At 44, the erstwhile Stray Cats leader Brian Setzer is no longer a new kit on the block. His elaborate pompadour is still upstanding, though, and coiffure vanity being de rigueur for the ageing rockabilly, he's also still blond. Finland might seem an odd place for Setzer to play two isolated gigs, but back in 1981, this was where he first received a gold disc for The Stray Cats' eponymous debut.
The Tavastia has blackjack tables set up for play in the bar area. Entertainingly, many of the young capacity crowd have dressed as though auditioning for bit-parts in a Gene Vincent biopic. For them, Setzer is the living embodiment of all that is/was vital about 1950s rock'n'roll. And, as early set highlight "This Cat's On A Hot Roof" makes clear, Brian and his band are anything but museum pieces.
In the States, this excellent song was the kind of swinging conceit that brought success for Setzer's Grammy-grabbing big-band vehicle, The Brian Setzer Orchestra. Tonight, though, it's just him, drummer Bernie Dresel, and double bass player, Johnny Hatton. Hatton is a practicing Baptist minister who slaps his bass meatily, then spins it about on its axis. Dresel is an extraordinarily locomotive drummer who likes to swing from side to side as he plays. It's a bit like watching Gene Krupa on the slalom.
"Ignition" and "Built for Speed" are clever and catchy distillations of the kind of cars'n'girls song pioneered by Chuck Berry. We also get "Stray Cat Strut" and Eddie Cochran's "Twenty Flight Rock", Setzer romancing the crowd with an old Gretch guitar that he cradles with the kind of affection an Antiques Roadshow bod might reserve for a Ming vase. Although our host is a true virtuoso, his feisty, effervescent guitar-playing avoids tiresome histrionics, trading instead in bebop, swing, country and more.
Before "Let's Live It Up", however, a joke whose success depends on a fair amount of knowledge of Chet Atkins and the strange peculiarities of the key of B flat falls on (mostly) deaf ears.
Setzer also plays strong material from his forthcoming album, Nitro Burnin' Funny Daddy. Despite the light-hearted title, parts of the record address the singer's separation from his second wife, and the comparatively recent loss of friends such as Joey Ramone and The Clash's Joe Strummer. Tonight, there's no sign of "Don't Trust A Woman In A Black Cadillac" (yes, that's the one addressing the separation), but country gem "When The Bells Don't Chime" rollicks along with gusto.
Fittingly, the last nod of the evening goes to the aforementioned Strummer, the band encoring with "I Fought The Law", the old Sonny Curtis song so famously resurrected for a punk audience by The Clash. It's a thrilling denouement to the show, and a great way for Setzer to reconnect with a much-missed pal.Reuse content