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Hear This - By - August 9, 2000 - SF Weekly
SF Weekly

Hear This

As if you couldn't tell from India ink-decorated arms and piled-high, platinum blond DA, former Stray Cats bossman Brian Setzer's got attitude. That's what makes his big band one of the hottest tickets on the swing scene. Unlike other neo-retro outfits that lead clubgoers straight to the past — when men were men and women were dolls — The Brian Setzer Orchestra takes the circuitous route. Fueled by the guitarist's blazing rockabilly and punk-spirited roots, the 16-piece ensemble often manages to keep a few dozen or so patent leather toes firmly tapping in the present.

Sleek and punchy, with all cylinders firing at once, the orchestra's new album Vavoom! ups the ante on 1998's Grammy-winner, The Dirty Boogie. Given the success of the last recording, which sold in the seven digits, the six-string slinger was in a position to do pretty much whatever he wanted this time out. So rather than leaning on a lot of tried-and-true cover tunes, Setzer wrote more than a half-dozen originals and amped up a few choice standards.

On the mega-popular, swing-era instrumental “In the Mood,” Setzer adds Chuck Berry-inspired verses — “Jump into my rocket/ 'Cause I'm ready to blast/ I don't know where I'm goin'/ But I'm goin' there fast” — and a too-brief rap break. Fresh lyrics and high-flying jump 'n' jive arrangements give “Pennsylvania 6-5000” and “Americano” (which you may recognize from The Talented Mr. Ripley) a heightened party-till-dawn glow. Then there are the yowling, classic Brian Setzer themes — “If You Can't Rock Me,” “Drive Like Lightning (Crash Like Thunder)” — complete with raucous Gretsch leads and a super-hot brass section. It's the kind of Stray Cat swing that never goes out of style.