene. Like 2015’s The Town Musicians, the just-released album Day And Night finds Wallmann and a group of NYC-based musicians playing largely in a quintet setting on spacious and conversational pieces. There’s still a Midwestern connection here—the album is on Shifting Paradigm Records, a Minneapolis-based label that has also put out music from several Madison- and Milwaukee-based artists.
Tenor saxophonist Dayna Stephens (who also played on The Town Musicians and Love Wins), drummer Colin Stranahan, bassist Matt Pavolka, and trumpeter Brian Lynch help Wallmann realize a subtly ambitious batch of 11 compositions on Day And Night. While it starts with an original, the ominously titled “Press Briefing” (Donald Trump’s insane press-conference tantrums actually inspired the track’s rising action and barbed instrumental exchanges), this record focuses more than Wallmann’s other recent records on the work of other composers. The album draws its title from Cole Porter’s “Night And Day,” which the quintet explores here with some rhythmic twists that can keep a listener just slightly off-balance. “Think Of One,” the first of two Thelonious Monk tunes on the album, takes on a gently undulating feel here, but still has some of the playful dissonance you’d expect from anything to do with Monk. The standout track here, though, might be the quintet’s version of Duke Ellington’s “Solitude,” which centers on an expansive piano performance from Wallmann and some wonderfully tender bowed passages from Pavolka. Wallmann plays this show to celebrate the album’s release, in a quintet of Wisconsin-based musicians: Trumpeter Russ Johnson, bassist Nick Moran, drummer Devin Drobka, and saxophone player Tony Barba. —Scott Gordon
TUESDAY NOVEMBER 13
Milwaukee-based drummer Devin Drobka is one of the reasons Milwaukee and Madison have developed such youthful and versatile jazz communities over the past decade, organizing Milwaukee’s Unrehearsed series and forming bands that range from the spacey Argopelter to the fiery Hanging Hearts. Outside of jazz, he also plays in the latest incarnation of Milwaukee band Field Report. (Full disclosure: He also played a duo set with drummer Tom Rainey at a show Tone Madison organized in 2017.) Amid all this collaboration, Drobka’s Bell Dance Songs project is explicitly an outlet for his own original compositions, and a project where he can take the lead in some intense improvisation. Drobka focused on through-composed material and a quartet format (including Madison bassist John Christensen) on the project’s self-titled 2014 release, but the new album Amaranth, which he’ll celebrate at this show, heads into far more unpredictable territory.
Drobka’s drumming takes on a richly improvisational feel throughout this record, always blurring the line between the spontaneous and the composed. He rarely seems interested in playing the conventional role of a drummer here, and he’s forgone a conventional format too, collaborating with bassist Aaron Darrell and three saxophonists—Daniel Blake, Chris Weller, and Patrick Breiner (who also contributes clarinet and bass clarinet). This approach makes for multi-layered cacophony on “Jake’s Theme” and a slow-building, eerie meld of reed sounds on “Three Sisters,” a composition that feels almost like an ambient drone piece. Opening track “Skip Skip” finds Drobka and collaborators engaging in something of a classic explosive free-jazz workout, except when they all pull together on an unmistakable, lurching melodic theme. And three “Interlude” tracks placed throughout the record find all involved streching out still further. Amaranth opens up myriad possibilities for an already very versatile drummer/composer. Drobka will explore more of them in a trio set at East Johnson Street’s cozy Macha Tea company, with bassist Jakob Heinemann and saxophone player Mike Bjella. The $10 cover charge includes a CD copy of the album. —Scott Gordon
WEDNESDAY NOVEMBER 14
Drawing on a trove of 16mm footage of tennis superstar John McEnroe at the 1984 French Open, director Julien Faraut documents one of the sport’s most volatile players in the new John McEnroe: In The Realm Of Perfection, screening here as part of MMOCA’s Spotlight Cinema series. Using philosophizing voice-overs from Quantum Of Solace villain Mathieu Amalric, the movie expounds on athletic and aesthetic pleasure embodied in the hall-of-famer, opening with the Jon-Luc Godard quote, “Cinema lies, sports doesn’t.” This duality between movies and tennis drives the documentary. Reaching into technological questions, Faraut dramatizes the imposition of cameras in sports by showing McEnroe’s verbal and physical assaults on the press.
Without saying it outright, the movie offers us a chance to consider McEnroe’s temper alongside the recent focus on Serena Williams’ anger on the court. One wonders why McEnroe’s outbursts are remembered as virtuosic passion, while Williams’, in much of the sports press, is discussed as a personal moral dilemma. While the camera lingers on McEnroe’s apparent genius, the man’s desire to control the game drives him into failure and isolation, emotionally captured in the final scene, revisiting his famous loss to John Lendl. —Reid Kurkerewicz
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