Brian Setzer and orchestra show fans great time

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
July 9, 1996

Sometimes you get so used to being uncomfortable at concerts that it’s easy to forget just how much fun a rock show can be.  At Brian Setzer’s sold-out gig on Monday night at the Skyline Stage on Navy Pier, no one moshed or body surfed.  The smell in the air wasn’t of pot and cigarettes, but rather a light fragrance of Bryl Creem and other hair products.

And the eye candy was so much fun to view, not only onstage but also in the audience, where many of the fans came decked out in hep ’50s retro gear that mimicked what the musicians wore on stage.

It was brilliant.

Touring with his 17-piece Brian Setzer Orchestra, the tattooed, pompadoured guitarist came out in a silver suit and kicked the concert off with a rocking version of  “Hoodoo Voodoo Doll” from his current album, “Guitar Slinger.”        Setzer’s orchestra, which included five saxophones, four trumpets, four trombones, a piano, bass and drums, played as ferociously as any rock ‘n’ roll group, but with the intricate skill of a jazz band.

During the 80-minute set, the former leader of the Stray Cats threw in a few expected oldies, such as “Stray Cat Strut” and “Rock This Town.”  But when he played the Clash’s “Brand New Cadillac” for an encore, the crowd roared its approval.

Segueing easily from rockabilly (“(The Legend of) Johnny Kool”) to swing (“Ghost Radio”) to rock ‘n’ roll (“The House is Rockin’ “), Setzer’s set was just as tight as at his last Chicago appearance two years ago at the Park West, but this audience was even more revved up.  When he picked a young woman to dance with him during “Rock This Town,” she leaped onto the relatively high stage in one easy swoop and cautiously tried to match his steps.

As an artist, Setzer is as adept at interpreting other artists’ hits as he is rocking with his originals, as was evidenced by a smooth-as-silk rendition of “Town Without Pity” that would’ve made Gene Pitney take a nervous peek over his shoulder in his heyday.

Sharing the same musical sensibilities as Setzer, Chicago’s Mighty Blue Kings opened the show with a set that was so polished it’s difficult to believe they put the band together just 1 1/2 years ago.  The seven-man group has the bonus of having a front man (Ross Bon) who has a deep voice from the past and the looks of a movie star and a saxophonist (Jerry Big J DiVivo) who is as big on showmanship as the group is on talent.

It’s a group to keep your eyes on.

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