Monday, Dec. 22, 2008

The Celebrated Workingman @ The Cactus Club, Dec. 20, 2008

By Evan Rytlewski
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It’s hard to think of a more logical group to celebrate Christmas with than The Celebrated Workingman, the hard-gigging Milwaukee indie-rock band whose default setting is “merry” even without the holidays. True to form, for their “Cactmas” performance at the Cactus Club on Saturday the group was particularly generous with the fairy dust, decking out the bar’s backroom in Christmas lights and tinsel. A mechanical Santa Claus doll clung to the rafters, waving to the crowd with his glowing candle, while a poker-faced Jean Claude Van Damme flashed his considerable guns from a life-sized poster behind the stage.

Celebrated Workingman frontman Mark Waldoch writes almost exclusively passages he’d want to sing along with even if he were on the other side of the microphone, and there’s a disarming quality to his uninhibited, from-the-gut bellows. Even when he’s hollowing a flubbed note with the self-assurance of an obtuse “American Idol” hopeful, it’s in the inclusive spirit of mirth and good cheer, and his coarsest ticks are invariably sweetened by his band’s chiming, effervescent melodies. Combined, they paint an inviting, unpretentious picture of life in blue-collar Milwaukee, where ambitions aren’t grand but simple pleasures are abundant.

Opening acts included All Tiny Creatures, a Madison outfit headed by Thomas Wincek from Collections of Colonies of Bees, but marked by a far-tighter focus than that expansive ensemble.  With Rhys Chatham’s minimalism and accents of Tortoise’s neo-krautrock, the band coaxed swollen, hypnotic rhythms that threatened to break under the weight of the grinding electronics hurtled atop them.

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