Stray Cats – Birmingham, 02 Academy – 23/06/2019
Support came from Aussie band The Living End with their rockabilly infused punk rock with frontman Chris Cheney greeting the audience with some comical banter, “if it wasn’t for The Stray Cats, you’d be watching some other shitty band, cos we wouldn’t be here” to which the crowd chuckle, although their impressive 40-minute set was far from “shitty”. Drummer Andy Strachan was outstanding and Scott Owen who continuously leapt up on to his double bass, which is considered his signature move, boasts quite possibly the fastest and most talented plucking hands in rockabilly history, alongside Lee Rocker of course. ‘Till The End’, ‘Death Of The American Dream’, ‘How Do We Know’ and the humorous ‘Uncle Harry (Pisses In The Bath)’ provide more than enough sing-along moments, and tunes you could shake your hips to, which perfectly warm up a crowd who clearly need no encouragement.
Fans scream and applaud as the original founding members of The Stray Cats, Brian Setzer (vocals, guitar), Lee Rocker (double bassist) and Slim Jim Phantom (drums), appear on stage which has a small and minimal setup and launch straight into ‘Cat Fight (Over A Dog like Me)’ and ‘Runaway Boys’. Still sporting their slick back hairdos and bandana neck scarfs just like they did throughout the 80s, they appear as ageless as their music. New track, ‘Three Times A Charm’ and old-favourite ‘Stray Cat Strut’ play through and with their unmistakable Stray Cats sound, the New Yorker rockers really have got the crowd worked up in to a frenzy. ‘Gene and Eddie’, ‘Cry Baby’, ‘(She’s) Sexy & 17’ and ‘Bring It Back Again’ which is sung by double bassist Lee Rocker, follow. Setzer is one of the most important rockabilly guitarists around today and really knows how to make his guitars sing, no guitar is better suited to rockabilly than the Gretsch and it’s around this time people might begin to understand why Setzer is a longstanding lover of them, aside from the fact that Eddie Cochran played one! Their set was nothing short of electrifying, as Lee Rocker insisted on standing upon, spinning and slapping the hell out of his double bass (you can see why he won the Bass Player Lifetime Achievement Award), Slim Jim who’s playing a really simple but effective kit, refusing to sit down for more than 5 minutes at a time, and Brian Setzer swinging his Gretsch around, eyes closed, with his infectious guitar licks alone making you want to get up and move. It’s really no wonder the room had been converted into a sweat box of bopping, jumping and rocking bodies. In Setzer’s own words “whatever gig you’re at tonight, it aint as cool as this” and damn he was right; with each of them going on 60, they were purring again as they managed to triumphally knock the socks off Birmingham O2 Academy. ‘Rock This Town’, ‘Rock It Off’ and ‘Rumble In Brighton’ close their set and it was very clear why these rockabilly legends are still very much relevant in the genre that started out more than four decades ago.