Filthy slush on sidewalks, gruel served in prison movies, gelatinous green pond scum. Let's face it: Mush tends to be gross. So why do we tolerate heaps of it in February? Clearly, it's Cupid's fault. The chubby cherub and his Hallmark minions turn Madison into a breeding ground for too-smooth jazz and excessive amounts of PDA. Protest the holiday from hell — and have some fun in the process — with these unconventional, not-so-romantic Valentine's weekend events.
Next Door Brewing Company, Thursday, Feb. 13, 11 am-11 pm
Who needs a significant other when you've got a bartender to keep you company? Get to know the folks who run Next Door Brewing Company at a release party for its new Secret Alt Transmissions Stickie Altbier. If you like your brew with a side of music, stop by at 8 p.m. for a live transmission of WORT's Psychoacoustics. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the radio station, and the suds will help you forget the holiday altogether.
Frequency, Thursday, Feb. 13, 7 pm
Avoid the intensity of a traditional Valentine's Day by celebrating the fifth anniversary of this variety show hosted by local comedian (and Isthmus contributor) Alan Talaga. Since the show is about to take an indefinite hiatus, the event will have a breakup theme. And if the mood gets too heavy, there will likely be fart jokes. Other perks include surprise guests and lousy prizes won by spinning the Wheel of Fantastic-ness.
Inferno, Thursday, Feb. 13, 9 pm
The Inferno takes out its eyeliner and puts a big X on Cupid's face for an anti-Valentine's Day dance bash. The event promises to blacken hearts with super-dark new wave, post-punk and goth rock from DJs Siberia and WhiteRabbit. Rise Up Lights will set up a heartbreak-themed photo booth for capturing your sullen scowl, and the dance floor will provide a place to sweat out the icky sweetness of a holiday manufactured for the masses.
High Noon Saloon, Friday, Feb. 14, 5:30 pm
If one thing's for certain, it's that these two local bands don't take themselves too seriously. The Flavor That Kills excel at retro-rock parodies and funky fare, while Cowboy Winter find the humor and heart in Detroit garage and soul music.
Friday, Feb. 14, 6:30 pm (Inferno) & 10:30 pm (Bartell Theatre)
Local theater ensemble Are We Delicious? writes and rehearses this program of eight short plays over the course of a week, so expect plenty of manic energy when the actors hit the stage. In addition to taking aim at greeting-card companies' stranglehold on the holiday, the performers plan to "rescue Valentine's Day and make it a fun night for everyone," says Tony Trout, the troupe's impresario.
Overture Hall, Friday (7:30 pm), Saturday (8 pm) & Sunday (2:30 pm), Feb. 14-16
Sure, a night at the symphony sounds romantic, but it doesn't have to be a mush-fest. The weekend's guest artist, Norway's Tine Thing Helseth, plays one of the orchestra's boldest, sassiest instruments: the trumpet. Plus, the program is light on serenades for lovers. After the MSO concludes John Adams' Dr. Atomic Symphony, a piece about the anxiety surrounding the first atomic bomb test, Helseth will solo on Alexander Arutiunian's Trumpet Concerto, a virtuosic work that highlights the composer's Armenian heritage.
Overture Center's Promenade Hall, Friday (7:30 pm), Saturday (7 & 9 pm) & Sunday (2:30 pm), Feb. 14-16
Kanopy Dance Company offers an ironic take on romance for Valentine's Day. This production follows a troubled fellow named Mohawk Man on a journey through the bizarre world of Puppet Master, an overlord inspired by Metallica's epic 1986 album, Master of Puppets. Angst-filled choreography and cello-driven heavy-metal music create "a transformative Valentine's [experience] beyond the connotations and traditions of romantic love," says Susanne Voeltz, the troupe's publicist. Bonus: David Quinn has designed costumes that look like vintage Dr. Who fashions, so if you've ever wanted to dress up as a Dalek and chant "Exterminate, exterminate!" at a dance recital, this is your chance.
Majestic Theatre, Friday, Feb. 14, 9 pm
Dubbed an "anti-Valentine's Day ball," this female-focused event also celebrates individuality and independence. DJs Josh B Kuhl and Tanner will bust out empowering, dance-friendly tunes by artists like Beyoncé and Cyndi Lauper, and a big screen will show music videos. Guys are welcome to crash the party, but be warned: These girls just want to have fun, with or without you.
Mickey's Tavern, Friday, Feb. 14, 10 pm
There's nothing wrong with saying "I love you," but sometimes earplugs express this sentiment better than flowers or chocolate. Japanese band Ultra Bidé have been playing loud, twisted punk for more than 35 years. They're touring behind their new record, DNA vs. DNA-C, which includes songs with romantic titles like "Anarchy in Your Eyes," "21st Century Nuclear" and "Phase Is Massive Power Attack Weapon." Transformer Lootbag and Bes Monde will contribute warped love songs made right here in Madison.
Alliant Energy Center Exhibition Hall, Saturday & Sunday, Feb. 15 & 16, 9 am-5 pm
It's unfair to assume that model railroading doesn't fan the flames of passion. But should the annual Mad City Railroad Show not morph into a singles mixer, the organizers have stuffed 90,000 square feet of meticulously designed model train displays under one roof to provide plenty of distraction. If you're able to pull yourself away from these little worlds of locomotion, you can browse collectibles, books and artwork.
Barrymore Theatre, Saturday, Feb. 15, 7 pm
This event isn't a date so much as a disco-fueled protest against Wisconsin's ban on gay marriage. DJ Wyatt Agard and local band VO5 will provide grooves so funky that booty-shaking will seem more important than boot-knocking, at least for a little while.
Frequency, Saturday, Feb. 15, 9 pm
Positive vibes will be in high supply but cuddly romance probably won't as Kitty Rhombus celebrate the release of their new LP, Spectre at the Feast. Negativity left over from Valentine's Day should fade away as the band's brainy, rhythmic noise-rock rattles your teeth and punches you in the cerebellum.
Inferno, Saturday, Feb. 15, 9 pm
Need to stare into the void before leaving behind a bad romance? Prog and metal purveyors Take Me Tick Tock "dare listeners to journey into and out of the darkness with them," according to Isthmus critic Michael Popke. Fellow local acts Damidol and the Atlantis Dialogue will create an equally moody atmosphere.
Badger Bowl, Saturday, Feb. 15, 9:15 pm
These hair-metal aficionados embrace Poison's time-tested mantra: Every rose has its thorn. In other words, they understand that even the loveliest relationships have painful moments and imperfections. The band will help fans headbang heartbreak into oblivion by showcasing gems of the genre like Van Halen's "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love" and Def Leppard's "Animal."
Crystal Corner Bar, Saturday, Feb. 15, 9:30 pm
Wilson makes hearts ache with songs like "The Bottle (More Than Me)," a slow, somber country ballad about a heel who loves booze more than his woman. She can also get more vulgar than just about anyone in the bar with sweet, twangy numbers like "This Pussy Ain't Lickin' Itself." This show should be a tear-stained, whiskey-soaked blast of crassness, which is a near-perfect antidote to Valentine's schmaltz.
The Crossing, Sunday, Feb. 16, 8 pm
While couples across the country slow dance to Journey's "Open Arms" for the hundredth time (yawn), you can learn that cool Russian dance move where you crouch down and kick out your heels one at a time. (It's called the kozatsky, in case you're wondering.) This recurring community event also explores dance traditions from Eastern Europe and Turkey, which means you can polish your polka or fine-tune your hora to impress a future wedding date.