A scan of the Vicar St. floor revealed an impressive variety of age and gender, from teenage girls to 70-year-old men. It’s hard to think of a recent concert in Dublin that could have brought together so diverse a demographic spread and no other show could have delivered such a staggering amount of quiffs.
Even in their early ’80s pomp, The Stray Cats straddled the generational gap, bringing the spirit and sound of 1950s rockabilly together with the youthful vibrancy of new wave. So it was no surprise that, with 2008’s cancelled gig still fresh in the mind, Vicar St. would be close to capacity for the long-overdue first appearance of Brian Setzer and fellow Stray Cat Slim Jim Phantom on Irish soil. Given the popularity of Imelda May in this country right now, the only real surprise was that the venue wasn’t completely full for the undisputed kings of the rockabilly revival.
Support on the night came courtesy of Dublin act Skeleton Crew, whose ferocious brand of psychobilly has as much in common with California punk like NOFX and The Offspring as The Stray Cats. The trio share vocal duties, with guitarist Gar providing the harsh melody to double-bassman Ray’s throat-shredding accompaniment and drummer Glen’s deep soul bellow. The turnout was impressive for an opening act, filling out to a near half-full venue by the culmination of their short set, and the room was close to the capacity by the time Setzer made his characteristically understated entrance dressed all in black with neon green trim.
Setzer’s set was split neatly into two segments with two entirely different rhythm sections. The first, featuring drummer Noah Levy and bassist Johnny Hatton, saw Setzer dip into his canon of solo material (‘Ignition,’ ‘’49 Mercury Blues’) and his big band stint with the Brian Setzer Orchestra (‘This Cat’s On A Hot Tin Roof’), before closing with a medley of rockabilly classics including Johnny Earls’ ‘Slow Down,’ Johnny Cash’s ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ and ‘Blue Moon Of Kentucky,’ most famously sung by Elvis Presley.
For the second half, Hatton and Levy gave way to Australian bassist Chris D’Rozario and ex-Stray Cat Slim Jim Phantom. Phantom made up for causing the last tour to be cancelled – he fell off the stage and shattered his arm in three places – with a high-energy performance that saw him almost repeat his trick from two years hence while scaling an otherwise neglected bass drum.
With Phantom in tow, the Stray Cats hits were reeled off with reckless abandon: ‘Rumble In Brighton’ became ‘Rumble In Dublin,’ ‘Stray Cat Strut’ was sultry as ever, while ‘(She’s) Sexy 17’ is as devilish as all hell, though Setzer sensibly holds back from the higher notes he hit with ease as a 25 year-old.
Levy and Hatton returned for final track ‘Fishnet Stockings,’ taking their place alongside Phantom, D’Rozario and jack-of-all-trades Kevin McKendree. Setzer took his hand to the upright bass, meaning there were briefly three in action on stage, with Hatton and D’Rozario providing acrobatic showmanship as the set turned into an increasingly manic – though thrilling – spectacle. For the encore, all six returned for an extended rendition of classic ‘Rock This Town’ before closing with a jam on ‘Seven Nights To Rock,’ bringing to an end a performance that was as entertaining visually as it was musically.
Photo by Ian Keegan.