Madison hardcore band Black Cat celebrates a new album, “Far From Heaven” screens at UW Cinematheque, Tarek Sabbar plays techno, and more events of note in and around Madison this week. | By Ian Adcock, Scott Gordon, Edwanike Harbour, Reid Kurkerewicz, Chali Pittman, Henry Solo, and David Wolinsky
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THURSDAY SEPTEMBER 20
Even before Hannibal Buress unwittingly ignited public opinion against Bill Cosby—and arguably helped set the scene for the post-Weinstein and -#MeToo moment we still live in—with a routine about the now-disgraced comic and convicted sex offender’s rape accusations back in 2014, the Chicago-born comedian was long known for his onstage bravery. Somehow simultaneously deadpan, intense, and sarcastically surreal, Buress has proven himself incredibly versatile over the past decade. He’s most comfortable just being himself, but has pulled off a succession of enviable and short-lived gigs, like writing for Saturday Night Live for one season and only getting one sketch on the air (about Charles Barkley’s golf game) and writing for 30 Rock and then quitting after six months. As he’s explained in interviews, it isn’t that he hasn’t appreciated jobs like those, it’s just that, “I didn’t see myself as a television writer. I saw myself as a comedian working as a television writer.”
It’s no surprise, then, that since 2012 the other main thing people might know Buress from is his turn as the practically expressionless foil to the disturbingly and tirelessly manic Eric Andre on the deeply damaged and thrilling The Eric Andre Show, a plainly named Adult Swim program that intentionally doesn’t telegraph its corrupting effect. Buress largely functions as the show’s only grounding force, but one of the program’s many memorable bits features him rapping as The Matrix‘s Morpheus, who rhymes his name with “walruses” too many times to even be plausible.
Buress is also an exceptional stand-up—as captured on releases including his 2010 debut album My Name Is Hannibal and the 2016 documentary Hannibal Takes Edinburgh—who doesn’t shy away from controversy but also doesn’t intentionally court it. Usually. Earlier this year, Buress’ set at Loyola University Chicago, a Jesuit Catholic school, was nearly cut short when he disobeyed the college’s request to not make jokes about sexual abuse—he started his set by projecting the email stating this stipulation with his booking. There was a time, long before all this controversy associated with Hannibal’s name when he was best known for spinning memorable jokes about weird things, like hoarding pickle juice and kicking pigeons. Now that Buress has moved back to Chicago (“it’s less famous people for competition”), expect some musings on what it’s like adjusting to life back in the Midwest on top of whatever words he happens to think of that kinda-sorta rhymes with “walrus.” —David Wolinsky
Through his decades fronting Wilco and Uncle Tupelo, Jeff Tweedy’s enduring strengths as a songwriter have been knack for self-expression and combining diverse influences. On his first solo record, 2017’s Together At Last, Tweedy tries something both familiar but different: folkifying and stripping down the his songs from Wilco, loosely assembled supergroup Golden Smog, and early trio Loose Furs. Songs like “Ashes Of American Flags” from Wilco’s classic Yankee Hotel Foxtrot still resonate with Tweedy’s worn vocals and warm acoustic guitar.
Lyrics like “Why listen to poets when no one gives a fuck” from “Ashes” take on a new, more weary cynicism whereas lines like “I survived, that’s good enough for now” from Sky Blue Sky’s title track now sound exultant rather than cynical. For example, after singing that line, Tweedy then plays the most devastating yet nonchalant guitar solo, picking away slowly like a rural seraph. These moments are scattered across the record, over soon after they begin, but cast many ripples in their wake.
Though these are not always the best versions of these songs—rehashes rarely beats the original—they are more in line with who Tweedy has grown to be as an artist and person. The emotion that comes through on these songs are the result of an artist playing them how he wants to, not necessarily the best way or the most universally appealing way.
In a Pitchfork “Over/Under” video, Tweedy responds to whether giving away music for free was overrated or underrated. He muses, “What’s wrong with honoring the idea that people listening to your music are collaborators with your music by putting it together in their consciousness?” On this record, Tweedy envisions himself as that collaborative listener, and it’s a joy to get to witness an artist in tune and at peace with himself. Expect a real treat in that spirit live.—Henry Solo
FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 21
Todd Haynes and Julianne Moore first worked together on one of the more underrated films of the 1990s in Safe (1995), and Haynes’ impeccable direction, coupled with Moore’s performances, have made for some of the more memorable scenes in cinema in the past 25 years. For a stellar example of this partnership, look no further than 2002’s Far From Heaven, which centers on a brilliant yet understated performance from Moore. In our new desperate age of identity politics, the film’s explorations of race, betrayal, and homosexuality in 1950s suburban Connecticut are as timely as ever. Close to two decades after its release, our sociopolitical compass has not moved far enough that interracial relationships are seen as acceptable in 2018.
