Low-budget horror classic “Basket Case,’“ Big Freedia at Freakfest, jazz from Anders Svanoe and Ben Allison, and more events of note in Madison this week.
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THURSDAY OCTOBER 25
New York jazz bassist Ben Allison is many things (including an advocate for musicians’ royalties in the era of streaming audio, something he’s discussed in testimony before Congress), but perhaps above all he is a writer of accessible, compact tunes that don’t sound quite like anyone else’s. These songs are often built on hooks, such as the hypnotic bassline in “Layers Of The City,” the tremolo guitar chords that begin “Kramer Vs. Kramer Vs. Godzilla,” or the raspy plucked-string ostinato that starts off “Swiss Cheese D.” They also have tuneful melodies—that of “Fred,” for example—that can stick in your head after one or two listens. Combine these elements with a contrasting bridge and deft arranging, and you get a clearly delineated, vivid sound-world, like a page from a graphic novel.
Allison is bringing his Think Free band to town in conjunction with a residency at UW-Madison, and it’s a terrific group that requires dropping a metric ton of jazz names to introduce. At this Café Coda show, the band will include Shane Endsley on Trumpet (Kneebody), Rudy Royston on drums (Bill Frisell, JD Allen, Dave Douglas, Rudresh Mahanthappa, and more), and Steve Cardenas on electric guitar (Paul Motian Band, John Patitucci, etc.). As it happens, this is not the lineup from the project’s latest album, 2018’s Layers Of The City, but a slightly reduced version of the equally good ensemble from the group’s self-titled 2009 album. Regrettably absent will be violinist Jenny Scheinman, who played scene-stealing solos on Think Free and in the live videos Allison has uploaded from a night at New York venue Jazz Standard. —Abe Sorber
ALL’s monthly Mills Folly Microcinema series continues to showcase daring and undersung experimental work with a regionally focused historical documentary from Chicago-based filmmaker Deborah Stratman. A visual essay that’s at once confrontational and meditative, The Illinois Parables (2016) ebbs and flows through eleven interrelated vignettes that largely revisit scenes from the 19th and 20th centuries.
Through a studied implementation of mural paintings, assorted drawings, and newspaper headlines over archival audio, Stratman examines this country’s discriminatory brutality, beginning with Native Americans’ plight as a result of the Indian Removal Act of 1830. As Stratman’s editing lens progresses through the topography of her home state, we’re repeatedly presented with harsh realities of life—whether in the face of natural disasters, like a tornado’s ravaging of West Frankfort in 1925, or racially motivated violence in a Chicago apartment complex some 44 years later.
But the film also captures moments that illuminate the will to persevere and stand against injustice, like the reading of a particularly moving letter from Ralph Waldo Emerson to President Van Buren, or a speech on the significance of the revolutionary from a Black Panther. These sentiments are further reinforced as a reprieve from escalating tensions or spiritual buoy through recurring naturalistic footage of landscapes high and low. Stratman’s lovely musical selections additionally inspire hope in the beauty of human creation with various ambient piano, orchestral, and choral works from Jeanne Demessieux, Arvo Pärt, Okkyung Lee, and Chicago’s own Olivia Block.
While there’s something about its itinerant headiness that is slightly reminiscent of Grant Gee’s Patience (After Sebald) (2012), an essayistic documentary about WG Sebald’s walking tour of Suffolk, England, the subject matter of The Illinois Parables also proves to be a sobering complement to this past June’s Rooftop Cinema feature on indigenous inequities, INAATE/SE/ (2016). —Grant Phipps
Chicago band Hitter draws its membership from a few different raw and explosive rock outfits. Vocalist Hanna Johnson and bassist Madalyn Garcia play in the thrashing, maddeningly catchy punk trio Lil Tits, guitarist Adam Luksetich’s projects have included the off-kilter post-punk duo Foul Tip, and drummer Ryan Wizniak is also in the hard-charging punk outfit Meat Wave. (Plus, Johnson is an avowed fan of Madison punk trio Solid Freex, so don’t we kind of have to like this band now?) Hitter’s six-track demo release from this August is a bit more straightforward than all of the above, built on rugged, metallic riffs and rumbling toms. On “Disco” and “Rock Show,” Hitter’s members sound determined to craft a new set of filth-streaked metal anthems, and Johnson leads the way with vocal performances that veer between cackling half-screams and an ominous bellow. Hitter shares the bill here with two Madison acts: the eerie, synth-driven instrumental project Red Museum and garage-rock trio Darker N’ Darker. —Scott Gordon
Michelle Wolf has had a tumultuous year in the national spotlight, something of a shocking twist for a topical, eminently likable stand-up whose act consists of sly one-liners and punchlines delivered with a deceptively shy smile. . Wolf, more than anything, is a topical comedian. It’s not quite fair for political controversy to define the career of an already very funny comedian, but Wolf really was at her best in an April 2018 White House Correspondents’ Dinner monologue that gleefully shattered the cozy civility of the event in favor of merciless truth-telling. Wolf set up her jokes rather inconspicuously along the lines of, “I know President Trump isn’t here tonight. I would have dragged him here myself. But…” and then finished with scorched-earth punchlines like, “…it turns out the president is the one pussy in the US you aren’t allowed to grab.”
