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Brian Setzer Orchestra Christmas Concert Review – Nashville, TN – Ryman Auditorium 12-09-2009 (BLOG)

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    What do you get when one of rock and roll’s best guitarist, mix that with a little rock-a-billy and throw in some Christmas cheer for good measure?  You get the annual Brian Setzer Christmas Extravaganza.  On Wednesday, Dec. 9th 2009, Brian Setzer and company played to a completely sold out Ryman Auditorium and boy did the concert goers get their money’s worth.  The stage was decorated with Santas, Wooden Soldiers, Christmas Trees and wrapped gifts.  This is the 7th year that this show has toured during the Christmas season.  And judging from the reaction of the crowd he will be doing it for many years to come.  They loved it.

    Brian calls his band The Brian Setzer Orchestra for good reason. In addition to Brian’s guitar, up right bass player John Hatton and drummer Tony Pia, the band also features a 13 piece horn section including saxophones, trumpets and trombones, plus The Brian Setzer Vixens, Leslie Smith and Brian’s wife Julie Setzer… And you were wondering why it is billed as an “Extravaganza!”

    When the lights dimmed, Brian’s orchestra started the show with the “Theme From Batman,” from the 1960’s TV show.  Everyone in the band were wearing Batman masks.  From the left side of the stage out walked the man of the night, Brian Setzer with Greisch Guitar in tow.  He was dressed in a long red coat, wearing black leather pants, and looking very cool.  When he started playing along with his orchestra out came Santa, also in a Batman mask, throwing candy out to the crowd.  I could tell this was going to be a night to remember.  Without missing a beat, the band broke into “Dig That Crazy Santa Claus.”  I had always known that Brian was a great guitar player, but you really don’t know how good he is until you see him live.  He told the audience that it was great to be back in Nashville playing to a sold out Ryman Auditorium and that he had been nominated for yet another Grammy Award.  This is his 9th nomination and he had won several times.  The Christmas classic, “Sleigh Ride” was the next offering as it was nice to see how they played the old holiday songs the way they were written, but with that added Brian Setzer rock-a-billy sound.  “This Cat’s On A Hot Tin Roof,” a song from the 1998 album, “The Dirty Boogie” came next, followed by, “Boogie Woogie Santa Claus.

    The Stray Cats were a video staple back in the early days of MTV.  Their music is still a staple of Brian’s show.  “(She’s) Sexy & 17” and “Stray Cat Strut” were next.  It was really cool in the middle of “Stray Cat Strut” when they added the cartoon classic song, “You’re A Mean One Mr. Grinch“.  During this part the same guy that came out dressed as Santa during the first song had now put on a Grinch mask and was ran around the stage reeking havoc, which was extremely funny!

    Brian’s latest album, “Songs From Lonely Avenue” provided the next few songs during the show as he began an upbeat number that highlighted Brian’s guitar talent, as well as the horn section, “Trouble Train.”  Brian asked several of the trombone players to come up front to join him in the classic surf song, “Pipeline,” which sounded excellent.  The next song was the Brian Setzer version of “The Flight Of The Bumble Bee,” although he called it “Honey Man” and he showed the crowd once again what an excellent guitar player he was.  He put us back in the Christmas mood next with “Angels We Have Heard On High.”  Once again I have to mention how cool it was to hear those Christmas songs with the Brian Setzer touch added.  We revisited the latest album again as a lighted lamp post was rolled out on stage and Brian sang the title cut “Lonely Avenue.”

    For the next part of the show, the back curtain closed, leaving only Brian’s small Fender amp on stage.  A small drum kit was rolled out as Brian was joined by drummer Tony Pia and bass player John Hatton.  This part of the show really rocked. I have to add that John is a show all by himself not to mention a great back beat for the band.  He played that huge bass like a mad man doing everything from raising it up in the air to lying it on it’s side and lying on top of it while never missing a note.  The Chuck Berry Christmas tune “Run Rudolph Run” was the trio’s first offering.  They were then joined by The Vixens, Leslie Smith and Julie Setzer, for the next two songs, “Jingle Bell Rock” along with the Elvis classic, “Blue Christmas.”  The background vocals certainly added to the latter song.  The Vixens left the stage for the number “Fishnet Stockings.”  At the end of this song, the rear curtain reopened as the whole orchestra began playing one of The Stray Cats biggest hits, “Rock This Town.”  This was the last song of the regular set, but the crowd wasn’t going to let the show end there. Brian returned to the stage and announced that they were going to attempt to do “The Nutcracker Suite.”  Not only did they attempt it, they succeeded and it sounded awesome. “Jump Jive An’ Wail” and “Jingle Bells” were the last two songs of the night. During “Jingle Bells” it started “snowing” inside The Ryman!  After the last song Brian saw his young daughter in the crowd and pulled her up on stage and held her in his arms as the entire orchestra joined him center stage and took the final bows of the night.

    Brian’s management offered a meet and greet package.  I have to say that this was the best meet and greet I had ever experienced.  With most of these, you walk in a room, meet the band, and maybe get a picture and autograph.  This one was that and so much more.  It started up stairs in the balcony area of The Ryman.  We were introduced to the sound and lighting guys who took the time to explain what their jobs were and how they did them.  From there we were taken to the back stage area to meet Jerry Levin, the tour manager, who told us about his job and what he has to do from the planning stages of the tour to getting everyone to the shows and on up to the final stages of the actual shows, as well as making sure everyone involved in the production gets paid.  From there we went out to the hall of the backstage area where we got to meet many of the band members and ask questions.  After that we got to meet Brian and get things signed and have pictures made.  As we were leaving the meet and greet we were presented with goodie bags that included a tour program, a voucher for a tee shirt from the merchandise table, a DVD, and a card with a code where you can go online and download 8 of Brian’s CDs.  I thought that was a very generous offering and it showed how much Brian really cares about his fans!

    I had never seen Brian Setzer before, so I really wasn’t sure what to expect, but after seeing this show, I have to say that I would go see him again.  The one complaint I have about the show is that during the whole set the audience remained seated.  I thought for sure they would at least stand up during “Rock This Town,” but they didn’t. Brian is a rocker and it was hard for me to remain seated throughout the entire set.  I really thought that they had a good choice of songs that not only included Christmas classics, but also some of Brian’s biggest hits.  I left this show with great respect for him and his talent as a guitar player.  On the Concert Blast Scale, I give this show a solid 10! If you are a fan of Brian Setzer and have never seen him live, go see him!  You don’t know what you are missing.  If you have seen him before – Well, you already know what a great show the Brian Setzer Orchestra provides.

    Written by James Downing

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