Show Review: Brian Setzer Orchestra with Lavay Smith at The Warfield, 12/20/09

by Gordon Elgart on December 21, 2009

This cat brings his "vixens" out to play.

I emailed a friend talking about how I was about to see Brian Setzer, and she responded, “is he still around?” Well, thank goodness he is, because last week he collapsed on stage, making me wonder if the tour would go on. It got me looking him up on Wikipedia to see that he’s 50 years old, and that it was 15 years ago that he put out the first Brian Setzer Orchestra CD. He’s had a long and varied career, and he’s definitely still around. So how’s he holding up?

Lavay Smith and the Red Hot Skillet Lickers were the opening band, a late replacement for the Royal Crown Revue. The local swing legends got the crowd moving right away, and ended their short but sweet set with a rousing rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching In.”

Snowman, santa, a nutcracker, and 18 badass musicians.

After a quick break for a changeover, Brian Setzer’s band walked on stage, with masks on, and began to play the Batman theme song (from the Adam West Batman). Setzer himself walked on stage, finished up the song, and the show was on. This was advertised as a Christmas show, and the music was about 50% big band Christmas music, 50% big band rockabilly.  It was, though, 100% good.

It’s weird to write a review of a show and have absolutely nothing negative to say about it. The big 17-piece backing band sounded amazing, looked spectacular, and constantly did mild choreography as they played their parts. The setlist was a masterful blend of Christmas favorites, Stray Cats classics, and a couple of new songs thrown in for good measure. There were also fun moments, like when the trombone section came to the front of the stage to play The Ventures surf rock classic, “Pipe Line.”

And it was a great crowd, too. When Setzer said, “we have a new album,” there was no audible groan; no running to the bathroom. The fans stayed to dance to “Trouble Train” from Lonely Avenue, which he proudly announced had been nominated for a Grammy.

When the bass player is on his bass, you know that's the best part of the show.

Even a good show has its best moments, and in this show, it was when a curtain came down in front of the big band, leaving Brian Setzer alone with his rhythm section, Tony Pia on drums and John Hatton on bass, to play a snappy set as a rockabilly trio. This set had more guitar histrionics than other parts of the set, featured a stand-up bass player standing on his bass (never gets old), and some vocal help from two singers lovingly referred to as “vixens” on the printed setlist (seen below).

The trio took a big group bow, but then stayed on stage to play “Rock This Town.” The longtime concertgoer in me knew that the curtain was going to rise at some point during the song as the big band would join them again. And that’s just what happened, as the band had changed outfits as well, and finished up the main set. Only Setzer left for the encore break, with the band leading the cheers for his return.

When he came back on stage, he was given a giant piece of sheet music, which he explained was the music for Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite. And so it was. When this was finished, a lengthy and joyful rendition of “Jump Jive an’ Wail” followed, as expected, and the night ended up with Jingle Bells, as Santa came on stage tossing candy canes as it began to snow in the Warfield. Granted, it was snow made of soapy foam, but it still made a festive end to a great show.

And here’s the setlist, martini glass and all:

Gordon Elgart

A music nerd who probably uses that term too much. I have a deep love for bombastic, quirky and dynamic music.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

con September 25, 2010 at 5:13 am

the dude’s come along way from his Stray Cats days. He used to wear eyeliner back then. they were really popular in Japan too


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