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Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Celebrated Workingman, Juniper Tar and Testa Rosa

Monday, June 30, 2008

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Three of Milwaukee’s most reliable bands brought a little bit of the Cactus Club to Summerfest Monday night at the Cascio Interstate Music Groove Garage.

Music history is filled with great dropped ideas, and the 1990s, in particular, were rife with them. Milwaukee’s Testa Rosa picks up some of these loose ends, continuing where bands like Belly, That Dog, Throwing Muses or pretty much any other band that ever featured Tanya Donelly or one of the Haden triplets left off. Allusions to the ’90s abound: The guitars adhere to the same strum-and-squall dynamic of ’90s alterna-pop; Betty Blexrud-Strigens cough-syrup-smooth vocals evoke Kim Deal; the hazy bass riff on “Ollie Delilah” nods to Weezer’s iconic “Only in Dreams” riff. This isn’t to say they’re just s’90s revivalists, though. They write powerful, stripped-down ballads that don’t drag like ballad. Juliana Hatfield should have been so lucky as to have these guys ghostwriting her albums.

There’s little to say about Milwaukee’s excellent Juniper Tar that hasn’t already been said: They sing relaxed, rustic rock songs with Bryds-esque four-part harmonies that inevitably give way to blistering, crashing, tag-team guitar send-offs. It’s a formula that actually pays off better for Juniper Tar than it has for Wilco, whose recent albums toy with a more extreme but less satisfying soft/loud dynamic.

It’s hard not to think of that climactic scene in High Fidelity where Jack Black finally unveils his band when watching The Celebrated Workingman, the indie-rock band fronted by Mark Waldoch, long a familiar face at Milwaukee’s answer to Championship Vinyl, Atomic Records. With excitable hand gestures and popped eyes, he conducted his band with Hold Steady-ish cheer, leading them through a boisterous set of triumphant drums and wild, winding guitars. His enthusiasm was contagious.