Los Angeles Music Preview: THE BRIAN SETZER ORCHESTRA – 25th ANNIVERSARY SHOW! (Hollywood Bowl)

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by Tony Frankel on July 23, 2017

in Music,Theater-Los Angeles


Wait a minute. Hold on. If the Brian Setzer Orchestra—which pumps joy into the blood of both rabid fans and newcomers thirsty for a good time—is celebrating its 25th anniversary at the Hollywood Bowl next week (August 2, 2017 at 8), then that means Setzer has been slamming happiness our way for almost 40 years. Back in the late 70’s and early 80’s, he and his band, Stray Cats, recreated and revised rockabilly for a new generation. I am still amazed at the sound which came from the simple guitar-bass-drums format (remember “Stray Cat Strut” and “Rock This Town”?).

But the erstwhile bad boy of rockabilly had a bigger dream: to lead a swinging big band. So he and his 17-piece band began strutting around 1992, touring at a time when the odds were against him. He wasn’t coming out of retirement, so there goes the blue-hairs desperate to reminisce, and he wan’t giving anything close to the music of the day (which was heavy duty grunge and rap). In addition, consider the expense of touring with 17 musicians. But the orchestra was so hot that audiences grew exponentially. By 1998, Setzer’s growling guitar and vocals led the screeching trumpets and sweet saxes through a set of both originals (which often contain whimsical lyrics) and standards.

The band references Louis Jordan, Louis Prima, Count Basie but the swing never sounds dated or copycat. Sometimes, they bring in some rock, blurring the lines between swing, rockabilly, and surf with ease. I’ve seen Setzer’s orchestra and the love of this timeless music is evident in the players. For those who don’t know, Setzer’s Christmas shows are legendary–catch those, too. But for now, don’t miss BSO’s 25th Anniversary Show at the Bowl, where there will be 19 players. Man, what a party.

Opening for BSO is 40-year-old Oklahoman JD McPherson. He may have been tagged as a rock ’n’ roll revivalist when his pyrotechnic debut Signs & Signifiers (2012) hit the charts, but “revivalist” is a limiting tag for such an amazing singer-songwriter and guitarist. Especially with his follow-up, Let the Good Times Roll (2015).

I hate saying this because it makes McPherson sound like an aper, which he ain’t. But just so you have a sense of what to expect, you may hear strains of Little Richard, Bo Diddley, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, and the late, great Chuck Berry–but it’s a wholly original sound. In fact, you may find yourself wondering why you’ve never heard such catchy, fun, rocking tunes from the ’50’s before; that’s because they’re brand spankin’ new.

McPherson himself explains the timelessness of this music style: “Man, people may not even know it, but they all like that stuff,” he said. “I’ve seen it happen over and over again. You’re in a record store where they’re playing some weird underground amorphous electronic record that has no configurable beat per minute, and then they put on a Sam Cooke record, and everybody is just like ‘Ohhh’—like a weight lifted. All kinds of music are interesting, but man, there’s something about the 1/4/5, 12-bar blues form that’s just hard-wired into American brains. And I shouldn’t say just American brains, because this stuff is still really huge in Europe, too. Everybody likes rock & roll. They just either won’t admit it or don’t know it yet.”

Also, from 5pm – 7pm on Wednesday in the newly-renovated Box Office Plaza Marketplace, there are free sampling of wines hand-selected by Hollywood Bowl Food + Wine Sommelier and Wine Director Caroline Styne.

show photos by Suzie Kaplan
courtesy of LA Phil

The Brian Setzer Orchestra
25th Anniversary Show!
The Hollywood Bowl
Wednesday, August 2 at 8:00pm
for tickets, call 323.850.2000
or visit The Hollywood Bowl
for more info, visit Brian Setzer & JD McPherson

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