Setzer first made his mark fronting The Stray Cats, the 1980s rockabilly revival band that had hits on MTV and radio with "Rock This Town," "Stray Cat Strut" and "(She's) Sexy + 17." He later formed The Brian Setzer Orchestra, which had its own hit with a cover of "Jump Jive An' Wail." The orchestra was in Christmas mode at the casino, and had five saxophones, four trombones, four trumpets, a stand-up bass, drums, two vixens/background singers (Setzer's wife, Julie Reiten, and Leslie Spencer), plus Setzer on guitar and vocals.
The band had the crowd dancing in its seats with high-energy arrangements of songs like "Dig That Crazy Santa Claus," "Sleigh Bells" and "Boogie Woogie Santa Claus," which had one of many cool guitar solos by Gretsch god Setzer plus some smokin' solos from the brass. "Joy to the World" and "Little Town of Bethlehem" were treats with vintage big-band instrumental arrangements, and "Angels We Have Heard on High" ranged from choral to rockin'.
The Stray Cats songs were fun in their filled-in form, with the vixens singing the chorus of "(She's) Sexy + 17," and "Stray Cat Strut" medleying into "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" and featuring a grinch strutting around the stage. By the time they played "Rock This Town" during the encore, the band was looking sharp in leopard print jackets.
"Jump Jive An' Wail" was also swingin' and had great back and forth soloing between Setzer and one of the saxophonists.
There was also a rockabilly (which Setzer defined as "the blues with three cups of coffee") mini-set that kicked off with Eddie Cochran's "Nervous Breakdown." Next up was Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire," which had the crowd spring to its feet as if they were listening to the national anthem. The Stray Cats' "Fishnet Stockings" had Setzer quote the famous guitar solo from Bill Haley's "Rock Around The Clock," and "Brand New Cadillac" had him playing a '59 Cadillac tail-fin guitar.
During the encore, Setzer introduced a swinging arrangement of "The Nutcracker Suite" by joking, "It's Christmas time — you have to take your medicine." The show closed with "Jingle Bells," for which Santa himself finally made an appearance and threw candy canes into the crowd as fake snow fell from the ceiling.
It was truly a Merry Christmas for all, and for all a good night.
The Munsters Theme
Dig That Crazy Santa Claus
This Cat's on a Hot Tim Room
Boogie Woogie Santa Claus
(She's) Sexy + 17
Joy to the World
Stray Cat Strut / You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch
Angels We Have Heard on High
Jump Jive An' Wail
Little Town of Bethlehem
Ring of Fire
Jingle Bell Rock
Brand New Cadillac
Flintstones Holiday Song
Rock This Town
— Jeff Moehlis is a Noozhawk contributing writer and a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Santa Barbara. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his web site, music-illuminati.com. The opinions expressed are his own.