Lovers Lane
Copernicus Center

Live Review and Photo Gallery: The Claudettes at Old Town School of Folk Music • Chicago

| December 13, 2023


The Claudettes

Old Town School of Folk Music

December 9, 2023

Review by Jeff Elbel. Live Photos by Timothy Hiatt.

The Claudettes concluded a sprint of travel dates with a sold-out hometown gig at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Lincoln Square on Saturday. The band’s wide-ranging set list drew from the band’s 13-year catalog of original material and included several choice cover songs.

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 sentimental torch song “Time Won’t Take Our Times Away” that Ulseth recorded for 2022’s The Claudettes Go Out! Williams’ versatile vocal character is wonderfully brash and powerful in contrast to the accomplished Ulseth’s controlled and intimate croon.

Moreover, Williams’ striking 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. Comparisons to a young Annie Lennox were overheard and validated.

In addition to the band’s original blues-punk-cabaret favorites, including thin-ice warning “Bad Babe, Losin’ Touch” and the rollicking simmer-down admonishment of “24/5,” the Claudettes peppered the set with adventurous and interesting covers, including Bobby Gentry’s plaintive and longing “Courtyard” 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, and the songwriter revealed that he’d written the sweet sentiment during an anxious trip to the emergency room with a loved one. 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.

Williams took a breather and allowed her bandmates to perform the Raymond Scott-styled lunacy of “Infernal Piano Plot…HATCHED!” in the Claudettes’ original formation as an instrumental combo. Verdoorn led the band through rock-and-roll stroll “Billy’s Blues” with his Bass VI as a lead instrument, propelled by Caskey’s whimsical Polynesian rhythmic flourishes. Williams returned with a costume change in time for the rollicking “Naked on the Internet,” which offered a warning that online infamy is immortal. Caskey punctuated the song with a monster fill cribbed from Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild.”

The band diverted into prog-operatic territory for “Mr. Pecker’s Apoplexy,” which was a sonic thrill ride. The song’s thematic setting was the 2019 attempt by National Enquirer owner David Pecker to blackmail Amazon’s Jeff Bezos with salacious photos. Mr. Pecker’s real-life apoplexy occurred when Bezos responded by launching a counter-investigation while immediately short-circuiting the attempted extortion by going public with all of the embarrassing details himself.

Verdoorn and Williams joined in arresting harmony during a pensive and cascading version of “Just for a Moment” by Ultravox. During “(You Are My) Whole World,” Williams sang that the sky would fall without a loved one to hold the works in place. The band followed with a riveting version of Aretha Franklin’s soul-rocker “See Saw,” written by Don Covay.

The main set’s final song was a bristling cover of Sparks’ avant-pop anthem “Amateur Hour.” The show concluded with an encore of the bombastic “Rock Show.” “You came to see a rock show,” sang the band in cheeky unison, but the evening offered far more than just that.

The Claudettes have logged countless miles and refined their show to white heat. They’re due to level up, and Williams’ dynamic presence brings the band even closer to breaking out.

Category: Featured, IE Photo Gallery, Live Reviews

About the Author ()

Comments are closed.