The daring documentary “Bisbee ‘17,” Filipino art song from Leslie Damaso, stand-up from Maria Bamford, and more events of note in Madison this week.
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FRIDAY OCTOBER 19
This show opens up with a new collaboration between two Madison-based artists we don’t often hear from these days, but who both have a track record of thoughtful songwriting and rich, entrancing vocals. Jentri Colello has performed for well over 10 years now in a variety of solo and band configurations. Some of those were under her own name and some were not (including Flatbear and Land Of Vandals), but all have relied on Colello’s knack for crafting a good slow burn around her evocative, inward-looking vocals and sparse electric guitar. The last recording she played on was Land Of Vandals’ 2013 album Sing Us Offshore.
Georgia native Page Campbell is one-half of the psych-pop duo Dream Boat, whose 2014 album The Rose Explodes has plenty of evocative slow-burn tracks of its own. Campbell’s duo with her sister Claire, Hope For Agoldensummer, takes a more straightforward approach to folk, though it’s not without its eccentricities. The two sisters have also played guitar and vocals to Patterson Hood’s non-Drive-By Truckers band, Patterson Hood & The Downtown Rumblers, and more recently contributed the music to HowStuffWorks’ Happy Face podcast. Page Campbell has also played a solo set or two in the few years she’s lived in Madison (full disclosure: one was at at Tone Madison event in December 2016). Campbell and Colello have been getting together to play new songs they’ve written separately and re-worked songs from other projects, and might end up creating some new material together too. Performing as simply “Jentri,Page,” they share the bill here with Minneapolis synth-pop project P • PL and Madison queer-punk outfit Gender Confetti. —Scott Gordon
Bettye LaVette has had a nearly 60-year career, but only during the last couple decades has she been recognized as one of the great R&B singers of her generation. Despite the lack of lasting success at different points in her career, LaVette has been recording and performing constantly since 1962, when she recorded her first single, “My Man-He’s A Loving Man.”
Though she was only 16 when she recorded the song, LaVette already possessed a distinctive, powerful voice, and the song became a national R&B hit single. LaVette recorded a number of incredible singles with Muscles Shoals backing bands throughout the 1960s & 1970s, and her voice quickly developed a gritty, intensely emotional quality. Equally confident on upbeat, flirtatious songs like “Do Your Duty” and the heartbroken deep soul of “Let Me Down Easy,” LaVette’s powerful delivery could give meaning to even the most insipid of lyrics. In 1978 she crossed over into disco with the Walter Gibbons-fueled proto-house classic “Doin’ The Best That I Can,” which led to her releasing her first album on Motown in 1982. Unfortunately, the Motown of 1982 was preoccupied with its mega-stars, and Tell Me A Lie sounds cheap and dated, with LaVette’s vocals struggling against a robotic backing band churning out tepid versions of old Motown hits.
In the late 1990s, LaVette’s unreleased 1972 album Child Of The Seventies was discovered and released as Souvenirs, leading to new recording projects and a deal with Anti- Records. I’ve Got My Own Hell To Raise, released in 2005, was a massive critical success, with its reinterpretations of songs by female songwriters like Dolly Parton’s “Little Sparrow,” backed by a slinky, distorted backing band.
Since that much-overdue resurgence, Bettye LaVette has continued to record albums and tour, becoming a renowned interpreter of songs. Whether she’s covering 1920s country blues or 1970s arena rock, her voice makes the material her own and distills the essence of what makes a song great. Her newest album is a collection of Bob Dylan covers, 2018’s Things Have Changed, and LaVette will be performing the album in its entirety at the Stoughton Opera House, along with other selections from her long and varied career. —Ian Adcock
Stand-up comedian Maria Bamford trades in nervous laughter and radical vulnerability. Her self-deprecation is brutal. Before you’ve settled into her rapid-fire delivery, you might find yourself laughing in the way you do when you have no other option, as Bamford unpacks her own struggles with mental illness and ping-pongs through impressions of friends and family. Bamford’s uncanny voice-acting skill has a way of keeping the audience off balance (that goes double for people encountering her work for the first time), but there’s impeccable craft behind the cyclone of personas and accents at work in any given bit.
