Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree with The Brian Setzer Orchestra
With a little bit rockabilly, a little swing, some big band jazz, and a whole lotta Christmas, The Brian Setzer Orchestra’s Christmas Rocks! show at the Saenger last night is definitely on the Nice List.
Opening for Brian Setzer was Low Volts, a one-man band (one-man, that is, until his last song when he was joined on stage by a chain-wielding accomplice named Madison Chain). Low Volts is Californian Tim Lowman on guitar, drums, and vocals, belting out a bluesy rock sound that made me think of a modern-day Elvis with a sense of humor. His quick-fingered guitar skills were matched only by his equally quick wit and clever lyrics. Lowman played his own original music, such as “I Cried My Guts Out,” and “Huntin’ Feedin’ Drinkin’” -- a song about an alcoholic bat (of the blind, flying sort), along with a few covers of Christmas tunes including a bad-ass hard rock version of The Little Drummer Boy.
When Brian Setzer took the stage, things really got good. Setzer gave an amazing performance, showcasing both his musical talent and his stage presence. From wailing on his guitar and crooning his effortless and powerfully smooth vocals, to balancing on a bass drum and dancing with Santa Claus, it was impossible not to get caught up in the excitement, the energy, and the rockin’ music that filled the auditorium. For nearly two hours Setzer jumped and jived around the stage with untiring vitality and finesse…even at the age of 56.
Though Setzer’s talent is unsurpassed, he also definitely has the right orchestra to back him up. His 18-piece band is full of gifted and swingin’ instrumentalists. Setzer made a point of featuring several band members, letting them each show off their musical moxie with a solo riff on trumpet, trombone, bass guitar, drums, saxophone, and piano. The show was intended to promote BSO’s new album, Rockin’ Rudolph, but Brian and the gang also threw in a few of their beloved classics, such as Stray Cat Strut and Jump, Jive and Wail.
If there is one other star of this show worth mentioning, it is the audience itself. Besides the fact that the demographic present spanned all generations and age groups, from young children to those old enough to have known Brian Setzer when he first picked up a guitar at the age of eight, the audience was a very active participant. It’s not uncommon, of course, for fans to stand up and cheer with hysteria that rivals that of Beatles fans, or to wait by the band’s bus afterwards in hopes of catching a glimpse of their exalted, and this show was no exception. But not at every concert do people dance in the aisles, lindy-hopping and jitterbugging their way to the stage, at a skill level to win swing dancing competitions. And that’s what set this show apart. It was almost surreal, the mix of musical elements, visual stimulation, emotions, and audience frenzy that was going on simultaneously in the theater for the duration of the show. It reached the point where even Brian Setzer took notice from on stage, pointed out a fan dancing passionately, and commented, “So how about this lady?”
Brian Setzer has been making music for all these years, and it only keeps getting better. Though he hasn’t made a Christmas album in ten years, last night’s Christmas Rocks! Tour performance proved that he can pick up right where he left off…without missing a rockin’ beat. Between the fabulous performance and the cult-like following that filled the Saenger on Tuesday, it’s clear that Brian Setzer’s still got it. And he sure knows how to flaunt it.