The Brian Setzer Orchestra
with Eight and a Half Souvenirs
The Palladium, Worcester, MA • November 21, 1998
It’s not that I’m not a fan of modern technology and everything that the last few decades has given us (because, really, who can live without the Clapper?), but after seeing a big band setup like the Brian Setzer Orchestra, I’m a little upset that I was born fifty years later. Sure, the bands of today are fun, and the little clubs with some guy thrashing on a guitar is a good time, yet very little can compare to the power that a big band can bring in. The whole professional setup and the impressive tightness of the musicians truly make the whole episode a sight to behold. And even with the “neo-swing syndrome” of a packed house to the point of no room to dance, a show like this really couldn’t be passed up.
First to the stage to warm the crowd up was Austin, Texas’s Eight and a Half Souvenirs. With a guitarist that looked like a young French version (cap, vest, and all) of Mr. Setzer and a female lead vocalist who mesmerized the crowd with her beautiful voice and tight shirt, these kids were really very impressive. Playing a brand of music all their own, mixing the swing feel with blues and a French tint, switching up languages from French to Spanish to English, and even integrating a kazoo for one song, Eight and a Half Souvenirs impressed the crowd with each song they presented. What really makes this band is their piano, which stays very prominent throughout each number, giving them a very jazzy and powerful feel. Occasionally the pianist would switch over to the accordion, but the best parts of their act were when, in the forefront of the music, the piano was playing away as their lead vocalist sang in her harmonious deep voice.
By the time the lights had gone off after the intermission, the house was truly a-rockin’. The orchestra, still behind the curtains that had been hanging the entire show thus far, broke out into the theme from Austin Powers. Suddenly, mid-way through, the curtains rose to reveal an array of over 15 men, all dressed in teal jackets sitting in a teal set-up just the way you’d picture a big band should be. Out ran the Stray Cat-turned-band leader, Brian Setzer, and the crowd burst. The band ended their intro, Setzer fiddled with his guitar for a moment, and the band busted out with “Hoodoo Voodoo Doll” off their second album, Guitar Slinger.
From there, the energy level would only increase as the band powerfully belted out song after song, Brian ran around playing his guitar while sliding on his knees, and the four trumpet players in the back row performed their synchronized sit-down-dances. Almost all the stunts were pulled out, as the orchestra performed covers like the all-too-popular version of Louie Prima’s “Jump Jive ‘N Wail,” Stray Cats favorites including “Stray Cat Strut,” and a whole slew of originals from their three studio efforts. The music was incredibly tight, and every song dripped with excitement. Then all too soon, Brian Setzer held up his guitar, thanked the crowd, and left the stage. Yet, the band members just sat there and waited. Hmm… encore?
Surprisingly enough, there was an encore! Playing Bobby Darin’s “As Long As I’m Singin,” they followed the tune up with an elongated version of the mambo to the tune of “Tequila,” that’s found on their latest album. Yet in this live rendition, the number was accompanied by the entire horn section, which got up from their designated spots and danced around the stage in a feat of absolute organized chaos. After a couple more tunes, the entire orchestra left the stage and, in a matter of moments, after the crowd had sufficiently filled the place with noise, they all returned wearing new outfits! This time, in their new yellow suits, Brian Setzer’s Orchestra performed two more tunes, ending with the Stray Cats tune “(She’s) Sexy & 17.”
You’ve really got to hand it to Brian. Starting from the premier rockabilly outfit, he now leads only one of 5 touring big band orchestras and, whereas most tours will just adopt the local band and give them some sheet music, he shells out the cash to bring the same guys to every venue every night. What he provides is an incredibly energetic and enjoyable hour and a half of music, and a little nostalgia of hearing Stray Cat stuff straight from Brian Setzer’s mouth way past the band’s final days. The ticket price is a little hefty, the paraphernalia’s price is just as ridiculous, and the “neo-swing syndrome” is bound to kick in; but it’s truly worthwhile when those curtains rise and you realize what you’ve been missing by living in the ’90s. And the big name it’s coming from makes it all the better.