Jokes like these showcase the former Daily Show correspondent’s knack for staring into the abyss of absurdity and hypocrisy without blinking, and mining it for clever tidbits of humor. It’s a shame that Wolf was not able to convert the strengths of her act properly into the cancelled one-season Netflix show The Break With Michelle Wolf, but it is exciting nonetheless to see her continue to perform her unfiltered stand-up that tears down boundaries between performer and audience. In bits like one about farting while walking home as a form of women’s self-defense, Wolf cuts expertly between dark realities and the fundamentals of comedic craft. —Henry Solo
FRIDAY OCTOBER 26
Nearly a decade has passed since Merrill Garbus dropped her debut as Tune-Yards (officially, ahem, tUnE-yArDs), and much has stayed the same across the four albums she’s released (three with bassist Nate Brenner)—layered vocals slathered with effects and sparse yet sporadic backing productions. On the project’s latest record, 2018’s I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life, Garbus uses these same songwriting elements but deploys them in different directions. Far removed from the joyous explosiveness of her 2009 debut BiRd-BrAins, the chaos on ICFYCIMPL songs like “Colonizer” capture the darkness in Garbus’ own life and perhaps in the general human psyche. “Colonizer” begins with an insidious drum beat before Garbus’ voice comes in with the line “I use my white woman’s voice to tell stories of travels with African Men.” This these words ride the line between self-reflection and self-flagellation, as Garbus’ white guilt seeps into the distorted instrumentation around her vocals.
The album’s semi-titular track “Private Life” continues this thread of chaotic thought. As the song’s beat drones and expands, Garbus sings, “I can feel you creep into my private life” and “I don’t wanna / I don’t wanna / hear my voice, hear my voice.” This songs captures, abstractly, the terror of revealing oneself to another person. But as it progresses, the beat lightens and Garbus seems to accept herself and the second person in the song. A flute loop enters near the song’s end, and Garbus changes her lyrics to “I just wanna, I just wanna / hear your voice / hear your voice.” These songs and the album as a whole show that the horror in looking at oneself without filter can be terrifying and arresting, but that the ensuing revelations can also set you free. —Henry Solo
UW Cinematheque’s programming has been a little light on Halloween-related screenings the last couple years, but thankfully this semester the free campus film series makes up for it with the 1982 horror classic Basket Case. Set in an ultra-seedy New York City, Basket Case is the tale of separated conjoined twins: the naive Duane (Kevin Van Hentenryck), and his monstrously deformed, homicidal brother Belial (a puppet, voiced by Van Hentenryck). Arriving in New York with his brother hidden in a large wicker basket, Duane seems like a gullible hick lost in the big city. However, the brothers are on a mission to kill the doctors who separated them against their will. Belial is more than eager to murder anyone who gets in the twins’ way, and when Duane falls in love, Belial goes into a jealous frenzy that threatens to be the end for them both.
The debut film of director Frank Henenlotter, Basket Case is low-budget filmmaking pushed to an extreme. Henenlotter’s lifelong devotion to grindhouse film is evident here, as he uses the limited resources available to create a crude but effective film. Filled with gallons of fake blood, cheap special effects and lots of very, very amateurish acting, Basket Case is knowingly campy and laughable but still has moments of true horror and poignancy. The relationship between the brothers is strangely touching, and the obvious rubber puppet Belial manages to express true pathos when he’s not ripping people’s tongues out. The proudly lowbrow Basket Case will be shown here in a new 4k restoration from the Museum of Modern Art. —Ian Adcock
SATURDAY OCTOBER 27
Over the past few years Freakfest has finally matured into something more than “Well, it beats Halloween riots on State Street,” or at least its music lineup has taken on some respectable heft. At this point, you can count on at least a couple of the touring artists to deliver some solid music while providing the over-the-top fun the occasion demands, and on a few worthwhile Madison-based acts further down the bill. The standouts this year are the explosively funky R&B and hip-hop ensemble Tank And The Bangas and Big Freedia, a standout in the brash, intoxicating hip-hop subgenre of New Orleans Bounce. Folks turning out for top-billed acts Quinn XCII and Misterwives might not be quite prepared for this New Orleans one-two, but both Freedia and the Bangas should be able to win over anyone who’s on the fence.
