The local premiere of “Mandy,” a farewell to Madison band Exploration Team, a visit from Rupi Kaur, and more events of note in Madison this week.
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FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 28
When it comes to delving into the the varied interpretations of historically significant films, Cinematheque’s 2018 fall programming is unusually sharp and inclusive. In the week following Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows (1955) and its two subsequent homages in Ali: Fear Eats The Soul (1973) and Far From Heaven (2002), they’re hosting the Madison premiere of Nicolas Wackerbarth’s Casting (2017) just five days after a 35mm Chazen presentation of the prolific Fassbinder’s The Bitter Tears Of Petra Von Kant (1972), on which it riffs.
In the lively tradition of Alain Resnais’ metacinema, which evokes the entanglements of the medium with its roots in theatre and rehearsal (see also: the critically overlooked The Exchange), Casting reproduces the complex dynamics of the relationship between the origin story’s fashion designer Petra and her personal assistant/lover Marlene. Here, Marlene is substituted for a male character, Karl, in the resolute but somehow indecisive director Vera (Judith Engel)’s vision, or lack thereof, that she’s attempted to pull together for a television event celebrating Fassbinder’s 75th birthday. A looming uncertainty permeates all members on set, as Vera has yet to secure the co-leading roles just a week before shooting.
When Casting hones in on the intrigue and comedy of the vexatious circus of the casting process, it finds a rare spontaneity within the parameters of the screenplay, co-written by Wackerbarth and Hannes Held. Whether the rehearsals are between self-effacing Gerwin (Andreas Lust), who’s seen as a runner-up choice to portray Karl, or the conceited veteran Annika (Andrea Sawatzki), who’s regarded as a shoe-in for Petra, the film is continually revising the line between performer and character with charmingly awkward, acerbic observations on everything from personal temperament to aesthetics. While it does not retain the same enveloping visual splendor of its source material, Casting is aptly concerned about the rotating cast and crew. Ultimately lingering on a wonderfully wistful note, Wackerbarth (and Fassbinder)’s work earnestly reveals the enticing, transformative nature of their craft. —Grant Phipps
For the greater part of this decade, saxophonist Brennan Connors has been honing his skills as part of Samba Novistas, Madison Choro Ensemble, and his free jazz trio Stray Passage at an unusual array of local haunts, including the Mason Lounge, former Cardinal Bar, The Frequency, North Street Cabaret, Mickey’s Tavern, and most recently, Bos Meadery. In late 2017, Stray Passage, which consists of bassist/multi-instrumentalist Brian Grimm (Sound Out Loud, Lovely Socialite) and percussionist Geoff Brady (Yid Vicious, Major Vistas), put out a five-track collection of improvisations entitled Emergence on the Italian label Setola di Maiale.
Recorded live over two sessions with an audience at Audio for the Arts right here in Madison, the LP, which was one of our favorite local releases of last year, is a sonically explorative, dynamic journey. The trio’s compelling sound incorporates everything from meditative, near-ambient passages augmented by electronic loops to heavy grooves on electric bass and bowed violoncello that shift in conjunction with thunderous drum fills and resonating acoustic wails on both soprano and tenor sax.
The album’s opener, “Time Spent Away,” begins delicately as an eerie, almost chamber-like mood piece before the unison of Connors’ sustained tones and Grimm’s tremolo burst through in crescendo. And yet the trajectory of the improvisation remains thrillingly unpredictable, as the trio again temper things for several minutes before collectively erupting into a raucous instrumental dance near its conclusion. As somewhat of a counterpoint, “Way Way Up Swing” commences with Connors’ fluttering trill on soprano sax, Brady’s wild soloing that leans heavily on the snare, and Grimm’s thick fretless bass guitar guided by decided funk influence. Here, at the intimate and relaxed Mother Fool’s Coffeehouse where they are the lone featured act, expect two moderately lengthy and stylistically different sets. —Grant Phipps
Bangers & Mash 2: Exploration Team, Wilder Deitz, Czarbles, Cop Circles, DJ Ian Adcock. Art In, 9 p.m.
The second edition of the new dance and music series Bangers & Mash offers something that’s still too rare in Madison: a lineup that’s extremely mixed-up in terms of genres and approaches. Pianist and composer Wilder Deitz, in a variety of different groups and collaborations, has explored many traditional and forward-looking facets of jazz, all the while exploring interests that range from hip-hop to spoken word. A limited-edition mixtape Deitz and his band released last summer reveals a bandleader with a knack for unraveling the connections between different eras of American music. Producer and vocalist Cop Circles also has a background as a jazz pianist, but uses that to create lush, playful house jams. Math-rock trio Czarbles has spent more than a decade hammering out hyper-intricate but perversely catchy instrumentals. DJ Ian Adcock (who is a Tone Madison contributor) has a deep grasp of everything from R&B to experimental jazz, so the dance-party portion of the evening should get pretty weird.
