Live Entertainment Highlights of Fall Semester 2014

The Head And The Heart wonderfully capped off a splendid summer of "Live on King Street" Sept. 19.

Image By: Will Chizek

CHERUB

Nashville electro-pop duo Cherub kicked off their Champagne Showers tour with back-to-back shows at the Majestic, Sept. 12 and 13. Accompanying them for the weekend were Ghost Beach and GiBBZ, two artists that complemented Cherub’s eclectic style and kept the sold-out crowds on their feet. While Cherub got around to playing most of their hits at both shows, the set list varied from Friday to Saturday. 

They kept it a bit down-tempo Friday, opening with “<3” and following with laid-back but groovy songs like “Strip To This” and “Chocolate Strawberries.” However, they still brought the energy and enthusiasm that we had all come to expect, hitting crowd-favorites like “XOXO” and encoring with “Obviously,” an upbeat collaboration with Gramatik that unfortunately didn’t get played the next day. On Saturday, the crowd was even more active and ecstatic than the night before. Cherub must have known this because they wasted no time with slow songs, opening with “Disco Shit” before ripping right into “Disco Inferno” and “Tonight.” Both sets ended with the monumental party anthem “Doses & Mimosas,” during which the Champagne Showers tour lived up to its name as Jason Huber and Jordan Kelley ran around the stage popping bottles over the crowd as the show drew to a close.

—Robert Vanderwist

FORBIDDEN ART 

Artwork's power lies in its ability to remember the past. Sometimes, its history is one of romance and virtuosity. Other times, the story is far heavier, with the souls of the departed imbued in its lines and shapes. 

During its short stay in Madison, “Forbidden Art” told a story of millions' hope and despair, of their death and survival. Framed to look like a death camp's barracks, “Forbidden Art” showcased works made from the strife and pain of Auschwitz-Birkenau reclaimed at the end of World War II. While the works were represented through photos (the originals were too fragile for travel), they carried the weight of people living through tragedy; shreds of hope amidst lines of defeat.

The memory of the survivors lives on through the works recovered from Auschwitz’s walls, creating a powerful, yet humble exhibition.

—Michael Frett

THE HEAD AND THE HEART

After an incredible summer of free live outdoor shows (tUnE-yArDs, Cracker, Ziggy Marley, Deer Tick) hosted by The Majestic Theatre on their home block, Live on King Street was moved to MLK Drive in anticipation for the final, and biggest, leg of the summer series: The Head and the Heart.

This indie folk group was relatively unimpressive the few times I’d seen them at music festivals throughout the years, but never has a band changed my mind so quickly and so drastically than they did during their L.O.K.S. set. Thousands of Madison music lovers crowded MLK Drive all the way back to the capitol square and group serenaded us beautifully and charismatically in the perfect night of a hazy, nostalgic transition from summer to fall.

—Mary Sullivan

TWIN PEAKS

Few DIY, just-out-of-high-school garage bands have jumped into such feverish hype as the 20-21-year-olds in Chicago’s quartet Twin Peaks in the last two years. Their tracks are bouncing across the Western hemisphere at a rapid pace, their diehard fans are mildly insane and they blessed Madison with their genre-crashing rock and weed-and-beer-fueled presence at The Frequency this fall. The boys pounded out all kinds of classic rock 'n' roll, psychedelic and punk rock-inspired bangers from both debut album Sunken as well as sophomore LP Wild Onion (released a month before the show, though you couldn’t tell by the number of audience members who screamed bloody murder through every last word on the album). With Chicago natives VARSITY, The Liqs and NE-HI joining Twin Peaks on the bill, I can only describe this night in the simplest terms possible: a shit show of epic proportions. 

—Mary Sullivan

PORTER ROBINSON

Porter Robinson’s Worlds was one of the most important electronic albums of the year, bringing his fans to new heights with melodic and emotional songwriting that bordered on storytelling. However, Robinson’s vision was bigger than the album. When he brought the Worlds tour to Orpheum Theater Sept. 27, he gave the audience a look into his own world by bringing the powerful vocals, surreal imagery and thumping electronic bliss to life with an elaborate visual show and animations every bit as creative as the album itself. Frustrated by a lack of creativity in the dance music scene, he designed the show with the intention to create a coherent musical experience, not just a dance party.

After Opening with “Sea Of Voices” and “Sad Machine,” Robinson proceeded to play almost every song off of Worlds while also touching on older material including “Easy,” “Say My Name,” and “Unison.” The show came to an emotionally powerful ending with the procession of the final songs of the album. Robinson played “Lionhearted,” “Fellow Feeling” and “Goodbye to a World” in succession and the stage went dark, but the best was yet to come. He encored with “Language,” a crowd favorite from 2012. The hauntingly slow, isolated vocal track that ended “Goodbye to a World” was followed in stark contrast by upbeat electro-house melodies and empowering vocals that sent the Orpheum into a state of bliss. For the following 3 minutes, Robinson’s claims that these shows were “not raves” seemed a bit ironic, but I wouldn’t hold it against him. Smoke machines and confetti cannons blasted, and “FUCCBOI” was spelled out across the gigantic display screen surrounded with seizure-inducing animations.

—Robert Vanderwist

OF MONTREAL

Of Montreal graced the Majestic stage Oct. 5 and brought no shortage of color, light and incredible music. The luminescent visuals, stage props that told stories within themselves and sound quality that surely did justice to the band’s unique songs all came together to create a concert that was both visually stunning and sonically intriguing. They played some of their most well-known songs, including “Gronlandic Edit,” “And I’ve Seen A Bloody Shadow” and “The Past is A Grotesque Animal,” catalyzing quite a response from the excited and crazily dressed crowd members, many of whom appeared to be dedicated fans that could sing along with every lyric and appreciate every word spoken by front man Kevin Barnes.