Bamford also has an experimental bent, as she plays with her relationship to the audience. In 2012’s The Special Special Special, she performed jokes about her parents directly to them, and pretty much only to them, in her own living room. Her 2017 Netflix special Old Baby expands this idea to multiple different rooms and groups of people. Bamford starts by warning herself in a mirror that the show might not quite be for her. “[War Horse] is a 14-hour real-time documentary about a gentle horse, struggling, in vain, to escape from barbed wire. This may be your War Horse,” she warns. The settings expand, and along with them the audiences, from Bamford’s husband to a packed living room, and eventually to an auditorium, where she deconstructs even her fart jokes. “The harshest criticism comes from fellow comics,” she says, blasting poot noises in the mic. If you think that’s an awkward note to end on, it is. —Reid Kurkerewicz
New Orleans trumpeter and vocalist Leroy Jones has become one of the most respected jazz musicians in a city that has produced, you know, a few of those. Jones began playing out in brass bands in the early 1970s, before he even entered his teens, and found a long-term collaborator and champion in vocalist and fellow New Orleanian Harry Connick, Jr. While Jones has strong ties to the jazz sounds and traditions most listeners associate with New Orleans, and frequently plays venues like the venerable Preservation Hall, his recordings as a composer and bandleader, beginning with 1994’s Mo’ Cream From The Crop, draw just as much inspiration from innovative trumpeters like Miles Davis and Lee Morgan. Over the years Jones has also crossed paths with the Madison-based Mama Digdown’s Brass Band, even performing and recording with that outfit. That helps to explain why he’s heading to Madison to join trombone player (and Mama Digdown’s member) Darren Sterud and his New Orleans Tribute ensemble for this show. Sterud says the setlist will include some of Jones’ originals and some classics from the New Orleans jazz canon. Given Jones’ versatility, the audience can likely expect a lot of Crescent City tradition with a few inspired detours. —Scott Gordon
SATURDAY OCTOBER 20
Madison-based multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Courtney Jarman’s project Mori Mente works in a shadowy territory between electronic music and swooning lounge jazz. Jarman seems pretty drawn to eccentric musical hybrids, having contributed keyboards and vocals to the math-rock-y outfit Dharmonic Deluxe, played drums here and there for experimental rock project Glassmen, and laid a foundation of monster drumming and eerie falsetto vocals in the bizarro surf-rock trio Myrmidons. The mix of sounds that intrigue Jarman as a producer, songwriter, and bandleader keeps on shifting on Mori Mente’s new EP, Comparison (The Thief Of Joy), which will be celebrated at this show.
The EP’s opening track, “The Dark Prince,” starts with a lush, mournful synth passage, which then pulls back as Jarman uses her versatile voice to sing what sounds like a cracked nursery rhyme: “Stuff your gob with blackbird pie / But you’re never satisfied / I will take the long way to happiness again.” All the pieces together form a woozy and waltzing strain of goth-pop, undercut with strings, nylon-stringed guitar, and even melodica. The remaining three tracks are instrumentals that meander through a moody take on surf guitar (“Serenade”), darkly dazzling synth explorations (“Black Lodge”), and a finale that’s a bit closer to—but never quite—a straightforward beat-driven electronic track (“Golden Arrow”). It’s not always easy to get your bearings in Mori Mente’s music, but Jarman’s gift for melody and clear, tense arrangements make it easy to stay absorbed. —Scott Gordon
Chicago band OHMME centers around the duo of vocalists/guitarists/producers Macie Stewart and Sima Cunningham, who seamlessly combine the instincts of bright pop songwriting with a grasp of all things noisy and free. (Full disclosure: OHMME played a Tone Madison-presented event earlier this year.) On songs like “Furniture,” from OHMME’s self-titled 2015 EP, Stewart and Cunningham’s voices twist together into sharp harmonies, doubles, and call-and-responses, so fluidly that it’s rare for one to definitively take “lead” vocals on a song and the other “backups.” Instead, the two voices sound like different ends of one continuum, and the duo’s guitar work is just as solidly integrated, whether they’re taking a restrained, folk-inspired approach, plowing into overdriven chords, or noisy improvisation.
