The show begins not at the chime of the clock but on the way to the venue. The young (and not so young) ladies in their wiggle skirts, cropped cardies and animal print tights, and gentlemen in their rocker jeans and tees showing retro prints, stroll by Pellegrini’s making diners believe they’ve been captured in some kind of time warp.
Sharon Brookes covered the show for Noise11.com
Quiffs stand in force against the breeze and somehow make it up the hill to The Palace Theatre intact. Passers-by delight in the walking art installation, but for some, the show doesn’t end with the passing parade.
Hark back to 1979 when a young Brian Setzer and his crew of two: Slim Jim Phantom and Lee Rocker form the band “Stray Cats”. London is in the grip of Punk fever, and these three hopefuls have sold all their tools of the trade for three one-way tickets from the U.S to Old Blighty. They were indeed a bunch of strays until their ingenious and raw talent caught the eye of Dave Edmunds, and the rest, they say, is history. Now propel yourself forward thirty-three years and a continent or two. Brian Setzer has been pursuing his solo career since 1984, (yep…the Stray Cats lasted less than 5 years) and has more material from his solo projects than he does from his time with the ‘Cats’. In a tour that includes eight Australian dates, (two in Melbourne), Setzer has to somehow fit three decades of music into one-and-a-half hours. It seems an impossible task, but one that has been taken on board lovingly and with a great deal of nostalgia. The solution to this ‘problem’ was to split the set in half.
The resulting effect of this split set can be compared to Melbourne’s weather…That is, if you don’t like something, wait 5 minutes and something different will come along. Melbourne’ites’ may complain about the unpredictable climes, but they have an undying affection for their hometown’s foibles. So too do the punters have great affection for Setzer and his crew. If they were unwilling to appreciate Setzer’s ‘new’ music, the crowd didn’t show it. His post Stray Cat material includes a growing body of instrumental work, including the eclectic “Blue Moon in Kentucky” with its mix of jazz, swing, country and rockabilly genres. The bands version of Johnny Cash’s “Fulsom Prison Blues” gave the event an even more authentic 50’s feel and got the crowd singing. Setzer, Noah Levy (drums), Kevin McKendree (piano) and Johnny Hatton (bass) are penultimate professional showmen and got the punters comfortable enough to dance their bobby socks off and chant lyrics at appropriate moments. Setzer seemed truly happy to be in Melbourne and connected with fans by repeatedly welcoming ‘Melbourne’ to the show.
Just when we thought it was safe to unpin our cherry hairclips, the second part of the high-octane set began. Slim Jim Phantom appeared to cheers and whistles to drum his way into the hearts of any of those few who were yet unconverted. No wonder he is ‘slim’. This drumming guru plays fast and hard, never missing a beat as he and his compatriots belted out hit after hit. “Rumble in Brighton”, Runaway Boys”, “Stray Cat Strut”, “Sexy & 17” and “Fishnet Stockings” saw the swing skirts a twirling and some dirty dancing getting, well, down and dirty. Chris D’Rozario, a Melbourne boy came on with Johnny and Brian for a dose of duelling basses. The boys showed they could still pull off the circus tricks when Brian stood on Slim’s bass drum and the bassists did a spot of bass pole dancing, defying gravity and demonstrating that they could play bass from almost any angle and still keep perfect tune and time.
All too soon it was over, and after one encore song the punters filed out into the Melbourne night, heads still resounding with favourite songs. Quiffs now at half mast and mascara smudged, the rocker crew filed back past Pellegrini’s, viewed by a different audience consisting of tired late night coffee drinkers who provided a stark contrast to those who were still jiving to songs they had experienced live just a short time before. The happiness and energy engendered by Brian Setzer’s Rockabilly Riot a testament to rock and roll and the fact that it will never die.
Review by Sharon Brookes