The Brian Setzer Orchestra has become known for profitably celebrating the holidays. The group has released four Christmas albums and has gone on several holiday-themed tours over the years—so it’s no surprise that the show on Saturday night, Dec. 19, at Fantasy Springs was nearly sold out.
Setzer started off the show with the first track on Rockin’ Rudolph, the group’s new Christmas album: “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” a true classic. While the show might have been billed as a Christmas affair, Setzer made it clear early on that things were going to vary when he played “This Cat’s On a Hot Tin Roof” and then went back to his Stray Cats era with “Stray Cat Strut.”
After “Stray Cat Strut,” it was time for him to switch out his signature Gretsch guitars: He traded his red guitar for a beautiful green one while receiving an ovation from the crowd. “I asked, ‘Mr. Gretsch, can you make me a green one for Christmas? It’s more of a Saint Patrick’s Day green,” Setzer joked.
Moving back to Christmas songs, he played “Boogie Woogie Santa Claus” and “Here Comes Santa Claus”—with “Sexy and 17” wedged in between. An interesting moment came when he played his big band version of the rock ’n’ roll instrumental classic from Santo and Johnny, “Sleepwalk.”
Another great moment occurred when his two female backing vocalists belted out a beautiful vocal performance of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” accompanied by the horn section and Setzer’s guitar.
After “Jump, Jive, and Wail,” the orchestra became a four-piece—with a piano player—for “Jingle Bell Rock” and “Great Balls of Fire,” before downsizing to a trio (with the standup bassist and the drummer) for “Fishnet Stockings.”
At the one-hour mark, it was obvious the show was soon coming to an end. When the whole horn section came back, it was time for “Rock This Town.” Setzer’s biggest hit from the Stray Cats era was a surefire way to say goodnight to Fantasy Springs.
Only it wasn’t the end. The horn section called for the audience to demand an encore, and it wasn’t long before Setzer was back performing “Yabba Dabba Yuletide,” followed by an impressive instrumental performance of the “Nutcracker Suite.” The group closed out with “Jingle Bells”—with special guest Santa tossing out candy canes.
I’m not a big fan of Christmas music, given I’m a former retail employee who had to hear too much of it for what seemed like four months every year. However, I enjoyed this show’s Christmas tunes as much as all of the originals from the Stray Cats era and the Brian Setzer Orchestra era. That says a lot.
Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree
This Cat’s on a Hot Tin Roof
Stray Cat Strut
Boogie Woogie Santa Claus
Sexy and 17
Here Comes Santa Claus
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
Jump, Jive, and Wail
Jingle Bell Rock
Great Balls of Fire
Rock This Town
Yabba Dabba Yuletide