Seemingly, Cathy (Moore) and Frank Whitaker (Dennis Quaid) have it all: a beautiful home, successful careers, and a storybook marriage. This illusion is shattered when Cathy surprises Frank at work one evening and catches him kissing another man. As Cathy’s world crumbles around her, she begins an unlikely friendship with the Whitakers’ black gardener (Dennis Haysbert) during a time when furtive glances and lingering hugs were enough to start a whisper campaign with the neighbors. There are no easy resolutions to Cathy’s quandary, and the social ills of the world begin to suffocate her marriage. Her husband is more concerned about the optics of her budding friendship with their gardener then how his infidelity is impacting their relationship.
The 1950s atmosphere of this film was heavily influenced by two Douglas Sirk pieces, Imitation Of Life (1959) and All That Heaven Allows (1955), the latter of which is screening earlier this semester at Cinematheque. If possible, see both as they will undoubtedly complement one another. —Edwanike Harbour
Jessica Hopper is a feminist music critic whose output spans mediums and a variety of musical and cultural moments between 1990 and the present. She published zines and blogged to publish her own criticism for years, going on to write and/or edit for the Chicago Reader, Spin, and Pitchfork, and had a short but brilliant run as editor of a pre-pivot-to-video MTV News. She’s also had an extensive career as a publicist for bands like Jawbreaker and At The Drive-In. Hopper’s 2015 book, cheekily titled The First Collection Of Criticism By A Living Female Rock Critic (Featherproof Books) offers a “best of,” collecting pieces on artists ranging from Chief Keef to St. Vincent and showcasing an approach to music criticism that puts the listener’s personal experience, and Hopper’s own encyclopedic knowledge, in the foreground. Hopper, as a Chicagoan, infuses her take on Chance The Rapper with a glowing civic pride, and she trains her eye on details others might miss, taking the time to zoom out and also write about the teenage rappers hanging outside Chance’s old recording studio.
Hopper’s just-released memoir Night Moves (University of Texas Press) captures the messiness and daily travails of centering one’s life around music and culture. Telling the story out of order and in short, poetic bursts, Hopper drenches her lively prose in Midwestern slang. She’s also a master of the absurd yet true simile: “Chicago is so Chicago—it’s like getting mashed in the face with a volume of Sandburg poems.” The book includes an extended slog through freelance hell (ahem) along with some triumphs, but it isn’t a tell-all about Hopper’s ascent in music media. Night Moves often focuses on leisure––good shows, bad shows, partying with friends, biking across Chicago, making weird dog purse art projects—recognizing that much good writing is born in moments that could never be described as labor, but simply as life lived. —Reid Kurkerewicz
A Madison resident who divides his musical life between here and Milwaukee, guitarist and electronic musician Kenneth Tarek Sabbar has worked in a variety of eerie sound-worlds, from the searing post-punk of Heat Death to the austere, beat-driven solo music he makes under the name Tarek Sabbar. His “Plastic Bags” single, released in 2017 on the intriguing Milwaukee label Close Up of the Serene, falls somewhere in between, placing sharp, ringing guitar figures over a sparse motorik groove. Sabbar says his set at this show, though, will be more in line with a recent live set for Milwaukee radio station WMSE, which uses drum machines and synths to a more funky and danceable effect, but still has some of the menacing atmosphere of his other work. —Scott Gordon
The second annual Prism Festival is held on the autumnal equinox, complete with onsite camping and performances by poets, installation artists, dancers and tons of musicians, not to mention copious craft beer and food carts. The venue, Common Gardens in rural Dane northwest of Madison, is itself an attraction, as its owners ethically produce agricultural goods within a beautiful, forested landscape that also serves as a countryside retreat.
