Brian Setzer, the high priest of rockabilly, is once again out there with his Orchestra getting fans rocked up for the holiday season. This is his 15th annual Christmas tour, and at 59 he doesn’t show any signs of taking his foot off the gas of this ’57 Chevy-powered machine. This thing is an institution now, kind of like the Rockettes. The man can play, he’s good at this and he is most certainly a showman. I don’t know how many pieces his band is, but every piece has a great time up there. So did the packed house at the legendary Fox on this brisk Sunday evening in Detroit.
I was a huge Stray Cats fan back in the early 80s when MTV helped break them in a big way in the States. I never saw them live, and I’d never seen Brian’s Christmas thing, even though he’s been rockin’ my town with it since aught-three. He sauntered out in a snake-skin leisure suit and purple satin shirt and we knew it was on. The band threw “Dig that Crazy Santa Claus” at us and proceeded to crush their set that featured a variety of mid-century hipster Christmas rockers (“Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”), rearranged traditionals (“The Nutcracker Suite”) some Stray Cats stuff (“Runaway Boys” see my eyewitness video below) and an oddball Beatles cover (“Hey Bulldog” sung by the lovely back-up singers).
While many shoe-gazers are having their guitars aesthetically weathered, Brian is proud to flash his brand-new Gretsch with the holiday-red, mother-of-toilet-seat sparkle finish (not pictured). He brandished this and other Gretsch beauties with swagger, energy and an unabashed flair for performing. Midway through the set he brought the upright bass player and the drummer (with only snare & hi-hat) out front for a rockabilly set — classic Stray Cats instrumentation! He did a solo, hollow-body tribute to the late Roy Clark, brought an extended music stand out to direct the band through “The Nutcracker Suite,” and even had his own dry rub available for sale in the lobby. The guy can do it all.
Brian was even gracious enough to allow any of us yahoos who were interested to have our photograph taken with some of the Gretsch axes he totes around in the Santa Express bus. Suffice to say that the wife and I have our Christmas card photo taken care of too. Merry rockin’ Christmas, Brian! See you guys next year.
How ’bout some “Runaway Boys?”
(Editor’s note: It’s funny that on setlist.fm they credit “The Nutcracker Suite” to Bram Tchaikovsky, the pop singer from the early 80s, instead of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, the Russian composer.)