While some people love Christmas and the arrival of seasonal classics wafting through the air in local stores, others aren't so jovial when those songs get broken out again. In some instances, it's a matter of being the local Scrooge, but that's not always the case. Sometimes it's just a matter of being tired of hearing the some old, recycled songs and renditions pulled out yet again.
Let's be honest, shall we? Although the holiday tunes are supposed to put us in a joyous and giving mood, sometimes they don't. I love the season, but not necessarily the music. And even though new Christmas albums come out every year, all too often they're just a recycling of classics to keep an artist in the spotlight and milk the cash cow.
It really doesn't help much when rock bands try to put a modern spin on the songs. Occasionally you'll find a knock-it-out-of-the-park homerun, but more often than not, re-writing the arrangements to make the ultimate "rockin" Christmas album is a bad idea. (I'm still trying to rid my brain of the residue from the abomination that was "A Twisted Sister Christmas" a few years back.)
As the old saying goes, "All things old become new again," and in some instances that's exactly the case. Back in 1990, following the dissolution of The Stray Cats, band leader Brian Setzer followed his vision to put together a guitar-fronted big band and the Brian Setzer Orchestra was formed. The group's debut album was released in 1994 and became popular on the back of a new version of Louis Prima's "Jump Jive an' Wail" and the band was a leader in the Swing Revival movement of the '90s, bringing a classic spin and nostalgic touch to rock.
By the time 2000 rolled around, though, the Swing Revival had died down. Setzer's orchestra found another new life, however, with the release of Boogie Woogie Christmas in 2002 and its follow-up, Dig That Crazy Santa Claus, in 2004. I'll admit, although I tire quickly of Christmas music, Setzer's take on seasonal music with a full horn section mixed just enough classic sensibility and rock attitude to capture my imagination. In fact, those albums remain the ones I pull out when the mood to put on Christmas music hits me.
The real joy of the band, however, wasn't in the recordings, but in the live show. I had the joy of catching Brian Setzer Orchestra in a club show in the late '90s and it was pure joy and a breath of fresh air. What I never got the opportunity to see, however, was Setzer touring his orchestra behind the Christmas material.
Eighteen years after the ensemble's recorded debut and a full ten years after the release of its first Christmas album, the Brian Setzer Orchestra is still alive and well -- touring once again for its 9th annual "Christmas Rocks! Extravaganza." Although the tour has never come through Tulsa and made very few swings through the Midwest, its Christmas performances are the ones that have perhaps drawn the most rave reviews for Brian Setzer Orchestra.
On album, classic Christmas standards like "O Holy Night," "Winter Wonderland," "Jingle Bells," and even "You're a Mean One Mr. Grinch" are not only a joy, but take on a fresh life with a full horn section and big band arrangements. Meanwhile, Setzer pulls out some originals and more non-traditional tunes like "(Everybody's Waiting For) The Man With the Bag" and "'Zat You, Santa Claus?" that stand nearly as strong and carry on the vibe to breathe new life into the mix.
The live shows, however, have been renowned for taking the joy of the albums and expanding on them. Now in its ninth outing (the tour was canceled in 2008, but returned in 2009), Setzer's annual Christmas Extravaganza has become one of the most anticipated seasonal tours of the year, although it is run on a much smaller scale than the tour de force known as Trans Siberian Orchestra (which appeared at BOK Center last week).
In fact, reviewers have called the Christmas Rocks! Extravaganza "... more than an extravaganza. It was a party -- in every sense of the word." This is just a party on a grand scale. Setzer fronts an 18-piece orchestra and sports two backing vocalists to add to the dynamics of the show, making it more than just an average rock show or Christmas program. Over the past decade, the tour has also spawned a live album and separate DVD and continued to grow in popularity.
Finally, the tour hits Tulsa this season with a stop at The Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino (770 S. Cherokee Street) this Thursday night, Dec. 13. More than just the Brian Setzer Orchestra, however, Setzer has tabbed Los Angeles band Totsy to open the show to balance a full night of music.
Fronted by Beth Curry, who has starred in the touring version of Young Frankenstein and on Broadway in Legally Blonde and Good Vibrations, Totsy mixes genres and puts a theatrical and burlesque twist on its pop tunes. Curry pairs with guitarist Brett Boyett, who has a background in both soundtracks and studio work. Together, the two have assembled an eight piece band that complements the Setzer Orchestra without stepping on any toes. (On a perhaps un-coincidental note, Curry also sang background vocals on Setzer's Dig That Crazy Santa Claus.) The group has also dived into the Christmas spirit with its own original tune, "Santa Likes Naughty Girls Too."
If the unseasonably warm weather followed by very cold weather has left you lacking in Christmas spirit, this show may be just what you need. Whether you love Christmas music or need something to breathe new life into the season with a classic twist, The Brian Setzer Orchestra delivers just what the doctor ordered. Tickets are still available for the show at The Joint, which begins at 8pm this Thursday, and range in price from $45-$65.
Send all comments and feedback regarding Music to firstname.lastname@example.org
Share this article: