Thursday, December 10, 2015

Brian Setzer Orchestra Live Review

Brian Setzer and his orchestra made a stop in Charlotte a couple of nights ago and I finally had a chance to see him do his big band show after a number of years.

I've been to my fair share of concerts.  I mostly go see acts that I dig, with the occasional show of an artist I'm not familiar with.  Some shows are OK, some are good, (some opening acts are horribly bad) and some shows are great.  

Then there's the show where I leave with a crater between my shoulders because the show absolutely blew me away.

The Setzer concert falls unequivocally into the last category.  

What. A. Concert.

I knew it was going to be good from watching various YouTube clips, but seeing the show live was unbelievable.  I walked out of the auditorium with my jaw dragging on the floor.  In fact as I write this now with a few days having passed since the performance, I'm still amazed at what a fantastic show it was.

Tim Lowman AKA The Low Volts (Pictures HERE) opened the show with a unique brand of Rockabilly/blues.  He's a one man band that manages to keep it interesting by playing kick drum, tambourine, guitar and singing.  True to his website - he did manage to sound pretty large when he had all of the instruments going.  He played a short, entertaining set and even threw in a few Christmas tunes - "Blue Christmas" and "Drummer Boy".  It was a good complement to the main show.  

The Show

As I said before, the Christmas Rocks! show was nothing short of amazing.  Setzer is in great form, his voice is still fantastic after all these years and he's got a ton of energy on stage.  Funnily enough the woman next to me looked at me after he jumped off of the kick drum and said with amazement "Gosh, I know I was young when I bought the Stray Cats albums in the 80s - but he must be close to 60 and doing that!"

Setzer ripped through a mixture of Christmas, Stray Cats, Brian Setzer Orchestra, and some cover tunes throughout the night.

The band went through a couple of configurations as the show progressed.  I would say a little after midway through, the orchestra left and "The Vixens" came down to the front of the stage along with the upright bass player, Johnny Hatton.

Shortly after, they became a 4 piece with only Setzer on guitar, Noah Levy on Drums, Hatton on Bass, and Kevin McKendree on the ivories.  The thing about this lineup was that they sounded almost as huge whittled down to the 4 of them as they did with the whole band. You really got a feeling for how tight they were when the horns were gone.  The highlight of this section of the show was a cover of Jerry Lee Lewis' "Great Balls Of Fire".

One other thought about the show - One of the most amazing things that I kept thinking about after the show was how "Rock This Town" - took on a life of it's own with the big band sound behind it.  I mean, it's an amazing song in its own right, but when I heard it that night, I literally said WOW out loud sitting in my seat.  Just WOW.

The Band

The band was cookin' right from the get go.  Man! What a band Setzer has.  The horns sounded fabulous, the arrangements where fantastic and the whole band was tight as hell - as tight as I've ever heard.  They were in-sync with each other the whole night - it was lovely to hear and I appreciated that aspect of the band very much.

For me the key behind the whole thing (Besides Setzer) was Noah Levy on the skins.  He is an absolute animal on the drums and drove the whole show.  It takes a lot to drive a big band like that and he did it extremely successfully and in style.  You can't be a mediocre drummer and carry a band like that on your shoulders.  He really was the heart and soul of the rhythm section and gave the sound so much swing and swagger - I was thoroughly impressed with his playing and really enjoyed watching him swing the sticks.

Another notable performance came from Kevin McKendree on the piano.  Setzer said that this was the first year he brought a piano on the Christmas tour....all I can say is: Mr. Setzer...Thank You.  McKendree hammered the ivories and absolutely killed it with his solos.  He blazed on "Great Balls Of Fire".  

And then there's Mr. Setzer - an absolute technician on the guitar.  I've seen many of the greats - Clapton, Townshend, Eddie, Nuno, Petrucci, Lifeson, Dover, Farner, Walsh and many more.  But seeing Setzer up there was just killer.  

Writing this post, I Googled "100 best guitarists" and the first link that pops up is the Rolling Stone list.  There are some bada$$ guitarists on there - but Setzer is nowhere to be found on that list.  My point - he should be.  I was blown away by his chops.  He was lightning fast AND clean.  Every note was perfect.  He made those Gretsch guitars sing like nobody's business.  This cat can PLAY - and it would have been an honor to watch him for another 2 hours.

The other thing about the band is that they were pumping out so much energy WITHOUT too much help from the crowd.  Shows are a give and take between audience and performer.  In this case, I have to say that the Charlotte crowd was pretty lame.  It was simply amazing to me (And a testament to the band) that the band was able to keep the intensity up the whole night with the crowd sitting on their bums the whole time.  

In a lot of other performances I've seen on video the crowd is usually dancing, standing up, and really into the show.  But this crowd was lacking.  Every once in a while a few people would stand up and clap after a song, and on one or two songs maybe half (maybe) stood up during the entire song - but then quickly sat back down.  It was frustrating to watch, actually.

Again - kudos to Setzer and the band to keep up the energy and performance with such a lackluster crowd.  It's sad really, because I was moving in my seat the whole time - the music was that good.

My row was probably getting upset with me shaking the chairs because I was moving and shaking the whole time.  I can't understand how anyone would not want to boogie with such an amazing show going on in front of them!  

In Summary

All in all it was an unbelievable show.  Like I said earlier - I walked back to my car with my jaw dragging on the ground - it was that good.  Setzer is serving up a platter that not many people can touch.  This is such a unique concert - you have to experience it to understand what I'm talking about.

If this show comes anywhere near you - don't even think about it - just go.  In fact, even if you needed to drive a few hours and get a hotel, make a little trip out of it - just do it.

If you've read my other posts, you know I like to talk about value when it comes to ticket prices.  This show backs the truck up on value.  Tickets for the Charlotte show were between about 50 and 60 bucks (Day of the show).  For what you get performance-wise - the big band experience, the musicianship, the tightness of the band - it's probably one of the best shows for the value you could ever go to.



The Auditorium had AMAZING light to take pictures.  I hope you enjoy the photos.

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