BRIAN SETZER’S ROCKABILLY RIOT
Fremantle Arts Centre
24 March 2012
By Shane Pinnegar
Photos by Suz Crosbie, Crosbie Photography
It was all about brylcream and sideburns and 50’s rocker chic in Freo tonight, as former Stray Cat – the man who in the early 80’s, alongside drummer Slim Jim Phantom and bass player Lee Rocker practically resurrected the near-dormant rockabilly genre and smashed it into the charts with hits like ‘Rock This Town’, ‘Runaway Boys’, ‘Sexy and Seventeen’, and ‘Stray Cat Strut’.
Setzer hasn’t rested on his laurels in the past thirty years, releasing a clutch of solo albums as well as 8 big band & swing studio albums with his Brian Setzer Orchestra.
Scheduled support act Lanie Lane was forced to withdraw due to illness, and locals DAY OF THE DEAD ably stepped in at short notice to delight the crowd with their surfabilly instrumental prowess. Their last gig with bassist Brendan Giambazzi, they played an exciting set full of passion and verve, culminating in a blistering take on Dick Dale’s Miserlou.
This was my first visit to the Fremantle Arts Centre, and it’s serene grounds, limestone heritage listed buildings and classy lighting were very impressive, though possibly adding to the subdued nature of much of the crowd, many of whom lay on the grass tapping toes rather than joining in the dancing down the front.
Setzer swaggered onstage with upright bassist Dave Miller (of Royal Crown Revue) and drummer and started the show off as a trio with Ignition and ’49 Mercury Blues, looking dapper in a lined coat and quiff, clutching tight to his twangtastic Gretsch.
Drive Like Lightning, Crash Like Thunder is an early highlight – starting as a chugging surf rocker not a million miles removed from Miserlou, and ending up a turbo charged drag racer of a rockabilly number.
“I couldn’t have hit that ten years ago”, says Setzer after performing an impressive baritone on Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues, and in fact it’s his trademark vocals in a higher register that seem a little harder to reach tonight, especially on a couple of the Stray Cats numbers which follow. No matter though, the sense of fun that permeates the performance and the rock solid backup of his band always see’s him right.
There’s a strong lean towards country honks during the mid part of the set, and it’s perhaps surprising how symbiotic they meld with the rockabilly stylings Setzer is is so obviously aligned with, until you consider the origins of the music – and rock n’ roll itself – was country and blues.
Put Your Cat Clothes On – the old Carl Perkins number – featured “piano, like you don’t hear any more” courtesy of pianist/guitarist Kevin McKendree, and there’s just enough time for a slow Blue Moon Of Kentucky, from his 2010, Grammy nominated album “Songs From Lonely Avenue”, before it’s time to move things around on stage.
The trio departs, and Setzer welcomes out Melbourne bassist Chris D’Rozario, but the big cheers are reserved for his old Stray Cats compadre, fresh from his Head Cat collaboration with Lemmy – Slim Jim Phantom, resplendent in a purple suit. After all “purple is the new black”, says Setzer in his intro.
No-one makes such a minimalist drum kit sound so full, and Phantom dances and bounces around, clearly relishing being on stage with his old sparring partner, fooling around and running through a clutch of Stray Cats hits, including Runaway Boys, Sexy & Seventeen, a mighty Stray Cut Strut which slinked along provocatively and a cover of “one of my favourite songs” Cry Baby, on which Phantom shares vocal duties.
It’s a special day – Slim Jim’s birthday, and the crowd sing a hearty, extended Happy Birthday for the man, who’s clearly flattered and lapping it up. To accentuate the good rapport these old friends have, Setzer jokes, “I have heard many things said about Slim Jim – but never that he was a ‘jolly good fellow’!!”
“Fishnet Stockings” includes a short history lesson on how Setzer thinks rockabilly evolved – some guy was playing a simple riff, then a train went by, and the riff started chugging along to the rhythm, add in a bassline and some sleazy lyrics and you have all you need!
What followed was a duel between the two double bassists, before Setzer joined in on a third one, before returning to his preferred instrument to close out the main set.
Returning for a finale with backing from the whole ensemble – 2 bass players, 2 drummers, and piano, Setzer and Co prove that these old hands sure know how to rock n’ roll, and perform in their various configurations like a tightly wound, well oiled, fighting machine, thrilling the 1200 strong sellout crowd every step of the way.
The best thing about the show was that whether it be three or six of them onstage, there was always something going on – Phantom is hyperactive behind his kit, Setzer an extraordinarily charismatic frontman, the bass players both twirl and climb their instruments, and even play each others and swap them mid riff at times – it’s mighty energetic and enormous fun to watch.
Wrapping up with the infectious Stray Cats’ Rock This Town and Seven Nights To Rock ensured everyone filed out on a high after a classy and exciting gig.
49 Mercury Blues
Cat On A Hot Tin Roof
Drive Like Lightning
Folsom Prison Blues
Put Your Cat Clothes On
Blue Moon Of Kentucky
Rumble In Brighton Tonight
Sexy & Seventeen
Stray Cat Strut
Rock This Town
Seven Nights To Rock