The Madison artists spread between Freakfest’s two stages would make for a decent little Halloween festival by themselves. The family trio Solid Freex’s furious post-punk and noisy smart-assery make them probably the most exciting rock outfit to start up in town over the past couple years. Singer/rapper/producers Son! and Kenny Hoopla each walk their own ever-twisting line between hip-hop and stylistically mixed-up pop. Over on the Capitol Stage, Punk duo Gender Confetti, DJ Boyfrrriend, and and Milwaukee R&B artist Lex Allen make for a pretty killer lead-up to Big Freedia, suggesting Freakfest’s bookers at FPC Live have taken notice of Madison’s fertile queer music scene. —Scott Gordon
Madison-based musician and photographer Rob Lundberg (whose projects have included the math-rock band Jobs and the improvisational trio Nestle) has been exploring his fascination with the environment and how humans relate to it through Terra Incognita, a series of recent multimedia art endeavors and workshops. (Full disclosure: Lundberg has worked with Tone Madison on booking several music events.) His latest effort, Displaced Horizons, examines how people interact with water, and takes an approach that Lundberg describes as “resistant to practices that fix water as an abstract resource and instead animate our subjective experiences of water in the landscape.” At this art opening and performance, that’ll mean a few things: A multi-channel video installation that Lundberg created in collaboration with filmmaker Dylan McLaughlin and New Mexico-based musician and artist Chris Jonas, a display of “printed materials including musical score and a program of text and images,” and music composed by Lundberg and Jonas. The performance, kicking off at 7 p.m., brings together some special talents: Lundberg on bass, Jonas (who has collaborated with avant-jazz luminaries like Anthony Braxton) on sax and vibraphone, Deerhoof’s John Dieterich on guitar, Chicago-based percussionist Ryan Packard (whose projects have included Wei Zhongle), and Bay Area resident Cory Wright (who has worked with musicians including Yusef Lateef) on flute, clarinet, and bass clarinet. —Scott Gordon
Toronto-based trio Völur perform in Wisconsin for the first time in a space that offers the perfect resonance for the group’s heavy, atmospheric sound. Völur buries pastoral folk melodies of vocals and violin within slow, thick doom textures, and structures both patient and progressive. Their heathen spirituality, present in their lyrics and imagery, also cuts through on a sonic level, pulling moments of simplicity and beauty from dense passages of chaos and discord. This dichotomy is present on Völur’s 2017 release, Ancestors—an exploration into the male counterparts of mythological heroines. The subject is a follow-up to Völur’s 2016 album, Disir, which highlights various aspects of folkloric femininity. The trio boasts members of Blood Ceremony and Do Make Say Think, and perform here as part of a North American tour. Also performing is Louise Bock, the solo project of Spires That In The Sunset Rise member Taralie Peterson. A multi-instrumentalist and inventive improvisor, Peterson creates a sound unmistakably hers, each performance as adventurous and powerful as the next. Madison’s newest drone metal project, Decarabia (members of Dysphoria, Serpent Lung, etc.) play here as well in their debut performance. —Emili Earhart
SUNDAY OCTOBER 28
Saxophonist and composer Anders Svanoe has spent more than 20 years actively contributing to the jazz community in his native Madison and beyond—with collaborators including Roscoe Mitchell, Jon Irabagon, and Madison Latin-jazz maestro Tony Castañeda—but over the past few years he’s stepped into the spotlight with a series of albums that explore his deep affection for the baritone sax. On the 2016 album State Of The Baritone and 2017’s State Of The Baritone Vol. 2, Svanoe made his case for the instrument’s versatility on original pieces that ranged from abrasive free improv to modern classical, doing most of this in a trio format with percussionist Rodrigo Villanueva-Conroy and bassist John Christensen. (Pianist Wendy Ward contributed to several tracks on the first album.) The latest twist this burst of productivity is the “double trio” Svanoe formed for the 2018 album 747 Queen Of The Skies. This unusual sextet will celebrate the album’s release with this show, part of a Sunday-afternoon jazz series Svanoe has been organizing at Arts + Literature Laboratory.
