Oh, man. This happened.
I have been waiting for this moment since I was fourteen years old and heard “Jump, Jive and Wail” for the first time. And yes, I know it was originally a Louis Prima song…but when you’re fourteen and don’t know anything about what’s awesome, you kind of need the heavy distortion on a fat-bottomed, hollow body Gretsch to hook you in.
The Brian Setzer Orchestra was what got me into swing dancing, which has got me into all sorts of delightful trouble ever since. The Brian Setzer Orchestra alerted me to the existence of timeless cool, not because anybody called it cool but because it simply was. The memory of how many nights after finishing my homework when I pulled down my blinds (or forgot to, as my giggling mom and sisters attest) and cranked “Rock This Town” up to eleven on my Sony CD deck and practiced solo the kicks and turns that I knew, just knew, I’d someday do with someone else who recognized cool for what it really was.
And then I met Leslie, who sings backup for him. (I didn’t believe this, when I first heard it…I had to get the story straight from her.) And then last October, when I met up with her in Bryant Park, she said “Why don’t you come on tour with us?”
Well, you can imagine.
With one thing and another, the tour idea didn’t work out (this time, anyway…I will continue to nourish hopes of being a pompadoured Deadhead until either it comes to pass or I die). But I did score a seat five rows from the stage at the Strand-Capitol Theatre in York, Pa. Truly, the best thing about us is the people we know who sing backup for Brian Setzer.
The opening band had to play for an hour, because the BSO tour bus was stuck in traffic. (The weather was gnar, even by the standards of hardy Northeastern folk.) When the show finally started, the crowd went positively wild as Mr. Setzer strolled out onto the stage, walking tall but with a sheepish hitch in his step. He delivered a handsome apology for their tardiness over the opening chugs of his Gretsch.
And all was forgiven.
Two things I can’t get over: one, how this 54-year-old man who is a legend of rock-and-roll to the point that even if you don’t like pompadours and spats and brass sections, you still tap your feet when one of his hit singles comes on, still looks so absolutely beatific playing these same songs. The York, Pa. date was about halfway through this Christmas tour, and I swear he looked as though it was the first night of a comeback show. He duckwalked and growled and threw his teased-up jeri curl around and climbed up on the bass drum and threw his head back in a pose of spiritual transcendence when he spun out the closing notes of “Sleepwalk” into a love-drunk three-minute climax.
The other thing I can’t get over? These hardy Northeasterners. Or maybe it’s just good country people–because I noticed the same thing at the Old ’97s show in Bloomington, Ill. The audience whooped, hollered, cheered and clapped and whistled, but not one of them got out of their seat, no matter how many times the band, Leslie, and even Mr. Setzer himself scooped the air with their hands to cue them.
This, apparently, is a commonplace occurrence during any Brian Setzer show…Google it and you’ll see that from Jacksonville to Atlantic City, audience members typically get up to dance together in the aisles. The concert program even had an asterisked note that read,
“NOTE: During The Brian Setzer Orchestra’s performance, audience patrons may stand and dance in front of their seats at any time unless it is a matter of imminent audience safety.”
I mean, you can only beg people so much before it’s just undignified, I guess. And you know me…I wanted to dance, but there was no way I was going to be the only one in the room who did it.
But one lady was braver than me.
She didn’t stand for the whole thing, but when the big numbers broke out–“Jump, Jive and Wail,” “Rock This Town,” and the grand finale, when snow began to fall from the ceiling–she was edging out of her seat and up on her feet with her hands in the air, her mouth pursed in determined, intense enjoyment.
If looks are anything to judge by, this woman must have been at least in her mid-twenties when the Stray Cats first came on the scene. Wouldn’t I love to know what these songs mean to her now…what memories are getting her up and out of her seat, willing to put herself on display as the only one in the room spirited enough to stand. I hope she got to meet the band afterward…
…like I did.