This show will also be the last for Madison pop outfit Exploration Team. (Full disclosure: I’m friendly with the band members, and will be DJing at a future Bangers & Mash night.) After announcing its breakup, the band put out its only proper recording to date, an EP simply called Five Songs. Luis Perez and Ross Adam’s clean-toned, gossamer electric guitars give the band an unmistakably melancholy jangle-pop foundation, but drummer Etan Heller and bassist-vocalist Allison Geyer manage to give it all an up-tempo kick. Geyer’s vocals manage to both float above the songs and propel them, combining silky melody with hints of something harsher: The EP’s high point, “Brighton Rock” finds Geyer singing “You want to me say I love you / But the truth is that I hate you, I hate you,” about as agreeably as anyone could ask for. —Scott Gordon
SATURDAY SEPTEMBER 29
Nicolas Cage is not known for being a master of subtlety, which is why he is expertly cast in this new grindhouse feature from Panos Cosmatos. At once retro and ahead of its time, Mandy manages to capture the sleazy grime of late-’70s horror flicks such as Last House On The Left (1972) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), but also mixes in elements of psychedelia that blend together for a dizzying effect.
The plot of the film is straightforward. Red Miller (Nicolas Cage) is a lumberjack who has a beautiful and loving relationship with his wife, Mandy (Andrea Riseborough). A random encounter with a drug-addled cult drives the cult’s leader (Linus Roache) mad, and he decides to kidnap Mandy and Red. The cult has the ability to summon a pack of demons, who have also committed a series of unsolved murders in the area. As Red witnesses one of the worst things a person can experience, he goes on a bloodthirsty rampage that allows the film to pay homage to its grindhouse forebears.
Mandy inevitably will be a new midnight movie classic and it is surprising that UW Cinematheque is not screening it as such. With its lush colors and chiaroscuro cinematography, it would be right at home with any Italian giallo film, only Mandy is even more sadistically violent. While the first half of the film is a bit of a slow burn that focuses more on Red and Mandy’s idyllic romance, the antics of Cage’s performance work perfectly within the second half, when he goes full-on Mad Max. —Edwanike Harbour
Rupi Kaur is a Toronto-based New York Times bestselling poet, writer, and illustrator who works to make poetry seep into the mainstream. She comes to the Wisconsin Union Theater to for a talk and reading as a part of her “america tour.” Kaur gained popularity around 2013 through social media channels like Tumblr and Instagram, with poignant poems that she often pairs with her own illustrations. While she has encountered some backlash from the boring, self-involved elites of poetry, her work is showing a new generation of people the power of poetry and the accessibility of language through technology.
After Kaur gained hoard of followers online, she branched out into print in with the publication of milk and honey in 2015, which has sold over 2.5 million copies. milk and honey focuses on themes of love, trauma, abuse, and feminism. After her resounding success, the poet Nayyirah Waheed accused Kaur of plagiarizing her work. Striking similarities appear between the two poets’ use of short line breaks, punctuation, and illustrations, but Kaur has brushed off these claims, telling Vice that plagiarism is a “loaded word.” Other critiques of Kaur’s poetry focus on how the brevity of her work does a disservice to trauma and the experiences of South Asian women. Kaur released her second book, The sun and her flowers. last year. While critiques of her work continue to roll in, those that focus only on the her use of Instagram as a medium should keep scrolling. —John McCracken
Madison resident Gregory Taylor has quietly built up a formidable track record in experimental music, making his own wide-ranging electronic music since the late 1970s (a time when the experimental underground relied on self-recorded cassettes) and hosting WORT’s RTQE music show since the mid-’80s. In recent years, Taylor has mostly focused on software-driven synthesis in composed and improvisational collaborations, including the electroacoustic trio PGT and live performances with Madison-based percussionist Tom Hamer. But Taylor’s latest project, the 2018 album Randstad, finds him retreating into a solo setting, and this show will be his first local solo gig in a long time.
Taylor began making Randstad while accompanying his wife on a year-long academic sabbatical in the Netherlands. As he explained in a recent Tone Madison interview, he used only the music gear he was able to bring along for the trip, and augmented his own compositions and meticulously crafted synth patches with field recordings he took while exploring Amsterdam, Rotterdamn, Utrecht the Hague, and the surrounding area. (“Randstad” is the Dutch shorthand for the megalopolis those cities form.)