Svanoe explains in 747‘s liner notes that the album’s nine original compositions draw on his childhood experiences flying to his ancestral homeland of Norway in the late 1970s and early ’80s, when air travel had yet to descend into “rocket-bus” squalor and could leave a real nostalgic imprint on a kid. And like a jumbo jet outfitted with shag carpet and edible meals, the ensemble here is at once unwieldy and full of possibilities. Trumpeter Jim Doherty’s melodic reinforcements and spiky interjections make an excellent foil for Svanoe’s playing, which takes advantage of the baritone’s rugged low end but is just as assertive and nimble as a tenor or alto sax. But the real fun here is in a doubled-up rhythm section—bassists Henry Boehm and Brad Townsend, and drummers Villanueva-Conroy and Michael Brenneis—that fills the tracks with kinetic interplay.
On the opening track, “Please Fasten Your Seatbelts,” (all the track titles are aviation-themed, like “Bird Strike” and “Altimeter High”) all six musicians unload at once in something of a dissonant free-for-all, but it’s still the kind of free-for-all where all the players are seasoned improvisers and actually listening to each other. With that chaotic energy out of their systems, the players lock into the debonair groove of the title track, as Svanoe and Doherty double up on a melodic theme fit for a fast-paced spy flick. The double-trio can also summon moments of tenderness and grace, especially on “Tenerife Mourning,” named after the deadliest plane crash in history. Where most of the tracks use the six-piece format to hefty and boisterous effect, this one finds each player exploring subtle shadings, evoking the complex and often tumultuous layers of grief and loss. “Spiral Staircase Glamour” foregrounds Brenneis and Villanueva-Conroy playing off each other in the record’s most adventurous and abstract moment, and “Subsonic” lets Boehm and Townshend take the lead with a mix of scratchy bowed passages and taut rhythmic lines. —Scott Gordon
TUESDAY OCTOBER 30
Despite headlining at festivals such as Burger Boogaloo, Coachella, and Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, Oakland-based Shannon And The Clams seem to be content just below the radar. Leader Shannon Shaw, also of queer-punk ensemble Hunx & his Punx, can belt it out from a low baritone all the way to a sterling falsetto, all with a welcome dose of gravel and squall. Cody Blanchard, who also performs solo as King Lollipop and shares principal vocals and songwriting responsibilities with Shaw, has a croon that is at once sweet and frantic. The band takes the sugary harmonies of 1960s girl groups like The Shangri-la’s and The Shirelles and mixes it with the frenetic garage rock of bands like The Seeds or the 13th Floor Elevators, without wandering too far into overly anachronistic or gimmicky territory.
For their fifth studio album, this year’s Onion, the Clams have moved away from labels like 1-2-3-4 Go! and Hardly Art and opted for a more Nashville sound. Black Keys member Dan Auerbach (who also recorded Shaw’s excellent new solo album, Shannon In Nashville) produced and recorded Onion and released it on his label Easy Eye. Auerbach brings a welcome polish to the band’s sound, while letting them retain their signature soulful, feverish rock and roll. But beneath the surf-y guitar hooks and the 1950’s doo-wop sensibility lies a more somber tone. The band had already started writing and recording Onion when the deadly fire at the Oakland warehouse venue Ghost Ship took place, a devastating loss to artistic and queer communities in the East Bay. The band lost some dear friends, and the landscape of DIY music and art spaces in Oakland was altered forever. Many spaces were forced to close due to new municipal restrictions.
The album took a decidedly darker turn in the aftermath. Blanchard’s “Backstreets” tells the story of an outcast looking for a safe space to run, and offers a commentary on society’s marginalization of artists. On the last track on the album, “Don’t Close Your Eyes,” Shaw encourages self-care in the wake of tragedy: “And don’t close your eyes / If you just see that night / Do what you must / To grasp every feeling / Now open those eyes and take in that light.” Indeed, the album has its moments of light and playfulness, with tracks like “The Boy” poking fun at toxic masculinity and “If You Could Know” recounting the dizzying sensation of falling for someone. And they still, after all their years playing together in different iterations, sound like they’re having a fucking blast. Opening are Dirty Fences from New York City and Madison trio The Hussy. It’s the night before Halloween, too, so there’s sure to be some merry mayhem at this one. —Katie Hutchinson