My Pop Culture Beast colleague Pat Francis has often said, and he’s not the only one, that certain guitarists have their own sound. When Brian May of Queen plays, you know it’s him. Same with Mark Knopfler, or Dave Davies. Overlooked in this discussion is Brian Setzer. While some would argue his sound is a little derivative, those people would be wrong. Yes, you know who Setzer’s influences are yet he manages to evoke his own tone from his Gretsch guitar while also demonstrating great technical skill.
What’s even more impressive is how he uses his guitar to seamlessly blend his two main musical interests, big band and rockabilly. Though he’s more widely known for the latter, he has been fronting the big band-influenced Brian Setzer Orchestra for almost 30 years. People familiar with this part of his career likely discovered BSO via the annual run of Christmas shows they do.
Though the stage wass decked for the holidays, the show mixes non-seasonal numbers with original and traditional yuletide tunes. Setzer and crew set the table with a cover of the Glenn Miller and his Orchestra’s “Pennsylvania 6-500.” They then oscillate pretty evenly between Christmas tunes and pop songs, including a few numbers from Setzer’s previous band, the Stray Cats. The two big hits get played, “Stray Cat Strut” near the top, “Rock This Town” later.
The other Stray Cat tunes played were singles either here or in the U.K., but aren’t that widely known. Still, hearing “Gene and Eddie” and “Fishnet Stockings” was a pleasant surprise.
Indeed, in the middle of the set. Most of the band took a break, while his bass player (Johnny Hatton), drummer (Noah Levy), and piano player (Kevin McKendree) did a proper rockabilly mini-set.
Review: Brian Setzer Orchestra
Not satisfied with smashing it on both the big band and rockabilly sides of the equation, the entire band tackled the Nutcracker Suite before sending the crowd home with “Jingle Bells.”
A great holiday tradition, BSO should also be enjoyed year round.
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PF Wilson has been writing about music, TV, radio, and movies for over 20 years. He has also written about sports, business, and politics with his work appearing in Cincinnati CityBeat, The Houston Press, Cleveland Scene, Cincinnati Magazine, Cincy Magazine, Atomic Ranch, and many more. Check out his podcast PF’s Tape Recorder available from Podbean or in iTunes.