—Hannah Frank

CELEBRATE BRASS

When you think about tubists, you think of someone sitting behind the major contributor. But think again with the extraordinary solo tubist, Øystein Baadsvik, who travelled all the way from Norway for the “Celebrate Brass” series of concerts from Oct. 8 to 13. His semi-formal demonstration of altering what his mentor taught him resulted in a unique style that turned the tuba into a helicopter with a series of striking sounds. He also brought a piece that he wrote in 1966 called “Fnugg Blue”—Norwegian for small snowflakes—which pushed the whole concert into a climax. The audience stood up, people who originated from Norway and came to support waved their flags and their applause lasted longer than his one breath on the instrument (which is already stunningly long). The most pleasing aspect of the concert was not only the music but also his personality, which amused the audience throughout. Another aspect was his generosity toward the enormous work of Professor John Williams from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, put into ensuring this fabulous experience.

—Jacinta Tian

J MASCIS

J Mascis' persona betrays him. In interviews, the Dinosaur Jr. frontman humbly returns any questions with short, to-the-point answers, summing up decades of experience with mumbled laughs. Yet, when it came to his show at the High Noon Saloon, J Mascis was far more explosive. His personality erupted across blazing guitar solos that channeled a speed-hyped Neil Young and dove into melodic intervals guided by a gentle, introspective soul.

Mascis led with cuts from his latest album, Tied to a Star, but expanded his setlist with deep cuts from his Dinosaur Jr. days. Armed with just an acoustic-electric guitar run through a veteran's pedal board, Mascis burned through “Little Fury Things” and tore the saloon apart with a climatic “Alone.” His encore, The Cure's “Just Like Heaven,” was just icing on the cake.

—Michael Frett

COMMUNION

Communion nights come around Madison once a month, and they are easily some of the best displays of music you’ll see for under 20 bucks. Usually three or four up-and-coming talents from the Communion Music label are billed on a small stage, where they consistently blow away small crowds of music enthusiasts. This year, Communion October stood out because of the sheer talent and intensity of every single band featured. Wisconsin’s Field Report and Building on Buildings lured us in with beautiful melodies and great vibes, setting the scene for hybrid folk-rock Water Liars to absolutely shred the stage up with piercing guitars mashed with soothing, velvety vocals. Finally, not-so-up-and-coming band The Whigs took the stage to end the night with a set of colorful, thrashing garage rock tunes from their near decade of excellence.

—Mary Sullivan

DAVE CHAPPELLE

Dave Chappelle certainly wins for this semester’s most unlikely act. After an extended hiatus, he shocked many by announcing an extensive tour this fall. It may have also surprised some that he played a total of six shows in Madison, though it ended up being indicative of the live comedy renaissance currently going on here. With a crowd full of veteran “Chappelle’s Show” fans, he had a lot to live up to and he did not disappoint.

—Cheyenne Langkamp

DIRTY HEADS

Dirty Heads stopped at the Barrymore Theatre Oct. 25 as a part of their Sound of Change tour. They brought with them their good friend Rome, from the band Sublime with Rome. Rome had insane vocals that sounded exactly the same as his EP. Dirty Heads put on an intense hip-hop/reggae show that was full of energy. Some lucky audience members even got to join the band do dance on the stage.

—Abigail Ruckdashel

THE ODYSSEY

Translating into a stage play could be an arduous task, but Mary Zimmerman, a professor at Northwestern University’s theater department, crafted an exciting and immersive adaptation of Homer’s “The Odyssey.” The University Theatre used this as their opening performance for the 2014-'15 season. 

With a minimalist set and having actors take on multiple roles throughout the show, director Heather Pickering allowed for the performers to showcase an incredible versatility throughout the lengthy show. Actors Kate Mann (Athena) and Kailen Fleck (Odysseus), shone through the dark, chaotic story of a man longing to return to his wife and son. 

Pickering’s direction, with assistance from fantastic lighting and sound production, kept the minimalistic feel that Zimmerman hoped to achieve in portraying a story that sometimes has been done over the top.

—Conor Murphy

UMPHREY’S MCGEE

Making their triumphant return to Madison for their 1,999th and 2,000th shows, Umphrey’s McGee played two unforgettable nights at Orpheum Theater Nov. 7 and 8.

Mixing a blend of their oldest originals with choice covers and special guests, Umphrey’s McGee showed why they earned a key to the city of Madison—thanks to their legendary performances.

Standout performances from the shows were the entire second set of the first night. From the second show, four songs hadn’t been played in over 250 shows as well as a debut of the Pixies classic, “Where is My Mind?”

—Brian Weidy

RUN THE JEWELS

Killer Mike and El-P’s greatest strength is their thumos, that true presence of warriors that radiates from them, either through speakers or live and 20 feet away, barking into your face. The two of them, backboned by El-P’s dystopian futurist production and recording as Run the Jewels, have a fire so many rappers could only dream of. On stage they dominate and subdue, rattling through most of their recorded material with extended production and enough pure charisma to raise an army. Even if their cartoonish excess might seem extreme on occasion, before a sold-out crowd of like-minded devotees it’s like watching, entranced, as Achilles and Odysseus rally the Greeks.

—Cameron Graff

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