He may have gotten his start as the guitar-plucking, wailing frontman of rockabilly's Stray Cats, but Brian Setzer is no alley-lurker these days. And his pack has grown -- significantly. As an 18-piece playing mad, jazzy big-band swing, the Brian Setzer Orchestra rocks every note, be it original composition, cover or Christmas classic. Come Friday, Dec. 20, Setzer and Co. celebrate it all when they cram the suddenly small stage at a sold-out Belly Up to ring in the 10th year of their Christmas Rocks tour.
The tour couldn’t come at a better time, when, so close to the holiday, the same drab Christmas tunes have been obsessively played to the point of exhaustion. Fortunately, Setzer is no stranger to revival. As the singer/guitarist for the three-piece Stray Cats -- who in the '80s brought back the classic rockabilly notes made popular three decades earlier -- Setzer still knows how to turn around an old sound. The Christmas Rocks tour highlights the best of the orchestra’s three holiday albums, which include swanky renditions and instrumentally dramatic spins of such classics as "Jingle Bells" and "You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch," alongside imaginative originals like "Santa Drives a Hot Rod."
Though it’s a holiday spectacular, Setzer doesn’t shy away from incorporating his musical roots. The creeping snap of "Stray Cat Strut" and bass-slapping bounce of "Rock This Town" wouldn’t be out of place in the lineup, nor would tracks from the orchestra’s breakthrough album, The Dirty Boogie. The orchestra seamlessly runs through a maze of musical traditions, showcasing the wildly energetic and fantastically arranged instrumental gallups that have become a stage rarity. At the head of it all, Setzer promises to twist holiday spirits into something bright this Friday night.
Hannah Lott-Schwartz, a San Diego native, recently moved back to the area after working the magazine-publishing scene in Boston. Now she’s straight trolling SD for all the music she missed while away. Want to help? Hit her up with just about anything at all over on Twitter, where -- though not always work-appropriate -- she means well.