Heavy Looks plays the Crystal on October 22. Photo by Heidi E Johnson.
Plus more events we recommend checking out in Madison, October 17 through 23 edition.
We’re partnering with the wonderful independent email newsletter Madison Minutes to bring you event recommendations every week. Some of these write-ups will appear in Madison Minutes‘ weekly event email, and all of which will appear here.
A few notes: This events roundup is, as before, selective and not comprehensive. Each week, we’ll focus on a handful of things our editors and writers find compelling, and that’s it. We’ll write up a few of them, and just list a few more. It’ll take us a while to get back to full strength with this part of our coverage, because we’ve had so many other exciting, demanding things to work on lately. Please reach out to us with suggestions—and info about your event, as long as you’re able to get it to us a few weeks in advance—at [email protected].
CURRENTLY SCREENING THROUGH OCTOBER 19
Stars At Noon at Marcus Point Cinema and Marcus Palace Cinema, also on VOD. Various showtimes.
A nascent folie à deux is crushed by the world being significantly more mad than two people can manage in French auteur Claire Denis’ new erotic political thriller Stars At Noon (2022). Based on the 1986 novel by Denis Johnson, the film transposes the original world-flattening event of the 1984 Nicaraguan revolution to a contemporary Nicaragua just as destabilized by COVID-19.
Trish Johnson (Margaret Qualley), an American would-be journalist can’t leave the country because a minor official is holding her passport, forcing her to resort to sex work as a means of survival. She is swept up by Daniel DeHaven (Joe Alwyn), an English oil executive who naively assumes that he can go against the tides of global power structures. Each is dependent on the other for more than just sex—Johnson hopes to use DeHaven as a way out of the country and DeHaven gradually learns how little knowledge he has of political machinations. But Central American heat and desperation ensure that the erotic connection is the bedrock of their relationship, which Denis shoots in her characteristic, swaying close-ups.
Stars At Noon is Denis’ third feature mostly in English, and her second to be distributed by A24. Qualley excels as Trish, portraying a kind of vulnerability mixed with ironic remove (and alcoholism), as if the protagonist of a Noah Baumbach New York indie got into some real trouble. Alwyn also brings a scruffy upper-class charm to his role as a would-be white savior who overestimates his own mysteriousness. Though Robert Pattinson was originally cast to play Daniel, before dropping out for The Batman (2022), Alywn more resembles a young Kenneth Branagh or Russell Crowe (Alwyn has also been dating Taylor Swift since 2016, so Swifties, you know what you have to do).
The delusion of white privilege drives the story forward, much like Denis’ past White Material (2009), just under even more severe scrutiny. Johnson and DeHaven never totally abandon their unspoken belief that their countries of origin will shield them, even as their situation becomes worse. Their attraction of convenience fuels their belief that going on the run will end well. The title song by frequent Denis collaborators Tindersticks is also worth noting—it’s an authentic-sounding piece of ‘60s Bossa Nova. Johnson and DeHaven share a slow dance in an empty dancehall that perfectly communicates how they view their relationship, despite all evidence to the contrary: two stars burning so brightly together that they’re visible when they shouldn’t be, if only anyone was around to look.
Alejandro Escovedo at Stoughton Opera House. 7:30 p.m. $25.
Distant at UW Cinematheque. Doors at 6:30, screening at 7 p.m. Free.
Excerpt from Jason Fuhrman’s review: Distant (2002) unfolds in a seamless succession of long takes that throws into sharp relief the immense divide between the two individuals. However, director Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s film also highlights the purposelessness and vacuity of Mahmut and Yusuf’s respective lives. Although they are polar opposites in many ways, the two men share an inability to communicate their feelings, the absence of any fulfillment in personal and professional pursuits, and a deep-seated sense of existential futility.
With its elliptical narrative, psychological acuity, realistic performances, and rigorous, stunning compositions, Distant masterfully evokes the difficulty of forming meaningful connections in an increasingly alienating modern world. In Cahiers Du Cinéma, Ceylan states: “My first intention was to make a film on the emptiness of life, the sensation of the void and uselessness.” While the prospect of watching such a movie might seem bleak and depressing, the power of Distant derives from the auteur’s exceptional ability to absorb viewers in the fine details of everyday life.
