Brian Setzer Orchestra at the Dolby Theatre

Larson Sutton on December 27, 2017

Photo credit Suzie Kaplan

More than any other American holiday, Christmas shares a long and bountiful relationship with popular music. As plentiful as the religious songs of the season are, there are equally as many, if not more of the secular variety, put to best use at another longstanding December tradition: the Christmas party. For the capacity crowd at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, the Brian Setzer Orchestra threw an outstanding bash.

On a stage dressed in holiday cheer- lit trees and Santa, snowmen and presents- the ageless blonde rocker and his 19-piece ensemble alternated Christmas numbers with jive band jumpers, as well as some old favorites. Setzer’s a widely respected guitar player, considered one of the all-timers, and his chops are as sharp as ever. Whether dropping back over 35 years to his Stray Cats debut for “Stray Cat Strut” and “Rock this Town,” or to Louis Prima’s “Jump, Jive an’ Wail,” Setzer unleashed hot licks from his signature Gretsch as he bopped and nodded, duck-walking tirelessly from end to end.

The Orchestra is just as scorching, keeping up the high octane push of the repertoire in satiny green sport coats and Santa hats, as a duo of flashy harmony singers shimmied and shook in red sequins behind them. It all made for exceptionally fun and festive visuals, but as well dazzled with exceptional musicianship and tasteful nuance. There were upbeat tributes to recently fallen legends with covers of Glen Campbell’s “Wichita Lineman” and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ “Runnin’ Down a Dream.” And the evening’s most moving moment: Setzer alone at the mic, accompanied only by his guitar, on a splendid turn of “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire).”

Still, this was a party, the 14th annual holiday visit for Setzer and crew also celebrating this year as their 25th as a group. So, a rockabilly lesson with the guitarist laying down a rippling riff, then singing about fishnet stockings, and slipping in a note-for-note re-creation of Franny Beecher’s iconic solo on Bill Haley and the Comets’ “Rock Around the Clock” during the jam, was just as welcome as the closing duo of a superb sheet-music arrangement of The Nutcracker suite and a jump-and-rock rendition of “Jingle Bells” while “snow” fell from the Dolby ceiling.

Santa Claus made a last-song cameo. Setzer and his musicians took their bows. And once again, Christmas, as it has with music for over half a century, rocked.