For anybody who has seen a run-of-the-mill rockabilly group perform and walked away unimpressed with the genre, Brian Setzer is the artist who will demonstrate that great things can happen if the right people are playing a guitar, a double bass, and a drum set. Enough people did know, however, about how great this legendary guitarist was when he played with his group Stray Cats, which essentially revived the rockabilly genre. Fans of Stray Cats and his swing-revival band, The Brian Setzer Orchestra, donned their gay apparel and packed LA’s Microsoft Theater on Saturday night to create The Brian Setzer Orchestra’s Christmas Extravaganza.
The Bellfuries, who hail from Austin, TX, warmed up the crowd with a half hour set of their rockabilly tunes. Their set was pretty good, standard rockabilly fare. Singer / rhythm guitarist Joey Simeone got a chuckle out of the crowd when he introduced a song that was inspired by his ex-wife — a comment which he then corrected by clarifying it was inspired by his second ex-wife; the song was called “You Must Be A Loser.” Towards the end of their performance, they incorporated a cover of Black Sabbath’s “Black Sabbath” into their set, which established a nice trend of heavy metal covers that would be continued later in the evening by The Brian Setzer Orchestra.
The Bellfuries had performed in front of the theater’s stage curtain, and as soon as that curtain was raised, the crowd was treated to the spectacle of a dazzling Christmas bandstand, which was adorned with trees, snowmen, and Santa Claus. The orchestra performers were, of course, wearing Christmas colors as they and Setzer rocked the night away. The set was essentially the same as it had been for the previous few stops on the orchestra’s tour. The set highlights included: Mabel Scott’s “Boogie Woogie Santa Claus;” AC/DC’s “Let There Be Rock;” Carl Perkins’ “Put Your Cat Clothes On;” and his old band’s “Stray Cat Strut," “Gene and Eddie,” and “Rock This Town.”
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While most of the set was performed by Setzer and his orchestra (which was essentially composed of three brass sections), he performed a terrific rendition of Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song” with just his guitar and voice. There were also a few numbers in the middle of the set which he performed with a 4-piece rockabilly arrangement. After that, he announced, “I started this band here, in Los Angeles, twenty-four years ago. People said, ‘What are you doing? You can’t take that on the road!’ Then came this little number.” The orchestra then performed their great version of Louis Prima’s “Jump Jive An’ Wail.”
The orchestra was made up of amazing performers, which Setzer conducted through a terrific holiday show. For the finale, they performed their swinging arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite” and James Lord Pierpont’s “Jingle Bells.” But despite the familiarity and grandeur of much of the set, the most powerful moment of the show was probably during a performance of Santo and Johnny’s “Sleep Walk,” a dreamy instrumental song which provided Setzer with an opportunity to demonstrate that the range of his guitar virtuosity is pretty amazing even without whistles and sleigh bells.