His annual Christmas bash gained extra sparkle by relocating to the Oscars’ home.
|Brian Setzer in action at the Dolby Theatre on Dec. 21, 2013.|
With Gibson Amphitheatre having closed earlier this year to make way for Universal Studios’ Wizarding World of Harry Potter attraction, the Brian Setzer Orchestra relocated its 10th annual Christmas Rocks concert from that former home to the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.
Fortunately, this was no case of the Grinch stealing Christmas from the musical faithful. The change of venue did little to dampen spirits or the celebrative vibe of the capacity crowd Saturday night (Dec. 21, 2013), who cheered and moved to the ensemble’s retro grooves for 110 fast-moving minutes presented on a stage decorated with shimmering Christmas trees, a larger-than-life nutcracker, a smiling snowman and a happy Santa.
Setzer was backed by his 15-member big band and two female singers, whose collective strengths enlivened a mix of big band, swing and rockabilly sounds. Warming up with an elaborate, upbeat arrangement of the theme from '60s TV show The Munsters, the guitarist and his crew then got everyone into the holiday spirit with "Dig That Crazy Santa Claus." Both selections provided the 54-year-old plenty of chances to unleash his crisp and impressive leads.
While the overall feel was that of a holiday party, with many in the audience adding to the fun by donning Santa caps, make no mistake that Setzer and his players still served up energetic and elaborate versions of oft-heard seasonal songs. "Sleigh Ride" retained a nostalgic feel yet soared via Setzer's speedy fretwork. "Boogie Woogie Santa Claus" was offered in a marathon run that featured the horn players on a number of impressive solos.
More challenging was their rendition of "The Nutcracker Suite," devised by the late Frank Comstock. That piece found the orchestra blending key sections of Tchaikovsky's ballet score with all the roaring dynamics in its swing arsenal.
As at past performances, there were times when the majority of players exited the stage, leaving Setzer to lead his drummer and stand-up bassist through rockabilly selections. Among the highlights from that segment were Eddie Cochran's rollicking "Nervous Breakdown," a joyful "Jingle Bell Rock" and the Stray Cats tune "Fishnet Stockings." That last one found Setzer down on his knees to unleash some of his most rousing licks of the night, fully delivering on his "blues on three cups of coffee" spoken introduction.
The night didn't end until BSO dipped back one more time into the Stray Cats’ catalog for a reworked "Rock This Town" that seemed to signal the end of the night. But extended applause brought smiles to everyone on stage, with few in the audience leaving the theater. As the group launched into "Jingle Bells," Santa emerged and fake snow began to fall on the crowd, to the obvious delight of fans – a Hollywood ending for sure.
Those who got to Dolby early caught a fantastic set by the Aussie rockabilly trio Firebird. While they only performed for 23 minutes, singer/guitarist Pete Belair, singer/bassist Chris Nomad and drummer Damian Singh impressed with strong original material and mighty chops.
Also performing was Drake Bell, the Santa Ana-born actor-turned-musician who rose to fame on Nickelodeon. Though he hasn’t issued a full-length effort since 2006, he has a new holiday single out, “Christmas Promise,” and Saturday night displayed strong singing as he led his band through a number of reworked covers, the best being a cool handling of the Kinks' "Sunny Afternoon."
Photo: Armando Brown, for the Register