On July 24, 2011, my girlfriend and I joined the queues outside London’s famous Brixton Academy to see Brian Setzer’s Rockabilly Riot. At 7 pm the doors opened and we quickly grabbed a spot in front of the sound desk and looked forward to the evening ahead.
The first band out was the new rockabilly group The Caezars. A four-piece group boasting a talented guitarist in Danny “O”, the band struggled against a poor sound set-up, meaning that I could not make out a single word sung in any of the songs. This was a frustration shared by the second support act, the highly rated Jim Jones Revue. The Revue’s lead singer, Jim Jones, decided to take this out on the audience however. Getting frustrated with a lack of audience participation (in no small part due to the fact that we couldn’t make out any of the lyrics), he ended up criticising us for wanting to see Brian Setzer more than we wanted to see him! Overall, neither support act impressed me greatly and I think they both missed fundamental tricks on the rockabilly scene, such as having a sprinkling of standards in the set list.
Following half an hour’s set-up time, Johnny Hatton and Noah Levy strode onto the stage to huge applause. Seconds later, the opening riff to “Ignition” rang out and the crowd took the roof off of the joint as the king of rockabilly, Brian Setzer, took control. In the first set Setzer played a mix of rockabilly standards, such as “Put Your Cat-Clothes On”, and tracks from his solo career – “8-Track” and “This Cat’s On A Hot Tin Roof”. The musicianship throughout the set was storming, and the whole band shone on tracks from Setzer’s new album, Setzer Goes Instru-MENTAL.
At the beginning of the second set, Setzer announced that the guitar he was playing was first used for Stray Cats in the 1980s. To go with it, he had brought a ‘spare Stray Cat’ – Slim Jim Phantom! With a new bass player, Chris D’Rozario, onstage, the band kicked through a selection of Stray Cats classics such as “Rumble In Brighton”, “Runaway Boys” and “Stray Cat Strut”. The crowd was clearly buoyed by this selection and the presence of two members of the 1980s rockabilly giants. Special note has to go to D’Rozario ,who I thought was awesome on the bass. No disrespect to Hatton, but I felt that D’Rozario had a rockabilly style right up there with Mark Winchester and Lee Rocker. The only low-point of the set for my girlfriend and I was the fact that we had to sneak out of the gig during “Red Hot” for fear of missing the last tube back to our hotel.
Overall Setzer and both of his bands put on a hi-octane storming set. The sound was spot-on for Setzer’s set, making it a vast improvement on the sound at the Stray Cats gig in Zurich in ’08. The quality of Setzer’s playing was awe-inspiring, as was that of his bands. The set was a good mix of rockabilly standards, Stray Cats classics and highlights of his solo career and orchestra. It was nice to see Slim-Jim again, and I can’t wait for the next time the rockabilly riot hits town.