Distant should be seen in a movie theater to truly appreciate the subtle impact of its pure visual poetry and immersive sound design. Ceylan uses a deceptively simple premise to craft a vividly atmospheric, richly textured, and mesmerizing meditation on the human condition. His portrait reveals unexpected depth in existential emptiness, fleeting beauty in the spiritual wasteland of advanced industrial society, and elusive, ineffable truths in the spaces between human beings.
Mr. Chair, Darren Sterud’s Gate Check at The Bur Oak. Doors at 7 p.m., show at 8 p.m. $15 advance, $20 doors.
While clocking in at less than half the length of their celebrated debut record Nebulebula, Mr. Chair’s sophomore project Better Days still contains over an hour of the most engrossing and expansive compositions by any active Madison-based ensemble that’d we loosely categorize as “jazz.”
On Better Days, every core member of the group seizes the opportunity to flex their compositional chops. Throughout, they’re joined by a fifth member, electric guitarist José Guzmán, who brings the more rock- and jazz fusion-oriented elements in Mr. Chair’s sound to the forefront, like a low-key John McLaughlin. But the band also hasn’t lost their flair for equally playful nods to modern classicism. Pianist/keyboardist Jason Kutz’s “Britten’s Written Rhythm” is an upbeat nod to the 20th century UK composer Benjamin Britten, as Ben Ferris’ anchoring double bass groove guides its serenely intermingling piano, trombone, and guitar melodies.
Perhaps most ear-grabbing, though, is the opener “March,” which is basically Mr. Chair’s spirited take on a classical march that absorbs more progressive ideas as it bounds ahead like the magically adhesive “katamari” from the kooky puzzle game Katamari Damacy. And that’s not such a left-field comparison either, as the latter half’s instrumental palette almost sounds like the band performing a full-bodied arrangement of a classic NES game theme—Kutz’s spacey, midi-sounding synth washes colliding into Ferris’ equally supple and funky electric bass notes, with Mark Hetzler’s smooth trombone sliding through the boisterously scaling harmonies.
Guest alto saxophonist Eddie Barbash joins on the Ferris-composed “Elegy,” which begins as plaintively as it reads on the surface. But the elegance of Barbash’s embellishments elevate the mood to find something cathartic and ultimately positive, steadied by Mike Koszewski’s hypnotic drumming. The two variations of “Fuchsia,” Better Days‘ most definitive statement, truly assimilate all of the above genres and descriptors—first with Buzz Kemper’s slightly absurdist beat poetry appreciation of the titular color. Caught somewhere on the spectrum between pink and purple, it’s a synesthete’s analogy for Mr. Chair’s bold instrumental ambitions, fully articulated on the lengthier latter arrangement with Barbash, which bends further into the eclectic sonic realms of Snarky Puppy, Comet Is Coming, and GoGo Penguin.
Fresh off a collaborative concert with trombonist Cole Bartels, Darren Strerud’s Gate Check will open this LP release show.
Michael Brenneis and the Plutonium Players at Wisconsin Union Play Circle. 7:30 p.m. Free.
Tandem Press Friday Jazz Series: Afro-Cuban Jazz Ensemble, Contemporary Jazz Ensemble at Tandem Press. 5 p.m. Free.
Cribshitter, Heavy Looks at Crystal Corner Bar. 9 p.m. $10.
Quite a long time ago, Madison band Cribshitter made it clear that it has more to offer than sick jokes. It did start as a prank in 2004, and has never outgrown its love of juvenile gross-out humor. (Tracks on Cribshitter’s 2008 debut album, Cry A Little Rainbow, include “Hooked On Colonics” and “War Torn Vaginer.”) If anything, their humor has just gotten more weird and deadpan over the years, while the band got more serious about songwriting craft. By the time 2015’s album Acapulco rolled around, the band’s embrace of gauzy soft rock and throwback country (and a dash of most other flavors of popular music) had stopped feeling ironic, and more like a sincere vehicle for very unhinged ideas. As it gets more elaborate it gets funnier, as it gets funnier it gets more genuinely enjoyable as a whole.
This virtuous cycle continues on Goin’ Soft, the new album Cribshitter’s celebrating at this show. As the title suggests, the album further wades into the yacht-rock elements the band explored on Acapulco. It also opens up with a surprisingly weighty sense of sadness on “She Barely Loves Me,” which is saying a lot for a song with the line “I cry my way through boner pill commercials.” This lightens up just a bit, into a delicious lonesomeness on the next track, “Sausalito Sunset.” Don’t worry about things getting all pouty and over-serious—as longtime fans look over the tracklisting, they’ll see reassuring titles like “Assplay” and “Taipei Personality,” and 2020’s brilliantly dumb bro-country single “COVID Cove” returns here as an album track (“Remote work is hard, so I’m hardly workin’ / A real man needs a woman with a freshwater merkin”). The emotional heft that sneaks up on Goin’ Soft is, instead, another welcome twist in the career of an improbably rewarding band.
Another standout Madison band, Heavy Looks, opens the night here to celebrate its own new album, Apathy. The long-in-the works follow-up to 2015’s Waste It Right, Apathy gives the band’s power-pop a big, rugged edge. Guitarists/vocalists Rosalind Greiert and Dirk Gunderson write sweetly dejected, exuberantly pissed-off songs. Occasionally the band takes a more aggressive lunge—”don’t be so mean when I want you to be nice,” Greiert warns on “Shake Me Up,” in the velvety baritone voice of someone you would not want to piss off. This song also appeared on the band’s 2014 debut, Senses Growing Dull, which really lets you hear the band’s growth over the years—the material was solid from the start, but they’re now sounding better than ever. Bassist Jarad Olson and drummer Shawn Pierce also give these songs some extra muscle on the album. Since the recording, Heavy Looks has switched to a new rhythm section with Tricia DiPiazza on bass and Jess Nowaczyk (who mastered the album) on drums. Apathy bodes well for a set that’s as powerful as it is catchy.
No Question, Disease, L.I.B., Infernal Trench at Mickey’s Tavern. 10 p.m. Free.
No Question has gouged a lasting mark into Madison’s music community over the past eight years, channeling the corroded fury of ’80s hardcore into sets that reliably turn venues into churning, sweaty messes. But this, sadly, will be the band’s last show. It helps that No Question is the kind of band that actually works best in the packed confines of Mickey’s, and this band deserves a chaotic, cathartic send-off. It also leaves behind two very good releases: 2017’s self-titled debut EP and 2020’s Internal Bleeding. The second one captures the solidified lineup who will play this show: Vocalist Lauden Nute, drummer Anders Totten (the two start-to-finish members), bassist Maggie Denman, and guitarist Mike Berte. (Nute and Denman have both made editorial illustrations for Tone Madison.)
Through a few lineup changes, No Question has kept it to-the-point, thrashing through most of its songs in a minute or so. Plus, they’ve always been able to pack a good few rhythmic shifts into those short, relentless bursts. While the songs are never flashy or technical, they’re flexible enough to turn your usual hardcore pummeling into a lurching, unpredictable groove. That flexibility, paired with Nute’s acerbic screams and growls, help songs like Internal Bleeding‘s “Inside Voice” draw people deeper into spirals of rage and anxiety.
Dagon at Chazen Museum Of Art. Doors at 1:30 p.m., screening at 2 p.m. Free.
From Ian Adcock’s feature on UW Cinematheque’s October Sunday series at the Chazen Museum Of Art:
Combining two short stories by H.P. Lovecraft, Dagon (2001) is an atmospheric, fast-paced piece of gothic horror. After a boating accident off the coast of Spain, wealthy tech geek Paul Marsh (Ezra Godden) and his girlfriend Bárbara (Raquel Meroño) find themselves stranded in a gloomy, remote fishing village. They quickly discover the town is populated by half-human fish-people who worship the ancient pagan god Dagon and make masks out of outsiders’ skin. Racing through the rain-soaked streets, Paul tries to rescue Barbara from being sacrificed to Dagon while fending off murderous villagers and the advances of tentacled temptress Uxía (Macarena Gómez).
Though slightly marred by the lead actors’ woodenness and some very dated CGI effects, Dagon is one of Gordon’s most unsettling works. The Spanish coast is a surprisingly good substitute for Lovecraft’s gloomy New England setting, making Dagon feel more faithful to the writer’s vision than Gordon’s other adaptations. By using all handheld cameras and purposely not subtitling the Spanish cast’s dialogue, Gordon immerses the viewer into Paul’s panicked point of view, making the plot’s many twists and turns all the more surprising. As Gordon’s final horror film, Dagon is an underappreciated entry in his filmography.