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Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2009

An Atomic Valentine

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Atomic Records wasn't just a passive observer of the Milwaukee music scene, explains Damian Strigens. It actively shaped the scene, fostering local bands and, sometimes, even birthing them. Strigens, a one-time Atomic employee who now plays with Testa Rosa, was in one of those bands, The Mustn'ts, which he formed with another Atomic alum, Mark Waldoch, after an in-store chat. "That kind of stuff happened all the time there," Strigens says.

This weekend some of the bands shaped by Atomic return the favor to the soon-to-close record store and its owner, Rich Menning, with a Valentine's Day benefit concert organized by Strigens.

"The store closing left a bunch of people really bummed out and at a loss," Strigens says. "To let it pass without some kind of celebration would have been a real shame."

Several of Milwaukee's most storied bands have reunited for the event, including Liquid Pink, the psychedelic-pop band that hasn't performed in 17 years. The original lineup of the alt-rock trio Sometime Sweet Susan is doing its first show in 15 years, and guitar-poppers The Lovelies are reuniting after seven.

In an age before MySpace, these bands relied on Atomic Records for promotion.

"They weren't just a store, they were a bunch of friends you would go see that you would happen to buy music from," explains Sometime Sweet Susan guitarist James Warchol. "When we self-released our first 12-inch, Rich took a bunch in the store and sold them out quickly. He also took time to spread the word about us to other people-distributors, reps, etc. Rich and the folks there were fans and friends at the same time, and that always meant a lot to us."

The Atomic Valentine concert begins at 6:30 p.m. at the Miramar Theatre and also features performances from Boy Dirt Cart, Cherry Cake, The Etiquette, The Mighty Deerlick, The Blowtorch and Mark Waldoch and His Good Grief.