The Brian Setzer Orchestra's Christmas Extravaganza Live @ The House of Blues, Chicago, Illnois - Saturday 19th November 2005

On Saturday, November 19th 2005 Brian Setzer rolled into Chicago to bring his orchestra to the city and to the House Of Blues. The Brian Setzer Orchestra has in recent years turned into a bit of a Holiday Novelty. They released a Christmas album a few years ago, and the success of that and the tour that followed it was such a hit, and obviously was so much fun for the whole band, that they have now started doing it yearly. Last year though was a mini-tour in Japan, with a few shows scattered here and there. But this year brought a new Christmas CD, and now a new tour.

Opening the show was a band named The Slaptones, that upon researching a bit appears to have opened for Setzer during a recent tour of Sweden, and he loved them so much they have been opening for him now since the summer. Once they started, it was understandable what he saw and heard in them. But this band, they were not what you would expect.

We stood before the show started, waiting patiently. At one point two women walked out on stage, and started tuning the guitars (Gretsch…obviously) on the stage. I was figuring they were with the band, just due to how they tuned up. Then they left. About 15 minutes later, they took the stage again, this time in similar outfits (think Adam Ant style revolutionary jackets), along with another lady who took the stand-up bass. All three quite attractive, and then there was the drummer. He was probably in his 50's, beard, kind of the "odd man out" alongside the girls. But O.K., whatever, we aren't at a beauty contest, right? If we were though, sorry, he would lose. Then they started, and man, what a start.

The band kicked off a half hour set of some of the best Rockabilly/Blues/Country I have heard in years. If they chose to do a song, they did it in amazing fashion. Interchanging instruments with ease, between guitars and banjo's, and then even taking the slide to the banjo for an amazing version of "Tobacco Road". The voices of the three girls in harmony were great.

So who were they? Well, it seems that they are a father and his three daughters from Sweden. Obviously. Where else in the world would you expect three little white girls to learn how to play Rockabilly, The Blues, and Country? It only makes sense, right? Dad has raised his girls on some fine music I am guessing.

The Slaptones ended, and we had about a half hour wait time for the Orchestra. The whole thing was pretty much set up ahead of time, so we knew the show would start on time, but it is still a long wait.

Then it started. I tell ya, few things in the world are cooler than seeing that dang group kick into the first notes as the curtains roll on back. They chose to start with the new CD's opener "Dig That Crazy Santa Claus", which starts with the full orchestra and the Vixens singing "Jingle, Jangle". Out came Setzer then, wearing a killer red jacket and vest, and looking just as cool as we all know he is, with that smile plastered on his face.

Yeah, I was on cloud nine. Few things are as cool as seeing an "idol" in such close settings.

They mixed in standard BSO tunes with the Christmas tunes, such as the second tune "This Cat's On A Hot Tin Roof" and "Jump Jive And Wail", but for the most part it was Christmas. Though during the big band rendition of "Stray Cat Strut" ( a song which Brian introduced by saying it's an old song, but one he is very proud of) the band moved on into "Mr. Grinch", to which the band was tormented by one of the roadies, or somebody, dressed in a Santa jacket and wearing a Grinch mask. This same Grinch did the guitar break along with Setzer. We were also treated to a trombone version of "Pipeline" which was pretty dang fun.

Santa also came to pay a visit during "Zat You Santa Claus?" During the song he would run around throwing candy canes to the audience members. It was the addition of that segment, the Grinch bit, and the extra flash on the decorations that really helped separate this years show from the past Christmas show. It was a much more "fun" affair, with more thought put into it actually being a Christmas show.

For anybody familiar with a show by the Orchestra, you know that towards the end Brian give the band a bit of a rest, and breaks out the trio. This is simply Brian, drummer Bernie Dressle, and bassist Spaz Hatton tearng through pure Rockabilly. It's at this time that you are reminded just what it was the got Setzer onto the world stage to begin with. The band tore through 6 songs as the trio, though the last was "Rock This Town" which leads back into the big band coming back out and the song ending as a big band rendition. There is nothing in this world that hits an insane energy level quite like a Rockabilly band on fire. When they get going, and everything is hitting it's peak, the energy that flows through the club, and through the band, is amazing and almost scary. It's a rush unlike any other style of music. I am pretty sure that the whole trio section of the show is set-list free, and they decide what to do each night, which just adds to the intensity level, and the impressive nature of the musicians.

Once the big band was back out they went into their rendition of "The Nutcracker Suite" which nabbed them a Grammy award a couple years ago. When you see it done, it was an award well justified. Even though Setzer got a little lost while reading the music, and asked us not to laugh at him, you just had to laugh.

The show closed out on "Jingle Bells" with the audience handling part of the singing for Setzer. It was a perfect close to the show.

So if you enjoy Setzer, Big Band music, Christmas songs, having a good time, high end musicianship…or just a night out, the Setzer crew delivers an amazing evening. Just be sure to not miss The Slaptones at the beginning of the show, as they just make a perfect evening that much better.

by Carl I.

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