‘Christ­mas Rocks’ with the Brian Set­zer Or­ches­tra set to make stop in Philadel­phia.

The Review - - FRONT PAGE - By Brian Binga­man bbinga­[email protected]­tu­ry­media.com @bri­an­binga­man on Twit­ter

The Brian Set­zer Or­ches­tra has been around 20 years. For 15 of those years, the jump band has gone on the road with a hol­i­day show that swings.

The BSO’s “Christ­mas Rocks!” tour re­turns to Philadel­phia with a Nov. 24 date at the Academy of Mu­sic.

Tout­ing a new Christ­mas al­bum, “Rockin’ Ru­dolph” — the 19-piece big band’s fourth such re­lease — gui­tarist, song­writer, vo­cal­ist and three-time Grammy Award-win­ner Brian Set­zer ought to be men­tioned in the same breath as hol­i­day mu­sic in­sti­tu­tions Mannheim Steam­roller and Trans-Siberian Or­ches­tra. The last three years, BSO has be­come a hol­i­day sta­ple on Sir­iusXM, the tour’s spon­sor.

The set list for the or­ches­tra’s rock­ing big­band horn ar­range­ments also en­com­passes mu­sic by Set­zer’s 1980s rock­a­billy trio the Stray Cats (“Rock This Town,” “Stray Cat Strut,” “Sexy + 17”), the band Rock­a­billy Riot and his solo al­bums. Com­bin­ing all four phases of his ca­reer, Set­zer has sold 13 mil­lion “records,” mer­it­ing a cameo on “The Simp­sons” in 2002.

Ac­cord­ing to Set­zer’s pub­li­cist, he isn’t do­ing in­ter­views un­til next year, when the Stray Cats plan to mark the 40th an­niver­sary of their for­ma­tion as a band. How­ever, Set­zer did an­tic­i­pate some Fre­quently Asked Ques­tions re­lated to “Christ­mas Rocks!” and sent th­ese to us.

There aren’t a lot of true big bands around. What’s that like keep­ing that tra­di­tion alive?

The mu­sic I play in the big band is rock ‘n’ roll with a jazz in­flu­ence. What keeps it fresh is the qual­ity of the play­ers in the band. Also, a big part of keep­ing the big band fresh is the ar­range­ments. Writ­ing the ar­range­ment for 18 to 19 peo­ple is like writ­ing a song within a song. It makes the song you might have heard many times sound new again.

Why do you feel the hol­i­day tours are so suc­cess­ful?

I re­al­ized when I started play­ing shows around south­ern Cal­i­for­nia, peo­ple wanted a rock ