- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 15, 2019

VIENNA, Va. — Brian Setzer, arguably one of the best guitarists in the history of rock and roll, reunited with his Stray Cats’ bandmates at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts on Tuesday night and delivered a rockabilly beat down to a near-capacity crowd.

Setzer, armed with a small selection of Gretsch hollow-body guitars with whammy bars, convened with bassist Lee Rocker and drummer Slim Jim Phantom to celebrate four decades since their formation and the new studio album “40.”

For those unaware, the trio shocked the U.S. charts back in the early 1980s with a string of hits that led to a neo-rockabilly revival. Led by “Rock This Town,” their sound was a sharp antithesis to the new wave, synthpop and hair metal trends of the day.

The trio’s minimalist approach to delivering maximum rock should be admired by any new band, especially today’s digitally oversaturated stars.

Continuing the tradition, and with production design relegated to a trash can and “Stray Cats” glowing sign above them, the band played on a nearly bare Filene Center stage with a pair of short-stacked, well-aged amplifiers, a stripped-down drum kit and vocal mics.



Looking healthy and in fine form, down to Setzer’s signature ducktailed coif, they ripped through 21 songs covering their career while also paying homage to some of their idols.

Brian lit the fuse with “Cat Fight (Over a Dog Like Me)” from the new album and never really allowed the band to lose momentum.

The guitarist is a master at old school shredding (before it was ever called shredding), picking and stretching strings to their limits, and whammying on tunes such as “Cry Baby,” “Blast Off” and “Rumble in Brighton” while demonstrating a variety of licks in the original homage to Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran called “Gene and Eddie.”

His sound shone through, thanks to a strong bottom layer dished out by stand-up, double-bassist Rocker. His licks are an equal part of the Stray Cats sound as he assertively plucked nonstop on the strings and occasional straddled the instrument.

Drummer Phantom provided a mix of showmanship and a strong backbeat all night as he stood behind his limited kit, occasionally kicked a cymbal, howled when appropriate and made sure to make contact with everyone in the audience.

Of course, the band played the recognizable hits ” Runaway Boys,” “Stray Cat Strut,” “(She’s) Sexy + 17” and “Rock This Town” but often called upon the spirits of the past to enlighten the masses about early rock and roll.

The selections included Vincent’s “Double Talkin’ Baby” from 1956, Dorsey Burnette’s “My One Desire” from 1961 and Merle Travis’ countrified “Cannonball Rag” from 1968.

Best of the classics that was appropriately accompanied with lightning illuminating the sky from a passing thunderstorm was Dick Dale’s aggressive 1962 surf hit “Misirlou” often remembered on the movie soundtrack of “Pulp Fiction.”

If a guitar could combust, Setzer’s hot rod candy magenta beauty was practically shooting flames during the number.

A spirited “Fishnet Stockings” (first released in the U.K. back in 1981), toward the end of the night gave the band a chance to show off.

It offered not only another well-deserved bass and guitar solo but also the guitarists precariously balancing on the instruments while playing (Rocker on his bass and Setzer on Phantom’s bass drum) for an audience cellphone snapping moment.

The crowd cheered all night and was peppered with gals of all ages in ponytails and colorful swing and poodle skirts and guys with rolled up jeans, T-Shirts, duck tails and the occasional leather jacket.

Suffice it to report, rockabilly is alive and well in Stray Cats land.

Opening the night, with a far too short, nine song set was veteran English R&B musician James Hunter. The growling blues, rockabilly and jazzy maestro came only with his smoky voice, a whammyfied guitar, harmonica and stand up double bass player.

With originals spanning a 30-career and even a ditty from Sonny Boy Williamson tossed in for good measure, he was the perfect warm-up for the nostalgic night.

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