It’s an album of solitary music made amid teeming life, and this creates a sense of giddy uplift rather than one of isolation. Tracks like “Alchemistische Koeling (Alchemical Refrigeration)” may have a dark tinge, but Taylor never sounds downtrodden here. In fact, much of the record is gently radiant. “Naar Kijkduin per Monorail (to Kijkduin by Monorail)” and “Verlicht door Optimisme (Teyler) (Illuminated by Optimism (Teyler))” pull together loose strands of chords and melody, mixed in with field recordings manipulated beyond recognition, delivering the texture and mystery one tends to want from ambient music, but also an unmistakably joyous momentum. Also of note on this bill is Repulse Monkey, the solo outlet of longtime experimental musician and current Mt. Horeb resident Patrick Best, whose projects have included the legendary folk/drone ensemble Pelt. —Scott Gordon
TUESDAY OCTOBER 2
The founder of K Records and a stalwart advocate for independent music, Calvin Johnson returns to Madison behind a new solo record, A Wonderful Beast. Produced by Patrick Carney of The Black Keys, and occasionally featuring Michelle Branch on vocal harmonies, A Wonderful Beast may seem at first like a surprising turn for Johnson. But upon listening, longtime Johnson fans will find comforting parallels to Johnson’s Dub Narcotic Sound System and Beat Happening output. The funkiness, dubby keyboards, and general sense of sonic adventuring heard right away on “Kiss Me Sweetly” pairs well with Johnson’s unmistakable baritone voice, charming awkwardness, and cryptic sense of mischief. We recently spoke with Johnson about A Wonderful Beast, K records, and his current position on independent music. He performs at Communication with a band made up of some friends and musicians from his home Olympia, Washington. Two Madison artists—lovable crooner Mister Jackson, and earnest jangler TS Foss—perform here as well. —Emili Earhart
After 15 years, Portland, Oregon-based band the Decemberists have tried to do something new. Their last two albums—the mature, Belle & Sebastian-esque What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World and the Americana opus The King Is Dead—were certainly an evolution from their familiar approach to British folk and penchant for storytelling, but not necessarily fearless in the growth they exhibited. With their most recent album, last spring’s I’ll Be Your Girl, the band shrugs off their signature sound in favor of a more straightforward pop sound and, somewhat bewilderingly, ’80s-tinged synths and transistor organs.
The results are not always successful. “Severed” sounds like R.E.M. coupled with some of the less appealing elements of synthpop, and particularly cringe-worthy is the sing-song, saccharine “Everything Is Awful.” It’s evident, though, that the band undertook this shift in earnest, most evident in their production choices: they ended their longtime relationship with producer Tucker Martine in favor of the decidedly freakier John Congleton, who has worked with Xiu Xiu, St. Vincent, and Swans. The shift could almost be called bold, if it didn’t make one wonder why it has taken nearly 20 years for the band to risk a dramatic change in direction.
Not all hallmarks of The Decemberists have evaporated. You can still hear the mark of the ’60s British folk revival on I’ll Be Your Girl, and many of the songs’ lyrics are still driven by narrative and imagery reminiscent of fables and sea shanties. “Rusalka, Rusalka / Wild Rushes,” the penultimate track, spins a cautionary tale based on an old Slavic parable that could be an outtake from 2002’s Castaways And Cutouts or 2003’s Her Majesty: “Beware the wild rushes, my mother told me / That grow on the bank side along the salt sea / But I being young, I heeded her none / So to the wild rushes the wind carried me,” leader Colin Meloy trills.
Meloy’s voice is impressively unchanged here—still powerful, albeit slightly mewling and more than a little reminiscent of Jeff Mangum—and it’s clear that the band as a whole is still tight. The high-energy, almost ecstatic performances that they’re known for, along with an opening set from compelling folk duo Kacy & Clayton (think Fairport Convention meets Angel Olsen), may make it worth the trek down to the still-new Sylvee for this one. —Katie Hutchinson
WEDNESDAY OCTOBER 3
There was a moment in 2004 when the Bellingham, Washington-founded Death Cab For Cutie seemed invincible. Vocalist-guitarist Ben Gibbard’s lovelorn, electro-pop side project with Dntel’s Jimmy Tamborello, The Postal Service, had become viral licensing fodder and Death Cab For Cutie’s fourth album, 2003’s Transatlanticism, had pushed the indie-pop outfit from small clubs to huge rooms. Gibbard’s over-enunciated croon could be heard in virtually every business with a Muzak contract and Death Cab began getting name-dropped on Fox night-soap The O.C.
By the time Death Cab’s major-label debut, Plans, arrived in 2005, the band had become a pale caricature of itself. The cleverly dissonant chord progressions of tunes like “A Movie Script Ending” and “We Laugh Indoors,” from 2001’s The Photo Album, had been streamlined into formulaic grandiosity on Plans tunes like “Soul Meets Body” and “I Will Follow You Into The Dark.” Gibbard’s once biting and personal lyrics—once so affecting in the brutal assessment of his absentee father on “Styrofoam Plates” and his declaration of disdain for Los Angeles in “Why You’d Want To Live Here”—felt like they’d been softened and redesigned to emotionally manipulate the lowest common denominator. And while former guitarist Chris Walla’s production sounded as warm and spacious as ever (Walla has engineered the bulk of Death Cab For Cutie’s albums), the music itself just felt a lot less believable.
Well, it’s been 13 years since Plans arrived and a lot has happened. Gibbard married and divorced actress Zooey Deschanel, The Postal Service’s Give Up—admittedly an infectious and potent break-up album—was ruthlessly milked for all of its licensing potential, and Walla left Death Cab band in 2014. “Gold Rush,” the lead single from Death Cab’s new album Thank You For Today (the band’s first album without Walla at the production helm) gives us a sad glimpse at what we’re left with. Between the downtempo fusion of flavorless trip-hop electronics, droning chords, and nasal vocal processing, “Gold Rush” ends up resembling a less imaginative, Diet Rite take on French space-rock outfit Air. It’s pretty sad, because as Gibbard croons repeatedly at the end of “Gold Rush,” “It didn’t use to be this way.” —Joel Shanahan
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