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The Claudettes On Mountain Stage

The Claudettes live on <em>Mountain Stage</em>.
Brian Blauser/Mountain Stage
West Virginia Public Broadcasting
The Claudettes live on Mountain Stage.

Self-described "blues-jazz-soul-punk-rockabilly-cartoon-music" makers, Chicago's original recipe band, The Claudettes, made its first appearance on Mountain Stage at the Culture Center Theater in Charleston, W.Va.

Pianist and songwriter Brian Berkowitz, who goes by Johnny Iguana, founded the band along with drummer Michael Caskey. While Iguana has played with such Chicago blues icons as the late, great Koko Taylor and Junior Wells, The Claudettes' sonic playing field is the blues and everything after, all tastefully and artfully blended together.

Host Larry Groce noted in his introduction that the Minneapolis Star Tribune rightfully described the band as "equal parts James Dean and David Lynch." During this set, The Claudettes shared new tunes from High Times in the Dark, an upcoming 2020 release produced with Grammy award-winner Ted Hutt (Old Crow Medicine Show, Lucero, Violent Femmes, Dropkick Murphys). High Times in the Dark follows the band's 2018 release, Dance Scandal at the Gymnasium!, which was made with The Black Keys' Grammy award-winning producer, Mark Neill.

In the set opener, "Pull Closer to Me," Iguana lays out a simply beautiful piano melody while lead vocalist Berit Ulseth and guitarist Zach Verdoorn swap vocals back and forth, laying out the vulnerabilities and uncertainties of life and love. "Don't know where I am, but I have you along / Don't know for how long, but I have you along/ Don't know where I am going, but you decided to come / Along for the ride. I think that I died," they sing.

The Claudettes then flex perhaps the band's greatest super power — songwriting — keeping a tongue firmly planted in cheek on the humor-filled "Declined." "This song is really a romantic reflection on official company letterhead," Iguana says while introducing the tune. "I wish you the best in all of your future endeavors, but sir, you have been declined."

That quirky, observational humor continues on the next two songs, as one of those madly-coveted Pappy Van Winkle bourbon bottles is the subject of "One Special Bottle," while the joys of private time are explored on "24/5." "I read an interview with one of the guys in The Moody Blues, and he said he loved this women 24 hours a day, seven days a week; it left me with the distinct impression that he has got to watch it. That is too much. I mean, everybody needs some private time," Berkowitz says as the crowd roars with laughter.

The Claudettes showcase the band's range of motion, setting a lingering mood with "The Sun Will Fool You" as Ulseth's ethereal voice and Iguana's piano sweetly sing a sad ballad that would not be out of place in an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical.

Set List:

  • "Pull Closer To Me"
  • "Declined"
  • "One Special Bottle"
  • "24/5"
  • "The Sun Will Fool You"
  • All songs by Brian Berkowitz (Johnny Iguana).

    Copyright 2021 West Virginia Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

    Dave Lavender