As soon as I saw a gangly Australian in a slim-cut suit take the stage to play the baritone sax, I knew I would love the show. After the suited gentleman and the rest of the band came out, three girls in wigs, hot pants, flowing chiffon tops, and gigantic tassel earrings claimed the microphone stands on stage right. And then Miss Clairy Browne strutted out in a vintage-looking sequin dress, black belt, glow-in-the-dark jewelry, and big hair. She had me at her first note. Clairy has a voice that’s buttery, persistent, sexy, and hedged with something dark and dirty. It makes me want to drink whiskey with her.
I was pissed I didn’t get to see Clairy Browne and the Bangin’ Rackettes the last time they played Crescent Ballroom in April. I was on a plane, cultivating a bug/virus/food poisoning/the devil, which would leave me lactose intolerant for a few months. Needless to say, I didn’t make it to the show even though I wanted to. I figured I’d just have to jam out to the Baby Got the Bus album until they swung through again next year—or maybe the year after that—if they even made it back to Phoenix. This band is on the rise, after all.
So, I was thrilled to see Clairy Browne and the Bangin’ Rackettes listed on Crescent’s website a few months ago. And Tuesday night, I was beyond excited to see the show. I donned some quirky fashion and my cowgirl boots and got ready for a night of soul.
Soul sisters, as it turns out—much to my delight.
Kelsey is unassuming. She looks sweet as pie with her white-blond hair and sun-kissed cheeks, but the girl can wail. It’s a quiet power. She isn’t larger than life and instead lets her voice take the lead. She’s fun to watch onstage, because you can tell this is what she loves to do. She reminds me of my best friend in high school who seemed quiet and shy, but had these amazing talents if you let her stretch.
During an anecdotal moment, Kelsey let us know that she and her backup singer met in choir. There’s something pure about that. Something that warms my heart, because it’s how it should be.
Check out Baby You’re Killing Me, the closing number of the set. It sways.
Kelsey’s bassist (upright) is pretty adorable (and talented), too. I know this because, 1) he was wearing a scarf onstage; and 2) I talked to him after the set.
After Kelsey came Sunorus. The first couple of numbers were instrumentals, groovy, jazz-soaked tunes with personality that showcased the talented musicians that form the backbone of this band. I was pleasantly surprised to see my friend, Shea Marshall, onstage with them, too—multitasking as always—playing both the keys and the saxophone that night.
And then, hello, Hillary Tash with your red hair and belly dancing hips. Sunorus’s front woman oozed confidence and shake-your-bones pizzazz. She danced. She belted. She flirted shamelessly with us. The musical theater chick in me got a little giddy over “Whatever Lola Wants.” We partiers got a kick out of “When I Get Low I Get High.”
I’m looking forward to seeing them again at Last Exit Live on the 15th when they open up for Medicine Tent and Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band. (That will also be a show not to be missed!)
And then my soul shook when Clairy and her Bangin’ Rackettes took over. Miss Clairy’s got the stuff of idols. She gestured for everyone to move forward with her pointy fingernails and the whole room shifted. When she started singing, we were entranced and there were raucous shouts of “Go girl!” from the crowd. A group up front even bought her a shot.
Clairy’s onstage movement is genius—wholly original, a little frantic (but wonderfully so), and executed with such confidence and self assurance. It’s like she’s modeling edgy, vintage couture for an editorial spread of yesteryear. Each moment is a snapshot, and she’s captivating with each click of the camera.
And can I just say that her Bangin’ Rackettes were exactly that? Perfect harmonies. Beautiful spirit. Impeccable timing. And style for days. Always swaying, always bringing us in. They were beautiful and groovy and each with their own personality. Did I mention they did an entire dance in the middle of the set to an instrumental number?
Clairy Browne and the Bangin’ Rackettes epitomizes the idea of the old-fashioned girl group—but with some sass and grit that make them something new. The music is moody and hearkens back to a lost generation of soul and funk. Clairy’s voice scratches you and then seduces you. Sometimes during the show, I wanted to swing dance. Others, I wished I had some burlesque costumes and a boa. More often than not, I sipped my whiskey, sunk in, and then cheered wildly.
In addition to the expected tunes off Baby Caught the Bus–“Baby Caught the Bus,” “Frankie,” and “She Plays Up To You–we heard new songs that you can’t hear anywhere else, my favorite being the song “Toys,” a kinky take on role playing which proclaims, “I’ll let you play with my toys” and then rattles off all the games you can play during the verses. Cheeky, Clairy and company, cheeky.
Other standouts included “Love Letter”—forever made famous by Heineken and the song that first won me over—and “Whatta Man,” which was an epic soul tribute during which Clairy and the Rackettes were, no joke, vogueing. Truly vogueing. Fucking. Fabulous.
At the end of the night, Clairy thanked us—“Good night, pussycats!” A member of the band yelled out to us, “Phoenix, it’s been one hell of a second date. How about we go out again sometime?”
Um, yes please. Pick me up this weekend? I’ll bring the whiskey and soul records.