The music lineup is an inclusive grab-bag of Madison and Midwestern music, with hip-hop heavy-hitters Lucien Parker, Trapo and Ra’Shaun performing alongside rock outfits like Slow Pulp and DISQ. Punk bands Proud Parents and The Hussy also appear, along with high-energy pop from GGOOLLDD and sensuous electro-funk from Mr. Jackson. The Chicago-based five-piece Post Animal headlines. The band hammers out a niche in the ongoing psychedelic rock revival, joined in recent years by former Dolores guitarist Javi Reyes. Reyes’ influence comes through on songs like “Special Moment,” from the 2018 release When I Think of You In A Castle, on which Post Animal’s huge sound is understated, favoring a dreamy funkiness. —Reid Kurkerewicz
SATURDAY SEPTEMBER 22
On the new album Withdraw Your Consent, Madison hardcore band Black Cat picks up the blunt-edged grit of bands like Crass and hurtles forward into the gruesome realities of 21st-century America. Vocalist Veronica Echavarria rages unsparingly against the male gaze on “Double Standards,” predicts the downfall of “Mr. Cheeto Dick” on “Transparent,” and urges half-hearted lefties to step it up on “Withdraw Your Consent.” It’s all politics all the time, from global capitalism (“Wage Slave”) to state violence (“Serve/Protect”), and Echavarria brings it across with plainspoken fury and an occasional call-and-response from the burly scream of bassist Sam Brooks. And along with guitarist Evan Favill and drummer Rob Murphy, they make the urgent, slashing punk of people who are in the fight of their lives. They don’t have any illusions about what a bloody, dirty fight it is, but they lay into it with an almost joyous energy that cuts through the pessimism of the times. They’ll play here to celebrate the album’s release on Madison tape label Rare Plant. —Scott Gordon
SUNDAY SEPTEMBER 23
One of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s first films to draw influence from the melodramas of Douglas Sirk, 1972’s The Bitter Tears Of Petra Von Kant is a theatrical, claustrophobic look into Fassbinder’s own relationships. Fassbinder subverts the conventions of Sirk’s 1950s “women’s pictures” by infusing them with his own open homosexuality and leftist class-consciousness. The film is set entirely in the cluttered, ornate bedroom of the title character. Petra Von Kant (Margit Carstensen) is a fashion designer, but spends most of her time lounging in bed sadistically ordering around her silently suffering assistant Marlene (Irm Hermann). Petra becomes infatuated with lower-class aspiring model Karin (Hanna Schygulla), but when Karin returns to her husband, Von Kant self-destructs into gin-fueled self-hatred, lashing out at everyone around her. It’s easy to see Von Kant as a reflection of the legendarily cruel Fassbinder, who based the story on his own tumultuous relationship with frequent collaborator Günther Kaufmann.
Desiring the look of a lush Hollywood film on a German art film budget, Fassbinder and cinematographer Michael Ballhaus used slow tracking shots and heavy visual symbolism to make up for the lack of big-budget spectacle. Much as Sirk’s films are driven by the symbolic power of objects, Von Kant’s rooms are filled with human forms; with dolls, mannequins and a reproduction of Poussin’s Midas And Bacchus filling the wall behind the characters. Fassbinder also borrows Sirk’s use of mirrors and frames-within-frames, a visual theme he would develop further in subsequent films. The Bitter Tears Of Petra Von Kant also features some of Fassbinder’s most brilliant uses of popular music, as Von Kant’s heartbreak is expressed mise-en-scene by melodramatic records by The Platters and The Walker Brothers. Although slow and stagey, The Bitter Tears Of Petra Von Kant is one of Fassbinder’s most enduring and personal films. —Ian Adcock
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 25
The last time I saw Minneapolis-based trio Kitten Forever in Madison, the audience at the front of the stage could possibly have been heeding the ’90s riot grrl scene call of “girls to the front”—and a few rabble-rousing dudes quickly got the cue that this was not the place to start a pit. But now, just as feminism has progressed past its Second Wave, Kitten Forever evince a spirit of grown-up riot grrrl. Members Corrie Harrigan, Laura Larson, and Liz Elton are cool and collected in between chaotic songs, swapping instruments and taking turns playing bass, drums, and vocals on energetic, two or three-minute songs . The three are touring behind their album Semi-Permanent, released earlier this year, which features lyrics—delivered through a landline telephone receiver to create a compressed, noisy sound—that are frequently in the first person, lots of me/we/you statements, peeking into mental narratives and delving into relationships or vivid scenes.
As Gender Confetti, Madisonians Sylvia Johnson (of Midas Bison) and Elyse Clouthier (of Clean Room and Lurk Hards) interweave punchy, staccato riffs with radical lyrics on themes like gender identity (“We are gender deviants/ So let’s all unify”) and anti-capitalism (“Let’s pave a new road / Collectivize our forces”), with some quality stage banter about queer experiences in between songs. Expect a space that will be sober and the show to start on time, and an inclusive environment where anyone can stand at the front, and you can let your freak flag fly, just like the usual scarf that’s tied to Johnson’s guitar when they play. —Chali Pittman
WEDNESDAY SEPTEMBER 26
Over the past year or so, a loose group of Madison musicians including Max Arthur (Double Ewes, The Minotaurs) and Spencer Bible (Tippy, Sleep Now Forever) have been engaged in a pretty quixotic live project: crafting a live soundtrack to Forrest Gump, and not the movie but the audiobook of Winston Groom’s novel. This show will mark the third outing of this bizarre sound-collage experiment, and will concern itself with the parts of the audiobook that cover Gump’s journeys to China and encounters with political figures. Tyler Fassnacht (Fire Heads, Proud Parents) will be joining Arthur and Bible this time around. Jared Andrews, a purveyor of oddball synth-pop from Fort Wayne, Indiana, headlines here. —Scott Gordon