With the snow falling all around and the roads a slippery mess, we made our way to Potowatomi Bingo and Casino's Northern Lights Theater for the 6th Annual Christmas Extravaganza with the Brian Setzer Orchestra. I have little doubt that Brian and the band flew in on a 1957 Chevy Sleigh with swingin' tunes blaring from the speakers. This is the second year I have reviewed this show. Last year was the first time I had ever given an A+ to any concert, and my expectations for this show were as high as Rudolph flying on Christmas night.
This year's stage setup was slightly more subdued without the snowman and nutcracker soldiers from last year, but still packed with Christmas spirit and warmth. The band has mostly stayed the same with 20 members (including Brian and the 2 vocal vixens Julie Reiten and Leslie Smith along with new drummer Tony Pia). And while all this was the same, the night turned out to have quite a few surprises. First up was the beautiful classic Wurlitzer Juke Box center stage. Talk about your focal point. Then next was not just Santa&but SANTA ELVIS who came out to drop some coin in that jukebox. With a swivel of the hips and his finger pointed high, Santa Elvis got the crowd in the mood as the guitar slinger himself strolled out to center stage. But wait, what's this? It's Brian Setzer in a three piece suit! Taking his place in front of that Wurlitzer, he jumped right in and told the band to "Take a Break" with one of his new songs from the "Wolfgang's Big Night Out" CD, a swing version of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen." With that the band was off and swingin'. They jammed through classic Setzer Christmas tunes and new songs from his latest CD with "Dig That Crazy Santa Claus," "One More Night With You," and "Boogie Woogie Santa Claus," featuring solos from trumpet to trombone and everywhere in between. "Sleigh Ride" took us on a romp and Julie and Leslie's sweet sultry voices made us wish we were their "Honey Man." Damn those ladies can sing.
Running his fingers through his trademark pompadour, Brian took us back and rocked the house with a full-band version of "Stray Cat Strut" which transitioned nicely into "You're A Mean One Mr. Grinch," featuring a guitar-slinging Grinch in a Santa suit playing front and center with Brian. The crowd went nuts as the Mean One himself strutted around the stage. Next up was "Jump Jive N Wail," the swing song that brought Brian and the big bands back to prominence, followed by a raucous version of "Angels We Have Heard On High."
Taking a small break to reset the stage and bring the standup snare and standup bass out front, we were treated to another of Brian's newest songs "For Lisa," his take on "Fur Elise." He was joined on stage by the "Jazzy Cats," John Hatton on bass, Tony Pia on drums, Julie Reiten on violin, Tim Messina on Clarinet and Steve Reid on Trumpet. This ensemble had almost as much fun playing as the audience had watching them. I don't think they ever stopped smiling the entire song, but then again the audience never stopped cheering either. After a standing ovation, the "Jazzy Cats" stripped down to just Setzer, Hatton and Pia and went full bore into a rock-a-billy set to blow the roof off. Starting off with "Cat's On A Hot Tin Roof," the combo then blazed into the 50's homage "Gene & Eddie" followed by the crowd favorite "Fishnet Stockings." With the curtains opening and the band back in their places, the three pieces up front were joined full swing for "Route 66" and the classic Stray Cats song "Rock This Town." People were dancing in the aisles and rockin' the joint in every corner. Then with a wave of his hand like Santa, he was off stage and gone leaving the band in their seats and riling up the crowd.
Now you know this wasn't the end. There had to be an encore. People were on their feet and cheers were near deafening when Brian strode back out. This time the suit jacket was gone and Brian looked ready to kick it up a notch. It was time to get serious. A stage hand brought out his music stand and the sheet music. It was "Nutcracker" time. Nodding to Tony Pia, the band kicked off this classic in full swing mode with even Brian reading from the sheet music to follow along. It was sheer heaven to hear. Driving to the crescendo, the crowd was in time with the band for every second. Then he took it even further. With sleeves rolled up and tats out, you knew he was "In the Mood." The band jammed full steam into this Glenn Miller classic made new again with Brian's well-matched lyrics. People were dancing all over and I even saw the waitresses dancing as they made their way through the aisles. As we came down to the last song it was befitting that the Christmas Extravaganza close with a Christmas song, and what song says Christmas better than "Jingle Bells." But not just "Jingle Bells," it was a full-out swing version of the holiday classic that brought the show to a triumphant close. Smiling and waving as the band joined him on the front of the stage, Brian waved as the audience screamed and yelled for more. It was a great way to wish us all the happiest of holidays.
Last year I gave the show my first ever A+ and I have to be very honest, this show was very different in some ways and very much the same in others, but everything mixed just right like grandma's Christmas cookies. So with that said all I have to say is: Thank you Brian, thank you Julie and Leslie, thank you John and Tony, thank you Tim, Sean F Eric, Charlie and Jim, thank you, Steve, Sean B., Jamie and Brian, and thank you Jason, Robbie, Jeremy and Greg for making this a great show. A+ to all of you and Merry Christmas!!!
As always I want to thank the whole staff at Northern Lights, especially Shay for treating us like royalty and Steve for letting us get some great pictures. Merry Christmas to you all!
Photos: Paul Kloiber
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