Mountain Winery, Saratoga
June 5, 2018
Photos by Raymond Ahner.
High up on a mountain in Saratoga past a winding hilly road and rolling vineyards, Brian Setzer brought his Rockabilly Riot tour to the Mountain Winery’s concert venue. Formerly the Paul Masson Mountain Winery, the stadium is unique in that every seat seems to have a great view and the stage backdrop is the original vine-covered stone winery that is now a historical landmark. Vocalist/guitarist Setzer is a three-time Grammy winner best known for being the lead singer and band leader of rockabilly group The Stray Cats, who revitalized the rockabilly sound in the early 80s.
Their debut album Stray Cats released in 1981 had two hit singles, “Rock this Town” and “Stray Cat Strut.” Their second album, Gonna Ball, released the next year, was less successful but their third album Built for Speed (1982) went to number two on the charts and stayed there for 15 weeks. Propelled by the success of their videos on MTV the band became widely popular in the US and sold millions of albums. The band disbanded in 1984 and in the 90s Setzer went on to form a seventeen- piece swing orchestra that continues to tour and record. They come to San Francisco every year for an annual Christmas show at The Warfield which we highly recommend seeing if you get the opportunity; for this show Setzer brought a scaled back four-piece rockabilly band to the venue.
The band opened the set with a Carl Perkin’s cover, “Put Your Cat Clothes On,” and went straight into the Stray Cats cover “Rumble in Brighton,” which still sounds as catchy as ever. Setzer scaled back his normally flashy wardrobe and just wore a denim shirt and blue jeans but his hair was still piled high in a 50s style pompadour which he likes to pull up to keep it standing throughout the night.
Setzer looks and sounds great and his guitar playing just seems to get better every time we see him. They played a cover of the Stray Cat’s song “Stray Cat Strut,” which really got the crowd energized. Drummer Noah Levy was really tight and charismatic in his own right as he played and sang background vocals.
The venue got extremely chilly as the sun went down and even the fingerless wool gloves and hats didn’t do much to ward off the chill. There were giant fire pits going on up in the balconies but they didn’t do much for fans in the seats beyond making everyone long to be close. Setzer got to show off some of his wonderful Gretsch guitar collection throughout the set and for “49 Mercury Blues,” he brought out a green sparkly one, telling the audience that every guitarist needs a green sparkly guitar because girls like them.
Setzer did a wonderful solo guitar medley but the band really got grooving with the Stray Cat’s hit “Fishnet Stockings,” during which every member did a spirited solo while the crowd cheered. For the encore, Setzer came out to perform a solo swanky version of the Jonny and Santo cover “Sleep Walk” on one of his classic guitars. The crowd finally got out of their seats for the last song and danced for the Stray Cats’ hit “Rock This Town.” Partly due to security encouraging people to stay seated throughout the show, it was a welcome opportunity to finally move around and get warm while grooving to some rockabilly music which is what it is meant for. Setzer was given a standing ovation that lasted several minutes while he went to the front of the stage and shook hands with the fans. It was a lovely evening of great music and the views up on top of the mountain of the city lights below while leaving the parking lot were a great end to a wonderful night.
Setzer is reuniting with The Stray Cats for a few festival dates over the summer and has a few remaining dates left on this Rockabilly Riot tour. Go see him if you can. He always puts on a great show.
Setlist: Put Your Cat Clothes On (Carl Perkins cover) | Rumble in Brighton (Stray Cats song) | Vinyl Records | Stray Cat Strut (Stray Cats song) | Nothing Is a Sure Thing | Stiletto Cool | Cry Baby (Stray Cats song) | ’49 Mercury Blues (The Brian Setzer Orchestra song) | What’s Her Name? | Drive Like Lightning | Slow Down / Folsom Prison Blues | Brian Setzer guitar solo | Gene & Eddie (Stray Cats song) | Blue Moon of Kentucky (Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys cover) | Runaway Boys (Stray Cats song) | Jump, Jive an’ Wail (Louis Prima cover) | Fishnet Stockings (Stray Cats song) | Let’s Shake || Sleep Walk (Santo & Johnny cover) | Rock This Town (Stray Cats song)
Find out more about Brian Setzer here.