"When’s the last time you saw a keytar?" asked Liz Ofte, in the middle of her set at Summerfest on Saturday afternoon.
That’s a good question, and even though the keytar is one only two of the instruments (along with drums) in the two-person Pet Tiger, Ofte and Jeremy Keith don’t really need more to produce a big sound.
As we previewed on Friday, today’s Summerfest show was a breakout gig for the New Wave garage punk band out of Las Vegas. Ofte grew up on a farm in Western Wisconsin: "I try not get emotional, but this was a dream of mine since I was a little girl," she told a small but excited crowd at the Harley Roadhouse.
Her nerves weren’t evident, though, as the band powered through its debut album, sounding a lot like No Doubt, Blondie, and even Toni Basil when it covered "Mickey."
Clearly, a little of the music was pre-recorded, but the stripped-down sound was almost all keytar, drums and Ofte’s strong vocals. Keith did a little backup, but oddly, it wasn’t needed – two people were just enough, and Keith sounded great on drum. Hey, it works for the White Stripes and Black Keys. Why not Pet Tigers?
Of course, the keytar can be made to sound like anything, so Ofte turned it into synth guitar for "Big Bad Wolf" and "Run This City." The former made use of a little rapping and almost reminded me of Debbie Harry in "Rapture."
Pet Tigers closed their roughly 40-minute set with their newest song, "You’re My Favorite Flavor," "Shake Baby" and "Go Go Girl," and surely made a few Milwaukee fans today.
How far can a retro, dance punk band go with just two members? Who knows. Their sound is full enough, but a third or fourth member might make Pet Tigers even better. On covers like "Mickey," they did sound a bit too stripped down – but not on their own tunes, which is exactly what matter.
On the first clear, hot afternoon of summer, Pet Tigers was a real treat. Something tells me their first Summerfest show won’t be their last.