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“wine, women and soul”: clairy browne and the bangin’ rackettes

Melbourne’s Clairy Browne and the Bangin’ Rackettes are officially my favourite Aussie band- hands down. Congrats, dudes. This is a special moment for us all.

Clairy and Co. have just finished up their month of Tuesday residencies at Melbourne The Toff in Town with the launch of their new 7”, She Plays Up To You, available on vinyl and download from the band’s Bandcamp page and, boy howdy, is it a good’un. But onto those folks in a bit.

Hip-hop/soul artist Jess Harlen opens the festivities tonight; a thudding bass and Harlen on acoustic guitar, smashing out rhymes, as well as a honeyed singing voice. Harlen and band err more towards pop than that Dirt Child/ Marcromantics-style Aussie hip-hop; her emotive r’n’b voice coming alive especially with new song Cigarettes and Wine, an r’n’b/ soul heart-melter.

Contrasting the dolled-up façade of the clientele, Harlen wears a baggy jumper, jeans and sneakers, with her hair pulled back in a simple ponytail. She is charmingly casual and sweetly affable; Plutonic (of ‘Muph and…’ fame) is on drums and also produced her debut album, Neon Heartache, a record I made sure to buy soon after.

As what a friend calls “The Melbourne Horseshoe” forms in the centre of the Toff, it’s great to look around and see so many punters coming out on a freezing Tuesday night for a local band. Swing dancers entertain the crowd before second act of the night Stella Angelico hits the stage.

Angelico’s throaty soul/funk is rough and gorgeous like Shirley Bassey (their opening song, in fact, reminded me a sizeable dab like History Repeating). Angelico herself is a sultry, ballsy front-woman and the band power through a set of theatrical, rambunctious, jazzy soul. Delicious….much like the food looks on the website of cute Asian restaurant Rice Queen on Smith Street where I found that Stella Angelico and band regularly perform! Oh hai, segue!

A red curtain is drawn and Clairy Browne and band are revealed in the smoky blue light; Browne’s big black bouffant and ruby red lips shining even from my vantage up back. The Bangin’ Rackettes coo smoky jazz vocals and light up the stage in pink satiny dresses. Four lovelier ladies I have not seen on a stage; we, as a crowd, are transported in the Rackettes’ musical TARDIS to Chicago 1936 and, knowing we must return to our home time soon enough, squeeze every drop of joy from the band’s dynamic set.

‘Lean Lanky Daddy’ is a particular standout; a record favourite (from their 2010 self-titled EP) of mine, the track is given new vibrant gravitas with the addition of some guest horns. ‘Up in the Sky’’s doo wop grunt-bop of, seemingly, mile-high antics is also particularly joyous; a gospel sing-along before the aforementioned EP’s Motown fantasy ‘Champagne’; a doo-wop cover of Salt ‘N Pepa’s ‘Whatta Man’ and a funked-up redo of Nancy Sinatra’s ‘My Baby Shot Me Down’.

The crowd goes nuts, rightly so, for the sultry single ‘She Plays Up to You’, that we are all huddled together at the Toff to celebrate. It’s a seductive, smoking tale of romantic envy at the hands of “Stephanie”, a statuesque threat. B-side ‘Frankie’ is more typically jazz/swing with a jiving, hip-swinging chorus (“I know that it’s a killaaaah…”) that sends the crowd into a small but viable frenzy.

I can’t plug this band enough (well, I suppose I could do more, but you’d get sick of me and run away): they are a diamond find in a sadly depleting niche. Skilled musos + banging voices + gorgeous, expertly executed songs x beautiful costumery4 = happy, happy Lisa.

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