Brian Setzer at Centre in the Square – November 25, 2013

Photographs by Lee-Ann Wylie

Brian Setzer rolled into Kitchener’s Centre In the Square with his 17 piece band, on his only Canadian date, on November 25th. For many people, his Christmas concerts are as much a holiday tradition as The Nutcracker Suite and Transiberian Orchestra Christmas show.

The three-time Grammy Award-Winner from Minneapolis is still filling seats. The Co-founder of the rockabilly trio the “Stray Cats” is performing his “Christmas Rocks” 10th Anniversary Tour with the “Brian Setzer Orchestra”. The predominant age of his fans are around the 40–50 age group, and are often wearing one of two outfits: a suit or rockabilly attire.

Unfortunately the opening band “Firebird” whose promo photo and bio resemble Setzer’s “Stray Cats”, had border issues and could not make it. But the show must go on!

Setzer’s band started the show on time and had KILLER sound right off the hop. The 17 piece orchestra performed the TV “Munsters Theme” song while Brian walked out and joined them while playing lead. He was dressed to kill in his silvery grey suit, struttin’ around like a true “Stray Cat”. The band was not to be left behind in the looks department. They were all dressed in matching suits with white scarves as a finishing touch. They all moved in either total unison or unison to their row.

Other songs like “The Flintstones” theme song, and “Peter Gunn” were inserted to the evening’s set list, along with several Christmas Carols. “Joy To The World” and “Angels We Have Heard On High” had a wonderful rockabilly/swing, twist to them.

Brian Setzer pulled out sheet music and announced they were going to do a song written by a friend and mentor Frank Comstock, who died this year at the age of 91. The song?  “O Little Town Of Bethlehem”.

The band went from Christmas Carols to “Stray Cats” tunes to numerous classic covers. Playing “Sleepwalk” like no one else can, was a crowd favorite.

During “Jump Jive an’ Wail”, Setzer and the sax player traded blistering, clean, tasteful solos.  All this while the upright bass player was spinning and slappin’ away at his flamed double bass.  The two vixen back-up singers were dancing up a storm to choreographed moves. The band was either snapping their fingers or swinging with their instruments (while playing), and even jumping up and down.  Meanwhile the drummer was spinning his sticks and setting the different moods, grooves, and tempos. It was like watching half dozen shows all at once. The end of the song was met with one of the many standing ovations.

The band took a break and wardrobe change, while a ‘Stray Cat-like’ trio came forward to turn the heat up even more. During Eddie Cochran’s “Nervous Breakdown” and Buddy Holly’s “Peggy Sue” this rockabilly trio packed in a full show on its own. Showing that three instruments (guitar/Brian Setzer, bass/John “Spazz” Hatton and drums/Danny Glass) or the full orchestra can knock your socks off with their ability to play and perform. Setzer jumped up and stood on the bass drum coercing Hatton to do the same on his flamed weapon of choice. After a brief bass solo Glass flew off the kit and started drumming on the double bass. It was quite the show!

Setzer broke out his “ugly” guitar as he referred to it as, that resembled the tail fin of an old Cadillac, and went into appropriately fitting “Brand New Cadillac”. To take it up another notch the band returned mid-song dressed in leopard print suits and sunglasses.

Just when you figured you had been delivered about 10 shows worth of entertainment they played the timeless “Nutcracker Suite” …“Setzerized” version!! The season would not be complete without hearing this classic!  After “Rock This Town” another “Stray Cat” mega hit, they finished their two hour set with “Jingle Bells” and had Santa throwing out candy canes. This song was complete with indoor snow!

Setzer still has the charisma and class that a swing band leader needs to pull a show off like this. He is truly a “Musician’s musician”! His playing ability is clean, fast, tasteful, and deserves the title as one of the best guitarists out there!

This concert is a must see for the Christmas season! I have not seen a band pack in so much to a single show since Paul McCartney. What a perfect venue they picked for their only Canadian date, Centre In The Square. One of my favourite venues. The staff is friendly, courteous and organized. The sound is tops. This show was a true honour to see and cover! Thank you again Karen Lorenowicz.

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Concert reviewer at Live in Limbo.

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