I’m glad I’m not going to be at Cactus Club tonight. When a band I love announces four days in advance that its next show will be its last, and it’ll be an opening set for that Alan Sparhawk side project band [NOTHING AGAINST RETRIBUTION GOSPEL CHOIR], I (apparently) feel somewhat relieved that I already have tickets to a different show. It’s not even a band I like nearly as much as Celebrated Workingman, but it’s a good band that’s not about to end itself. What, with a fill-in bassist [NOTHING AGAINST SCOTT SCHOENBECK] and who knows what kind of intra-band drama at the root of the breakup, is the likelihood that tonight will be the best show Celebrated Workingman ever plays? Even if it is, I can’t live in that moment; it would only make the (let’s face it: not-so-)sudden demise of the band that much harder to take. It’s hard enough from a distance.
Still, even if it’s a trainwreck, I feel fucking awful for not being there. I owe Mark and Joe and Nate that much, having provided me with so many of my favorite musical moments of the past five years. Although to hear Mark tell it, every show I’ve been at was awful, and every one I missed was great, so I guess it’s in everybody’s best interests that I stay away. But I missed the show at Stonefly a few weeks ago; it’s actually been since the Promise Ring show in February that I’ve seen ‘em. So that’s going to be my final CWM memory? I mean, it was a fine set, but clearly I took for granted the fact that I’d always get another chance, even though it’s not like the signs weren’t there. Lame.
What does it matter what my LAST memory is, though? The show before that, “Nate’s last show” (whoops) at Cactus, was a fantastic time, when I finally got to hear “Fuck, I’m In Love”. There was the show the previous October at Garibaldi’s, where they played those other amazing new songs that never even made it onto Content Content. The closing set at the Summer Solstice Festival in 2010 when Nate was on fire, jamming on “Champagne Supernova” and generally bowling over a drunk-by-9 East Side family crowd and its children. The Radio Summer Camp show in August of ’09, where they maybe didn’t blow away Decibully (who could?) but if there was a cake to be taken, CWM took it. (At least Decibully had the decency to call it quits with a nice long, comprehensive, pre-planned blowout of a final show [DEAR GOD, PLEASE DON'T MAKE ME SAY ‘CLOSURE’].) The show in November of ’08 when Canyons Of Static came out and kicked ass, and then IfIHadAHifi completely blew them away, and then Mark came out and started the set with that little Catherine Wheel bit and I was instantly like this is my favorite band in Milwaukee now.
My favorite CWM show, though, was on a boat. It was the first one, July 2010 (naturally, they did the next one on Memorial Day weekend, a time when I will PROBABLY NEVER BE IN TOWN), and, um, it was just amazing. It was pull-out-all-the-stops melodramatic rock and roll, every song in the catalog and then some, “Boys Don’t Cry” and “Rainbow Connection” and I know I remember Nate tossing out some Iron Maiden riffs at one point; sometimes it’s those little things that make all the difference. The rare night when the band of the moment plays EVERYTHING you want to hear in one show. From the minute we stepped on the boat and started sucking down PBRs until we walked off with new t-shirts, it was like living in a fantasy world. Maybe I just like being on boats, okay? It was one of a handful of music-related events in my life that nothing else will quite compare to.
The first time I saw CWM, at an event called “MSE Fest” at Turner Hall in September of 2008, playing a brief, sloppy set opening for The Championship and Decibully, I envisioned Mark Waldoch playing stadiums some day. Despite the technical mishaps, questionable acoustics and a band cohesion that was intermittent at best, the points at which they did gel they created such a glorious din that they emanated more energy than either of the (awesome) bands that followed, like magnificence on a U2 level. Bands that are utterly tight and polished all the time are fucking boring; it takes missteps and lapses in composure and moments of downright awfulness to motivate achievements of true greatness.I’ve witnessed that greatness in CWM, and I’m pissed that there won’t be a shitload more. But memories from two records and thirteen shows will always be with me, so fuck it. I can put on “Opening Night” and belt it out in my car in a meager tribute to one of Milwaukee’s great singers and purge some anxiety for a minute any time I want. And I’ll eventually quit being pissed and just look forward to whatever Mark’s gonna do next, but although he’s obviously the heart and soul, he was never all of it. Celebrated Workingman is, in fact, at the time of this writing, sort of, a band. For a while, it was the best band in Milwaukee. Glad I was around to see that. Glad I won’t be there to watch it end.