Off the heels of a national tour playing Christmas tunes and originals with a full orchestra, rockabilly legend Brian Setzer played two intimate sold-out shows at the Belly Up in Solana Beach on Dec. 30 and 31.
The first show proved to be much different than the rest of the tour as Setzer was backed by only three other players — a drummer, stand-up bassist and piano player — creating Brian Setzer’s Rockabilly Riot and performing rockabilly tunes from Setzer’s solo career and 1980s band the Stray Cats, along with covers by artists such as Johnny Cash and Jack Earls.
The Grammy award-winning musician was accompanied by the Texas-based group Beat Root Revival, who opened the tour.
The male and female duo said while they were excited to play the entire tour, they were particularly looking forward to the Rockabilly Riot.
Beat Root Revival, who had a folk-pop sound, amped up the crowd with originals and covers like Chuck Barry’s “Roll Over Beethoven,” the Beatles’ “Come Together” and Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams.”
But as the clock neared 9:30, it was time for Setzer to “Rock This Town.”
Opening up with “Ignition” for his hour-and-a-half set, Setzer — with his token pompadour hairstyle — took the room full of people back to a time when big dresses, hot rod cars and slick-backed hair were all the rage.
Setzer also played a variety of Bigsby guitars on songs such as “’49 Mercury Blues,” “Runaway Boys” and, of course, “Stray Cat Strut.”
The musician, who first became famous in the early 1980s with the Stray Cats before moving on to swing music with the Brian Setzer Orchestra in the 1990s, seemed to have a never-ending amount of energy as he zipped through 20 songs with minimal breaks for chatter or banter with the crowd.
Setzer calmed things down a bit with a guitar solo cover of “Sleep Walk” as the first encore song. In this moment, it was easy to become fixated on Setzer’s fingers as he strummed the calming Santo and Johnny tune. And Setzer seemed just as concentrated and into the song as he closed his eyes, smiling as he played, seemingly in a daze.
But the musician wasn’t quite ready to stop the crowd from dancing.
“Oh yeah,” Setzer said as he ended “Sleep Walk.” “I almost forgot a big one.”
With that, Setzer began playing the high-energy “Rock This Town” to end the evening.
And everyone — no matter if they were in the pit or in seats — got up on their feet to dance to the song that peaked at No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1982.
For more information about Setzer and upcoming tour dates, visit www.briansetzer.com.