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Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2008

Returning Home with the Celebrated Workingman

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   Mark Waldoch had saved up the necessary money, prepared himself emotionally to leave behind Milwaukee, his home of 15 years, and was ready to start a new life in New York. What he hadn't planned on, though, was developing a kidney stone the size of a golf ball shortly after his arrival.

  "I was in and out of the hospital for two months, put under anesthesia and all that," Waldoch shudders. "It was rough. I mean, talk about insane, they put a laser up my wang to blow up the kidney stone. I had to wear a catheter."

  With no health insurance to fall back on, Waldoch quickly exhausted his savings. In considerable debt, he returned to Milwaukee after just eight months.

  This week, Waldoch's indie-rock band, The Celebrated Workingman, releases a curious relic from his aborted relocation efforts: their first album, Herald the Dickens, which the group recorded last summer before his departure. Steeped in pre-move jitters and musings on separation, Herald even opens with an ambivalent farewell to his city. "Milwaukee gets my sweet regrets," Waldoch sings, "I love you all just fine."

  Now that he once again calls Milwaukee home, Waldoch has reconnected with The Celebrated Workingman, a band whose line-up had only begun to solidify shortly before his move. He recalls that after the band's inaugural line-up defected, "I was out with some friends, bummed that I didn't have a band anymore, and it just so happened that of the three guys, one played drums, one played bass and one played guitar. They were like, 'well, we could be your band.' Three shows later, we were at the Pabst Theater opening for Califone."

  The current six-piece line-up includes slide guitarist Chris Vos and drummer Justin Krol (both on loan from their primary band, Freshwater Collins) and underage percussionist Charlie Hosale, who Waldoch explains, "only joined the band because he was too young to get into 21-plus shows to see us play-I think that's probably the best reason anybody's joined a band ever."

  Waldoch himself has logged time in several local bands, including The Mustnt's and a group called Islands-"before there was a popular group named Islands"-but to many he's most recognizable for his eight-year tenure behind the Atomic Records counter.

  He sings loudly and unconventionally. Backed by his chiming band, which channels The Flaming Lips' pomp and The Hold Steady's vigor, Waldoch huffs and puffs excitedly, crooning even his most pensive verses with cheerful bellows. Between his full-lunged enthusiasm and his band's sprightly arrangements, Herald the Dickens is music fit for a homecoming, even if it was recorded as an act of valediction.

  "All I ever wanted to do was be able to sing, and just do it the way I wanted to," Waldoch explains. "I mean, if I could have anybody's life, it probably would have been Sinatra's. But I like mine, too, though."

  The Celebrated Workingman plays a 6 p.m. show at the Turner Hall Ballroom on Friday, Aug. 22 with Decibully and The Championship. n