When looking at the popular music of a specific time, it is easy to see how many stay within those confines. Granted there a few who do not stick with the heard, by and large most bands try to simply outdo one another with the modern sound.
In the early ’80s, a young up-and-coming guitarist from Long Island, New York was making waves in a small band called the Tomcats, teamed up with Double Bassist Lee Rocker and Drummer Slim Jim Phantom to create one of the decade’s most influential bands, the Stray Cats. While the New Wave invasion was kicking into full gear and the resurrection of Metal music was creeping onto the music scene, Brian Setzer and company were bringing Rock music back to some of its most underappreciated Rockabilly/’50s sound.
One would think that in the midst of the dawning of excess there was no way a return to the ’50s greaser look and classic guitar approach could win over fans. Stray Cats proved quite the opposite while tracks such as “Rock This Town” and “Stray Cat Strut” became staples of an era. Sadly, in 1984, the Stray Cats disbanded, but Brian Setzer worked feverishly on multiple solo projects before returning in the ’90s with Brian Setzer Orchestra.
Yet again, Setzer was showing how with the right approach, returning to the sounds of Swing could be groundbreaking, even in the age of Grunge and Alternative music. Solidifying that Setzer can reach audiences with his classic approach no matter the era, he truly is a timeless talent. Now, as the time is approaching for the first Stray Cats’ shows in over a decade to hit, the three-time Grammy Award-winner kicked off his Rockabilly Riot Tour on June 1st out to his vast discography.
An early summer tour that runs through most of June, on Sunday the 10th, it arrived in Littleton, Colorado to host an evening a part of the amazing Hudson Gardens concert series. Artists such as Night Ranger, Joan Jett, Chris Isaak, etc. have graced the 33-acre lush paradise of assorted gardens. This year, the one and only Brian Setzer was on the bill with his Rockabilly Riot Tour and a surprise opener, Miss Mary Ann & the Ragtime Wranglers. Fresh from Rotterdam, Netherlands, the band like-minded with the Setzer sound were a return to the sounds of true Rockabilly. Though Mary Ann & the Ragtime Wranglers may be a fresh name for some, they have been carving out their niche for over 15 years. As the day’s heat began to drop and the sun began to settle, it was time to get the show started.
As Mary Ann & the Ragtime Wranglers got the show started, the crowd were fully entranced by the band’s fast, yet crisp, sound. Huey Moor on the upright bass was on point delivering a clinic on Rockabilly bass technique and delivered a punctuating beat in perfect coupling with the drumming of Sieste Heslinga, smoothed over by JoeSixPack on guitars. The proverbial cherry on top for the set was Mary Ann’s voice on their cover of Billie Holiday’s “Night and Day.” By the close of their set, the band had the venue on their feet to give a standing ovation. This is truly one of those rare gems you find in an opening act, as seeing them is not just a show but an experience.
Taking the sun down, Setzer erupted on the stage with a cover of Carl Perkins’ classic “Put Your Cat Clothes On.” It seemed just with a strum he had the crowd worked up and ready for one hell of a set. After a warm welcome, Setzer told the crowd he needed a moment to warm up, his solo was absolutely mesmerizing. To everyone in attendance, it was clear as to why he has been regarded as one of the greatest guitarists, of our lifetime. Setzer did not take long to jump into one of his most heralded singles from the Stray Cats “Stray Cat Strut.” The audience was in full swing singing along and dancing, much to the delight of Setzer and company.
Not without some surprises in store, the Riot Tour truly celebrated all of Setzer’s milestones, including the Brian Setzer Orchestra with their own version of “’49 Mercury Blues” and “Jump Jive an’ Wail.” That in mind, the surprises did not end there as he closed out with his rendition of the classic Santo & Johnny haunting single “Sleep Walk” and a shattering ending with “Rock This Town.”
Brian Setzer has always seemed to set the bar with great ease. Truth of the matter is, he is one of music’s hardest working artists. He has worked with the best, set the bar with his legendary guitar mastery, and changed any conceptions of what the rules for making music truly are while defying the ages, countless fads, and over-sized egos. With the Rockabilly Riot 2018 in full swing, get out there and get your tickets before it is too late. Then, get ready for the most anticipated returns of the year, The Stray Cats Reunion.