NYCB Theatre at Westbury
November 22, 2017
Brian Setzer’s holiday tour has become an annual extravaganza. The man really gets into the Christmas spirit. The rockabilly and Americana guitarslinger has brought his holiday-themed spectacular along with his big band to Westbury, NY’s NYCB Theatre every year for over a decade. As in the past, his performance was a very high energy extravaganza that featured not only the traditional holiday classics that these tours are centered on, but Stray Cats tunes, selections from his solo career and well-chosen and inspired covers.
The opening set by the Texas Gentlemen, a five-piece blues, country funk and roots rock act was stellar. Comprised of Beau Bedford, Nik Lee, Daniel Creamer, Matt McDonald and Ryan Ake, this is a band that will soon be headlining its own tours. Highlights of the short but incendiary set included "Habbie Doobie," “Dream Along” and “Superstition” from TX Jelly (New West Records, 2017) and covers of the Band’s “The Shape I’m In” and the set closer--a tour-de-force version of the rock ‘n’ roll classic, “Shakin’ All Over.” When the set ended and the lights came up, it was obvious that the Dallas band had won over the audience as those who had settled in prior to Brian Setzer gave a rousing round of applause with many audience members on their feet cheering and begging for another song.
During the intermission the venue’s PA blared classic ‘50s and early ‘60s rockabilly, pop, rock ‘n’ roll and blues. As the half-hour break came to a close, the members of the Brian Setzer Orchestra took their places on the small arena's revolving stage. The musicians began to play a driving version of Glenn Miller’s “Pennsylvania 6-5000” and in short order, Setzer joined his band. The ensuing set delivered to the middle-aged crowd an evening of what they came for with some special bonuses. The fans were treated to an evening of surf drenched souped-up Christmas songs with a sly nod to the rockabilly sound that brought Setzer to prominence with the Stray Cats. Following Setzer’s entrance and the opening number, the band got into the holiday spirit with “Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree.” In addition to the "Stray Cat Strut" (the song that put Setzer and the Stray Cats on the map), the band mixed and intermingled big band versions of Christmas music with Setzer tunes. The main set included: “Boogie Woogie Santa Claus,” “Gene & Eddie,” “Angels We Have Heard On High,” “The Dirty Boogie,” “Jump, Jive an' Wail” and “Here Comes Santa Claus (Right Down Santa Claus Lane).”
The middle portion of the set included a two song interlude that left the audience speechless. Glen Campbell’s “Wichita Lineman” was followed by a stellar version of Tom Petty’s “Runnin' Down A Dream.” The mini tribute to the beloved singers (both of whom passed during 2017) brought the audience to its feet and had many singing along. Setzer then got right back to the Christmas theme as he and the band delivered a version of “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)” that would have done Mel Tormé proud.
Setzer, who hails from nearby Massapequa, brought his brother Gary on stage to join the band on drums. The two performed “Rocket In My Pocket” and "Fishnet Stockings." At the end of the mini-set Setzer raised his brother's hand and the audience again lost its collective mind. The main set ended with what is perhaps, the Stray Cats most loved and well-known song, “Rock This Town.” When the song ended the band members and Setzer took their bows and retreated to the dressing room.
After a very short wait, Setzer and the band returned. Setzer announced, "We'd like to play 'The Nutcracker Suite.'" What followed was a whimsical big band version of Tchaikovsky’s signature composition. Two axioms of show business are “leave on a high note” and “always leave them wanting more.” Setzer and his compatriots did just that as they brought down the house with the closing number “Jingle Bells.” The energetic and fun version of the holiday tune had virtually every member of the audience grinning with delight.
As quickly as it began, it was over…and as the crowd made its way out of the venue, many were heard singing the very same Christmas tunes that Setzer had just performed.
Photo Credit: Christine Connallon