It’s at least a quarter of a century since the Stray Cats very firmly put Rockabilly back onto the musical map. Without ever seeming notably nostalgic, retro obsessed or even ironic, the Stray Cats took music of what was then three decades previous and gave it a verging on New Wave makeover, sounding authentically true to their inspirations and as immediately relevant as any of their contemporaries. If the 1980s were the 1950s in color, the Stry Cats were the band that bridged the gap between the quiffs and tailfins of 1955 and the leather jacketed attitudes of 1985.
Now that he’s won no less than three Grammy awards and had a range of Gretsch guitars bearing his signature hanging from the walls of music stores worldwide, you might think Brian Setzer would consider resting on his already considerable laurels. Not so. Brian Setzer’s Rockabilly Riot is to all intents the present incarnation of the Stray Cats, with original drummer Slim Jim Phantom continuing in his sideman role with second drummer Noah Levy. There are also two stand-up bassists – Chris D’Rozario and Johnny Hatton, with keyboardist Mckendree completing the line up. Listen to Live From The Planet, recorded during the band’s world tour of 2011/12, and you might wonder how many guitarists are onstage. Brian Setzer is quite probably the finest living exponent of (in the classic sense of the phrase) Rock ‘n Roll guitar, and the rest of the band aren’t exactly slouches either.
So, aside from his Brian Setzer Orchestra performances, the Rockabilly Riot band gives one of our greatest living guitar players the opportunity to rip it up with his mastery of six string country rock picking, and Stray Cats fans and anyone who ever tapped a foot appreciatively to “Rock This Town” won’t want to miss this show. This isn’t just a greatest hits revisit though, the Rockabilly Riot takes its audience on a roller coaster ride that includes bona fide classics such as “Great Balls Of Fire”, “Folsom Prison Blues”, and a favourite track of mine, Billy Lee Riley’s “Red Hot”, each of them given a slickly played and energetic interpretation that’s designed for crowd pleasing.
What Brian Setzer and his bands are really about is first and foremost showmanship, and after longer than most of us can remember he’s just as much of a trouper as he was when the Stray Cats first made their presence known back in the day. Setzer is more than competently supported by his backing group and Live From The Planet contains plenty of near virtuoso playing from each of the rest of the band. No signs of Setzer hanging his Gretsch up just yet and I for one would wish that he didn’t do this anytime soon – or at least not until I’ve had the privilege of seeing one of his incendiary live shows in person.