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The Claudettes returned to their suburban Chicago haunt at The Venue in Aurora, Illinois for a wide-ranging set drawn from all points of the band’s 13-year career. After just under a year with the band, singer Rachel Williams fully inhabits the role inherited from prior vocalist Berit Ulseth, even when delivering material like the forlorn torch song “A Lovely View” that Ulseth recorded for 2022’s The Claudettes Go Out! Williams’ vocal character is significantly different but is also wonderfully brash and powerful compared to Ulseth’s controlled and intimate croon.
Williams’ presence and theatricality proved to be well matched to the cinematic scope of pianist Johnny Iguana’s material and bold covers like blues great Sugar Pie DeSanto’s “Git Back,” while accompanied by the deep groove of bassist Zach Verdoorn and drummer Michael Caskey.
In addition to band’s original blues-punk-cabaret favorites including the sentimental “Time Won’t Take Our Times” and the rollicking simmer-down admonishment of “24/5,” the Claudettes peppered the set with adventurous and interesting covers including Nina Simone’s amorous “Buck,” the soul-soaked trouble of Ann Peebles’ “Feel Like Breakin’ Up Somebody’s Home,” Monty Python and Rutles composer Neil Innes’ soft-shoe/music hall piece “When Does a Dream Begin” (with Caskey taking a turn at the piano), and Wanda Jackson’s mesmerizing “Whirlpool.”
The band also introduced new fare including the lurching and stormy “No Matter How Much.” “No matter how much magic potion I drink, I’m stuck alone and unlucky,” railed Williams. “Some magic potion this turned out to be.” Iguana’s piano sparkled and thundered along with Caskey’s drums, while Verdoorn played a furious riff at the song’s dramatic peak.
Fresh track “Terms and Conditions” hinged upon Iguana’s nimble wordplay. The song’s protagonist is willing to agree to the terms in exchange for the favorable conditions on offer. “Sign me up, I accept, I agree, put me down,” sang Williams in eager character. “Touch You Back” rode a dance-friendly blues-based groove and achieved liftoff with a skyfaring chorus. Although The Claudettes Go Out! is still relatively fresh, the new songs tailored to Williams’ presence served to whet many fans’ appetites for the arrival of the band’s forthcoming EP.
During “(You Are My) Whole World,” Williams sang that her whole world would come crashing down without a loved one to hold the works in place. “See, I told you we were sincere,” declared Iguana afterward. The band followed with Aretha Franklin’s soulful “See Saw,” written by Don Covay.
Verdoorn and Williams took a breather and allowed Iguana and Caskey to perform Stevie Wonder’s “Boogie On, Reggae Woman” in the Claudettes’ original formation as an instrumental piano-and-drums duo. The band of versatile musicians retooled and reconfigured throughout the evening, continually infusing the set with shifting points of focus and fresh energy. Verdoorn returned to lead the band through “Billy’s Blues” with his Bass VI as a lead instrument, propelled by Caskey’s whimsical polynesian rhythmic flourishes.
The show concluded with a surprising two-fer of X-Ray Spex’ brazen “Oh Bondage Up Yours!” and Sparks’ avant-pop anthem “Amateur Hour.”
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