If there’s one name that comes to mind when the I think of modern rock and roll it’s Brian Setzer. After all, he single-handedly revived big-band music and evolved it into a guitar fronted genre when he founded The Brian Setzer Orchestra. After a few albums, Mr. Setzer decided that Christmas music could use a similar punching up. Starting with Boogie Woogie Christmas and now with Rockin’ Rudolph, The Brian Setzer Orchestra have become synonymous with Christmas music. And since it’s the end of the year and it’s the holiday season, that means it’s time for The Orchestra’s annual Christmas extravaganza.
A Dynamic Duo
Beat Root Revival from Austin, TX by way of Belfast and Kent took the stage first, serenading the audience with a soothing, stripped down set of folk. The vocal harmonies and two instrument nature of the songs translated well to a live setting, especially in a gorgeous and acoustically amazing venue such as The Paramount. Ben Jones spent the entirety of the set stomping his feet and throwing himself around to the music, holding his guitar like a seasoned veteran. Andrea Magee’s voice filled the room with warmth as she kept the music’s rhythm on her hand drum.
There’s an inherent risk when pairing a minimalist act with an act who is known for having a huge live show. That gamble paid off as Beat Root Revival had the audience enthralled, playing a perfect balance of original material and covers of Chuck Berry, Fleetwood Mac and The Beatles. The last of which gained a rousing applause as the mere mention of the boys from Liverpool. This isn’t to say that the covers were necessary, but they provided a familiar anchor for the crowd.
A Living Legend and his Big Band
The lights lowered and the curtain raised to reveal a festive world from a greaser’s fever dream. Four decorated trees loomed over the eighteen piece band, all of who were wearing Santa hats, minus Johnny Hatton who placed his atop his upright bass. The band was tearing through the intro to “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” as the man himself greeted the audience with a smile and wave as he walked up to the microphone. He wasted no time establishing his status as one of the greatest living guitar players, his fingers danced up and down the fretboard of his black Gretsch guitar.
The great thing about Brian Setzer is that he is a consummate showman, concerned equally with quality and his audience being entertained at all times. As great as it would’ve been to hear an entire set of his innovative take on Christmas staples, it would be a tragedy to not hear a few Stray Cats and non-Christmas Brian Setzer Orchestra songs. The first festive break came early as the band went straight into “Hoodoo Voodoo Doll” and “Stray Cat Strut”, garnering a loud cheer from the audience.
One of the highlights of the evening came when the band tore through a cover of “Let There Be Rock” by AC/DC, adding a whole new dynamic energy to the classic song. This was followed by a display of Brian Setzer’s versatility as a performer, playing “The Christmas Song” with only himself and his guitar. This one-two punch is a perfect example of how captivating he is live, holding the audience’s attention no matter the tempo of the song.
In a world that’s fixated on finding the newest trends, Brian Setzer stands as a beacon of steadfast quality. Never compromising his desire to write amazing songs and put on one hell of a show.