“I started a big band when grunge was popular. I mean, that didn’t make much sense.”
“To keep creating something with this type of music, you have to take it out of the box.”
When I decided we should try something new and begin to write concert reviews for whatever shows we go to, I didn’t think about how the first gig for us would be an attempt at displaying, in my eyes, one of the most iconic musicians living and, on a personal level, one of my biggest idols…
….No pressure there…
Okay, maybe a little. But its purely self-inflicted. I want to do this right considering Brian Setzer has meant so much to me over these last few years.
In fact, if I had this idea before the night of the concert instead of after, I would have done more to immortalize all the great moments besides taking a couple of shitty iphone 4 pics and vids that, truthfully, don’t even do the men and women of the BSO(Brian Setzer Orchestra) justice. But you know what they say…
C’EST LA VIE BRO
In case you don’t know who Brian Setzer is, or about the BSO, here’s a little background check for you:
Back in the January of ’79 Brian founded and fronted a rockabilly group called The Tomcats, which soon evolved into the Stray Cats when they moved from NY to London in search of a more fitting audience. After releasing several singles and two albums in England, the Stray Cats finally caught America’s attention with the 1982 album Built for Speed and their 1983 follow-up Rant ‘N Rave with the Stray Cats.
After 4 years together the Stray Cats broke up in 1984 and by ’85 Setzer had become the touring guitarist for Robert Plant’s band, The Honeydrippers. The gig was shortlived and only lasted, maybe, a little over a year, and by the summer of ’86 Brian had embarked on a solo career where he experienced an unstable and trying few years. When that turned into an unfulfilling venture, the Stray Cats had a reunion, spanning a little over a couple of years from ’88 to ’90.
Alas, their reunion turned into another unsatisfying venture. When that had run its course and gone virtually nowhere, Setzer had already stumbled upon a new musicial love. He formed a heavy romance, if you will, with Jazz music. More specifically, Big Band Swing. He became enthralled with the notion of having a Rock ‘n’ Roll guitar lead a big band, which, let me remind you, had never, ever, ever, EVER, been done before.
Back when big bands were THE THING, amplifiers for guitars just did not really exist and thus, guitars were simply a side accompaniment, playing rhythms while horns, drums and pianos were held as the key ingredients.
But Setzer wanted to put the electric guitar in the forefront and LEAD the big band. So what did he do with his vision?
He turned it into a reality. Mixing rockabilly and rock ‘n’ roll with big band swing, Setzer’s ensemble included full sections of horn players, piano, upright slap bass and drums.(17-19 players overall.)
Crazy right?? Who does these things??
Now lets fast forward to November 27th, 2016.
Location: NYCB Theatre at Westbury.
Section B, Row T, Seats 17 and 18
People: The Raffa siblings
The venue was intimate, but not like a night club, considering it was a theater, it was intimate because the stage was circular, centered dead smack in the middle of the building, AND could rotated around slowly if need be. There wasn’t one bad seat in the house. Its a real homey and cozy theater with a constant flow of great acts performing there weekly.
Doors opened a little before 7pm and the opening act started at 8pm flat. Very punctual bunch of people working that night.
The opening act (which, I don’t think, anyone expected because there was never a indication online or on the ticket that there would be an opening act) was a duo called the Beat Root Revival and if you enjoy any form of roots based music you’ll love these two infinitely. Consisting of Ben Jones (guitar, vocals) from England and Andrea Magee (bodhran, flute,guitar, vocals) from Ireland the majority of their influences stem from blues, rock’n’roll, 60’s pop, and Irish traditional music.
They played a 45 minute set which included a string of solid originals and some very memorable covers. I remember being really impressed with:
1. Their fabulous harmonies
2. Ben Jones’ stellar guitar playing.
3. How large and full their sound was
4. How amazing they were at taking covers and making it their own.
Not to leave out how well written and forward their original material was, such as their tune “Russian Roulette” or “Before It Gets Too Late” off their self titled 2016 release, but what really grabbed my attention was an out- of -this- world cover they did of Come Together by The Beatles.
They literally took a classic Beatles tune that everyone knows and everyone has tried to cover, adapted it just enough that it seemed like they fucking wrote the damn thing. Completely amazing.
All in all their set was inspiring and invigorating.
After the duo finished up and the venue announced a short intermission, they met fans in the lobby area by their merch table and signed CD’s until the BSO were ready to take the stage. Truly a humble duo with great talent.
