For his 14th annual Christmas Rocks! Tour, at the Atlanta Symphony Hall, the Stray Cat became Santa Claws…
PHOTOS & TEXT BY JOHN BOYDSTON
One of the cool things about rock and rollers having incredibly long careers is that some of them never stop getting better. A case in point is Brian Setzer – who jumped outta the gate 35 years ago already an accomplished, confident player and entertainer, mature beyond his years even. Now, at 58, he’s matured yet retained the exuberance and swagger that has made him so fun to watch. At his holiday performance this week in Atlanta, I had the sense I was at a Masterclass in guitar chops and showmanship.
Setzer’s currently in the middle of his packed house crowd-pleasing 14th annual Christmas Rocks! Tour with the Brian Setzer Orchestra. He’s clearly the driver of this engine, a 19-piece big band swing orchestra; all eyes in the band are on him, digging and feeding off his non-stop energy, just like the crowd is doing. So much going on, all very entertaining. Every few licks Brian stops to smile at the crowd – hoping they are having as much fun as he is. They are.
Lots of timeless Holiday standards in the set – all of them re-worked to swing and rock. Also lots of Setzer’s hits (Stray Cat Strut, Rock This Town) from his days as leader/founder of the The Stray Cats, the rockabilly trio that crashed the gates of American Top 40 radio with their Dave Edmunds-produced platinum LP ‘Built for Speed’ in 1982.
A highlight was about half-way through the show — the orchestra leaves the stage so it’s just Brian, standup bass, 3 piece drum set and a honky tonk piano — all wailing for 20-minutes of nothing but flat-out rockabilly starting with a full blown version of Johnny Burnette’s ‘Rockabilly Boogie.’ What a treat.
Other highlights were full-song heartfelt tributes to the recently departed Glen Campbell and Tom Petty. For me, one of Setzer’s all-time greatest moments was his guitar solo in the movie ‘La Bamba’ playing ‘Summertime Blues’ as the late great Eddie Cochran. He played that lick at this show, albeit in another song, and it was magic.
The 30-city tour in in progress in the US through December, then Japan in January. The who/ what/ when/ where are here: https://briansetzer.com/tour-dates/
I read a 2016 interview wherein Brian says another Stray Cats tour is going to happen, but for now, Here Comes Santa Claws, er, Claus.
(John Boydston’s bigger photo galleries are here: jobo.smugmug.com (or follow him on Instagram @johnboydstonphoto)