OHMME’s first full-length album, this year’s Parts, keeps on exploring the sonic space around the duo’s already airtight foundation, from the blasted-out and boisterous “Water” to the spacey melancholy of “Walk Me.” It’s a record laden with tense but amiable hooks and subtle production twists: “Peach” jumps between angular acoustic bridges and bursts of dissonantly abused electric guitars, and “Parts” places the pair’s vocals over spaciously reverbed instrumentation, but all these elements sit together in a way that makes sense. The album also features contributions from reedist Ken Vandermark (who plays with Stewart in the avant-jazz quintet Marker), cellist Tomeka Reid, and guitarist/bassist Doug McCombs. Both Vandermark’s glottal-sounding bass clarinet and Reid’s versatile cello play a prominent role on “Sentient Beings,” which is probably the song here that stretches out the most. Whatever the lineup (live, they usually bring along drummer Matt Carroll, who also plays on Parts), Cunningham and Stewart pull off music that’s at once profoundly catchy and disarmingly strange. —Scott Gordon
SUNDAY OCTOBER 21
Filipino-American vocalist and Mineral Point resident Leslie Damaso performs here with local pianist Jason Kutz behind May Laya, a collection of Filipino art songs recorded with Buzz Kemper at Madison studio Audio for the Arts and released this summer. Damaso translates and discusses these songs on her website, noting the importance of engaging in this music as a way to explore her roots. This music, known as kundiman, emerged as a traditional Filipino folk music around the turn of the 20th century, in response to the centuries-long Spanish occupation of the Philippines. Written and sung in Tagalog, the lyrics of these kundiman songs focus on sentiments of love—whether it be between people or for nature and the land itself. Kutz’s piano accompaniment interacts with Damaso’s folk melodies and lyrics in a dynamic similar to that of German and other Western art songs. The imagery the lyrics is present and interpreted in both the written accompaniment that comes with the album and in Kutz’s expressive performances. Both musicians are active in other facets of music in southern Wisconsin: Damaso owns Buttonhill Music Studio in Mineral Point. Kutz performs in adventurous projects such as Mr. Chair and Bad Philosopher, and will also play a few of his original compositions at this show. —Emili Earhart
TUESDAY OCTOBER 23
A band like They Might Be Giants has to put out an age-limit disclaimer on shows like this two-set stand at the Barrymore, as TMBG has written a deluge of educational kids’ songs that actually kind of slap. But here, the band will have no trouble digging up hours of adult music from a career that includes one of the few sitcom themes worth listening to and a continuous stream of art-rock classics, like “Birdhouse In Your Soul,” “Don’t Let’s Start,” and everything on 1994’s album John Henry.
On 2018’s I Like Fun, the band’s 20th studio album, TMGB again jams childlike wonder together with realistic dread, producing songs like “Lake Monster,” which foretells an awakening of water creatures who are going to vote. (For what or for whom the creatures will vote is unclear. Perhaps it’s a reference to red-state working-class voters living in inland freshwater post-industrial hubs.) The rest of I Like Fun is loaded with horns, punchy guitar riffs, and sing-along choruses, most successfully deployed on “All Time What,” which sheds quirkiness, instead mainlining an efficient pop-punk jam. TMGB’s foregrounded politics continue on the recent single, “The Communists Have The Music,” which plays with the stereotype that leftists have recently written all the good tunes. (By god. It’s true.) It’s like educational music for teenagers, with references to Ayn Rand, Friedrich Engels, anarchists, and the House Un-American Activities Committee. Throw in the promise of live improvisation, and trumpeter Curt Ramm from Bruce Springsteen’s touring band, and you’ve got a decidedly adult-oriented evening with TMBG. —Reid Kurkerewicz
WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 24
An unprecedented, radical fusion of the documentary, musical, and Western genres by writer and director Robert Greene (Kate Plays Christine), the new Bisbee ’17 excavates a long-buried and haunting episode in the history of an eccentric old Arizona mining town just miles away from the Mexican border and Tombstone, site of the famous O.K. Corral gunfight. In the summer of 1917, amid a raging world war that depended heavily on copper for munitions, immigrant mine workers at the Queen of the Copper Camps in Bisbee organized a strike, demanding higher wages, safer working conditions, and an end to discrimination. On July 12, a deputized posse rounded up more than 1,200 miners at gunpoint and shipped them on boxcars to the New Mexico desert.
Greene’s film observes several inhabitants of this close-knit, yet still divided, community as they prepare to stage a reenactment of the event, known as the Bisbee Deportation, on its centennial. He weaves in dramatized fictional scenes before the day itself and candid interviews with a motley crew of townsfolk who range from hippie artists to defensive company men. A cogent, multi-layered, and visually striking examination of the complex relationship between history and performance, Bisbee ’17 incorporates perspectives from both sides of the controversial issue, while skillfully connecting the reality of a past conflict to our current charged political climate. The film’s fluid, expressive cinematography and authentic production design bring the incident to vivid life, as Greene seems to suggest that 1917 was really not that long ago.
After this screening, the film’s historical advisor, Katherine Benton-Cohen, a UW-Madison PhD alum, will join Spotlight Cinema series curator Mike King for a special Q&A. —Jason Fuhrman
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