Black Music Matters Festival

Brian Setzer Orchestra strut their Xmas stuff

Universal Amphitheatre, Universal City, Cal., Dec. 18, 2004

By Dan MacIntosh

UNIVERSAL CITY, CA - If the two oversized toy soldier figurines blatantly flanking the stage, or the Santa hats on heads of a his large, mostly-brass orchestra didn't instantly clue you in, then Brian Setzer's decision to change "Stray Cat Strut" into a medley that also incorporated bits of "You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch" would have certainly let you know that this was by no means an ordinary big band musical experience.

Instead, it was the Brian Setzer Orchestra's third annual "Christmas Extravaganza," and it offered up plenty of jazzy and rockabilly takes on the whole holiday experience.

Sure there were plenty of familiar tunes to enjoy, such as "Winter Wonderland, "Blue Christmas" and "Sleigh Ride." But inclusions like the opener, "Dig That Crazy Santa Claus,"as well as "Boogie Woogie Santa Claus" additionally introduced a few rarely tasted seasonal flavors.

At one point during "(Everybody's Waitin' For) The Man With the Bag," Santa himself darted around the stage to avoid Setzer's gaze before going to the front of the stage and throwing out candy to the crowd.

While Christmas was the overriding theme of the night, Setzer also included a few swinging non-holiday selections as well, such as "Dirty Boogie," "This Cat's On A Hot Tin Roof" and "Jump, Jive 'n Wail."

Toward the end of the evening, he reduced his band to just a bass, a drummer and himself (guitar, vocals), to recreate a little Stray Cat-like energy. As this trio, he played "Run, Rudolph, Run," then closed with "Rock This Town," before bringing back the rest of the band midway through the song.

This show underlined the point that there are countless ways to express season's greetings, and Setzer and friends sure know how to get into the swing of that Christmas thing. Royal Crown Review opened this show, and its vocalist Eddie Nichols accurately brought Frank Sinatra to mind with his enthusiastic rendering of "Come Fly With Me."