red lights


Setzer rocks this town
with holiday style

Brian Setzer Orchestra
House of Blues
Chicago, IL
Dec. 6, 2003
Brian Setzer

Story and Photos by Andy Argyrakis

The name Brian Setzer may immediately evoke sentiments of his eponymously titled orchestra, and for those that have been following the singer/guitarist's career since the early 1980s, his work with the ultra hip rockabilly trio the Stray Cats. But there's more to this "Jump, Jive, and Wailer" than simply his ability to "Rock This Town," as demonstrated in the massive sideburn bearer's two latest projects. His recently released traditional recording Nitro Burnin' Funny Daddy returns to his three piece roots, examining a smoldering doo-wop/mid-50s motif sure to make oldies' purists proud. His other new endeavor Boogie Woogie Christmas set the tone for the current tour, focusing on several holiday classics and originals, spiked with a slap happy Setzer twist.
Brian Setzer Backed by nearly 20 musicians, this swanky cool cat took the stage with a vengeance, plowing through the snowy Chicago climate with enough heat to produce clouds of sticky steam and buckets of sweat in the sold out club. No matter what one's aversion to the regularly regurgitated carols, Setzer's complete revamping of all the usuals were flanked with welcome variety. Early evening takes on "Jingle Bells," "(Everybody's Waitin' For) The Man With the Bag" and "Winter Wonderland" simmered with rockabilly beats and Setzer's chic snarl, mixing the glam of a Vegas styled show with the punch of a mighty big band. Remembrances of "Sleigh Ride," "Blue Christmas," and "Baby It's Cold Outside" reveled in the front man's vintage appreciation, veering away from dated carbon copies in favor of swelling dance creations. Even the normally snooze worthy classical cut "The Nutcracker Suite" exploded with hell raising horns, fiery guitar solos, and several minutes of searing improvisation.
Aside from the Yuletide greetings, a sampling of the other career periods was present Saturday night, most notably culled from the Stray Cat songbook. Cuts like "She's Sexy and 17" and "Stray Cat Strut" dug up nostalgic memories for older fans, while the band's most notable track "Rock This Town" was extended with riotous rockabilly revelry. BSO/trio interpretations of acclaim included the sophisticated swinger "The Dirty Boogie" and the stand up bass waxed "When the Bells Don't Chime." Across the varied mix, Setzer switched up personas akin to early Elvis Presley, the bustling soul of Louie Prima, and the big band leading elegance of Duke Ellington.
Even more entertaining than the songs and musical interludes were the costumes and antics that went along with this extravaganza. The band adapted full bodied leopard print costumes as they played in front of seasonally decorated bandstands and backdrops. Add a few background vocalists dressed in vixen-like Santa attire, and the eye candy was just as plentiful as Setzer's harmonious and delectable ear delights.

Brian Setzer

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