It took the BSO about 15 minutes to get on stage. Once again, very punctual bunch of folks working their asses off to get everything done on time.
15 minutes is a pretty short and standard time for any intermission, but the crowd was antsy with anticipation(me included) so those 15 minutes felt like an eternity. But when those lights dimmed, the venue made the introduction announcement and the band hit the stage, ensemble first then Setzer last, we all went wild.
Being a native of New York, the crowd welcomed the BSO with such warmth and open arms and for nearly 2 hours the entire venue was submersed in the fun loving haze of great music, musicianship, showmanship, and even a little Christmas cheer.
BSO played so much music my head was spinning. Lead by the cool cat exterior, by one Brian Setzer, they launched into a whirlwind of classic BSO tunes, specially styled Christmas tunes and there was even a portion of the show where the big band took a break and Brian, his upright bassist and drummer took on a rockabilly outfit and busted out some straight-up Stray Cats rockabilly. BUT, not after Brian performed a sick, jazz infused, solo rendition of the mellow and romantic “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire”.
Maybe I’m super biased, but it was honestly the most fulfilling and satisfying concerts I’ve been to in a long time. Some memorable moments included:
Hoodoo Voodoo Doll(An original and staple in their live performances, this one’s off BSO’s sophmore album Guitar Slinger released in 1996, and let me tell you, it will KICK YOUR ASS).
Stray Cat Strut(Setzer wrote this during his time as a Stray Cat. So while it was orginally off the Stray Cats’ album Built for Speed released in 1982, Brian performed it with the full big band sound and let me tell you, it was everything it needed to be in order for it to be just right, what a spectacular performance).
Sleepwalk(Originally written in 1959 by Santo and Johnny Farina, the BSO made this timeless song their own on their 1998 album release, The Dirty Boogie. This stood out to me so much considering I’ve spent countless hours and years playing air guitar to this beauty of a rendition. And what made it that much more sweeter was how Brian dedicated that very live performance of the song to Santo and Johnny Farina because they were NY natives as well. Hell, the song was recorded at Trinity Music in Manhattan all those years ago). Here’s a small clip of said performance taken from my shitty iphone4. Our seats were waaayyy better than the small camera lens lets on. Do not be fooled.
Here Comes Santa Claus(Published in 1947, written and performed by Gene Autry with the musical composition arranged by Oakley Haldeman this song always sends good vibes out. A lot of people are iffy about artist performing Christmas songs and making Christmas albums, and I’m one of them, but the way the BSO rock this fucking song kicks total ass. So much that I’m convinced that Brian should just write and arrange the score of my life, no…LIFE IN GENERAL).
Rockabilly Rudolph(Off the BSO album Rockin’ Rudolph released in 2015, this little ditty turns “Rudolph the Red Noised Reindeer” into a James Bond movie score. Little needs to be said besides that its fucking G as hell).
(She’s)Sexy + 17(Stray Cats classic off their 1983 release Rant N’ Rave with the Stray Cats. Always a crowd pleaser. And Rightfully so. Because its pretty much, in my opinion, the perfect example of what rockabilly sounds like at its finest).
Mystery Train(Originally written and recorded by Junior Parker in 1953, everyone and their mother have covered this song, in fact, Elvis Presley’s 1955 version was one of the first recordings that garnered him attention. Its a rockabilly/country standard. So of course the BSO killed it).
I know, I know, I’m starting to get carried away. There’s no way I could even continue to keep writing these mentions without mapping out the entire fucking concert for you. You get the picture. There were just so many great moments. Jump Jive An’ Wail, Rock This Town,Fishnet Stockings, The Nutcracker Suite..I mean..fuuuuccckkkk. I could go on and on.
Even though this is days later, my head is still swimming off that live music high and I can’t help but reflect on all of the accomplishments Brian Setzer has under his belt:
-14 BSO albums(studio and live)
-18 BSO Tours(2016-2017 being the 13th Annual Christmas Rocks! Tour)
-8 Grammy Nominations and 3 wins
I mean, what a fucking #gangsta.
With everything said and done, the last piece of advice I have to offer anyone who read up to this point is: You have not LIVED until you’ve seen The Brian Setzer Orchestra live in some way, shape or form. Whether its the annual Christmas Rocks! shows he does in the states, or the straight-up, no bullshitting, play entire discography shows he does overseas, you’ll want to experience this level of kickass at least once in your lifetime. But for me, I’ve decided to make this a tradition, and see them live every year. So if you’re inspired to buy a ticket for next year, I’ll see you there!