SPACE, Evanston, IL
Saturday, December 10, 2022
Review by Jeff Elbel. Photos by Timothy Hiatt.
Chicago’s genre-hurdling quartet The Claudettes concluded a busy year of touring with a show at Evanston’s SPACE on Saturday. The air of a special event drifted through the evening from beginning to end. Before welcoming his bandmates onto the stage in front of a full house, pianist and songwriter Johnny Iguana stepped onstage to offer words of welcome to the crowd. He also offered words of love and appreciation for remaining Claudettes Zach Verdoorn, Berit Ulseth, and Michael Caskey, describing the flutter in his heart in anticipation of the alchemy soon to occur onstage among trusted friends.
The set drew from the restless band’s ever-expanding catalog of finely crafted songs, interspersed with revealing covers that demonstrated Iguana’s ear for classic pop, blues, and R&B. Half a dozen songs appeared from The Claudettes Go Out!, which was released in October. The sentimental “Time Won’t Take Our Times Away” was one of many songs written to feature the dusky purr of Berit Ulseth’s voice, which was further highlighted during the Sundays’ “Here’s Where the Story Ends.” 1962 #1 single for Ruby & the Romantics, “Our Day Will Come,” was delivered as an emotive and hopeful prayer for the band itself. Go Out! track “The American Sky” portrayed an armchair pundit imagining his political pronouncements and parroted TV talking points rising up above the purple mountains’ majesty. Iguana invited the audience to close its eyes and enter the realm of sound only for “There’s Too Much Affection in This World,” infused with the sweeping sound of pop titans like Burt Bacharach and Brian Wilson. The song was offered as a wry answer song to “All You Need is Love,” but the cynical front clearly guarded the heart of a hopeless romantic. The song featured rich harmony between Ulseth and bassist Verdoorn.
“Cowboy” concerned the vices we choose to stick with until the bitter end, imagining forsaking music before ditching booze. “I’d be fine in a world without eighth notes if I had fifths,” sang Ulseth. “Why would I quit on something so divine?” The most stirring of the Go Out! Tracks was perhaps “The Show Must Go On (Then the Show Must End).” Iguana explained that the song was pointedly not meant to be a downer. “It’s really about celebrating how easy it is to throw your whole heart into something when you understand that things don’t last that long,” he said.
Verdoorn led a cover of Billy Stewart’s 1956 R&B single “Billy’s Blues” with spirited lead figures on his six-string bass, while versatile drummer Caskey played a freewheeling beat that was equal parts cha-cha, surf, and 50s pop. Other tributes ranged from a harmony-laden interpretation of Ultravox’s 1978 song “Just for a Moment” to Irma Thomas’ 1963 single “Ruler of My Heart,” which paired Ulseth’s smoky croon with Iguana’s sparkling piano. Newer song “Irregulars” was a song for the outsiders, with an inclusive nod to everyone in the room. “Please fill out this questionnaire,” sang Ulseth. “Do you want irregulars here?” Caskey stood from his drum throne as the song’s final note rang out and shouted, “Yes, we do!”
Older favorites in the set included the cheeky paean to private time “24/5” from 2020’s High Times in the Dark, a barrelhouse piano romp for Iguana with goosebump-inducing solos from Verdoorn. Caskey played a sultry tango behind Ulseth’s breathless vocal for the lovesick “I Swear to God I Will.” Ulseth dedicated “Pull Closer to Me” from Dance Scandal at the Gymnasium! to her sisters.
The unreleased song “I’m Bad at This” was introduced as a song about inept flirting. Iguana promised a new video for the song, due to arrive in January. “I think that’s news to my bandmates, even,” he said. “What?!” cried Verdoorn in mock alarm. “It’s really charming, I must say,” Iguana added.
Before concluding with a heart-tugging cover of Buddy Holly’s “True Love Ways” sung by Verdoorn, Iguana suggested that he’d be let down if he glanced to his left during the song and didn’t see most of the people in the room slow-dancing. In a final magical moment, the Claudettes got the bulk of the audience to its feet, paired up and swaying to the band’s swooning performance.
Tags: featured, Jeff Elbel, The Claudettes, timothy hiatt
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