Like in many a music venue around town, you can imagine that the wallpaper at the Hi Fi Bar could divulge a tale or two, if only it had a voice. Hypothetically if it did, there’s little doubt that for at least the next while, the album launch of Clairy Browne and the Bangin’ Rackettes would be pretty high on the yarn list.
Opening the night was local treasure Little John, who, after releasing critically acclaimed debut album Put Your Hands On Me in 2009, have been playing and supporting various acts around the country. This is a sure fire way to get your band tight, and tight they were. The first half of the set contained the more heartfelt country and blues numbers, before lead singer John Dickson serenaded out a soul number dedicated to Clairy Browne. With an arsenal of all the necessary instruments, Little John’s sound skipped between country, blues, soul, gospel and good old fashioned rock ‘n’ roll of a quality that would even make Elvis content in his grave.
Next up were The Frowning Clouds – and it must be said: the sixties are alive and thriving in Melbourne. These guys have really nailed their niche; low-fi swing with a bit of rock and a lot of roll. This induces the body to divorce the brain, resulting in limbs flailing everywhere and punters being drawn to the dance floor quicker than a seedy drunk to the Golden Arches. Numbers such as “Lovin’ You” and “All Night Long” were floor-fillers as peoples’ ears picked up some familiar tunes that have been permeating the airwaves in recent times. Lead singer Daff Gravolin seemed as though he had been born on the stage – nothing seemed to phase him, while the rest of the band had that same relaxed, easy, composure on stage, the few imperfections adding a charm to their style. The Frowning Clouds are definitely some lads floating around the top of their local class – the only question is will these guys remain heroes in their niche or launch their sounds further for the greater good of eardrums the nation over.
And then it was time for the launch of Baby Caught The Bus; and oh, did it launch. Clairy Browne and the Bangin’ Rackettes were introduced as “one part Vegas, one part Harlem, and one part Detoriot City”; all of these being accurate, and then add a dash of Australian-inspired circus-theatre and you’re on the money. Opening with a building instrumental and synchronised dancing routine by Clarey Brown and backing vocalists Camilla McKewen, Ruby Jones, Loretta Miller; the audience was given a mere taste of the antic that were in store. The band of Rackettes, who played to a tee throughout the set, featured two trumpets, two guitars, sax, drums and keys player, plus a whole lotta’ Brylcream; for the sum total of a hell of a big sounding band.
There were so many note-worthy elements of this show, varying between good, outstanding, cringe-worthy, and hilarious. First of all, Clairy Browne – by the end of the show (show is for show business) there was not a man in the room who would have dared cross this leading lady in love or otherwise, as her exceptionally powerful voice rung beautifully around the Hi Fi bar, hitting the all the big notes throughout the night. When Clairy wasn’t crooning away with her velvety vocals, she was entertaining the audience with the tales behind each of the numbers, in what can only be described as a suburban-Australian drawl. This was one of the factors that make CBBR’s unique – nowhere else could one find a ten-piece soul outfit singing about “that skanky bitch Stephanie, she is all up in your grill and all over your man”.
“She Plays Up To You” was a highlight of the set, featuring a lengthy spoken intro before a snippet of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene”, then a mid-song skit where the aforementioned “Stephanie” appeared from the second floor and flounced down to the stage, dancing like she does it for a living with all of the male band members. And there wasn’t a set of eyes anywhere but glued to the stage.
There were other big moments, such as the over-eager sax player ‘attempting’ to stage dive (the second time round looked less painful), a sultry cover of Sinatra’s “Bang Bang”, and lets not forget those 60’s-esque Bordeaux-red velvet costumes and synchronised dancing by Clairy and her ladies. Yes, there was never a dull moment while these guys were on stage, however damn captivating as it was, there was a lingering feeling that something was amiss. As an act CBBRs had all the bells and whistles, but the bike they were riding wasn’t quite built of gold standard material. That said, if you’ve got a hankering to go to Vegas or are craving some theatrical entertainment but don’t have the bank to fund it, purchase a ticket to see these guys instead, you will be transported immediately.
– Dannika Bonser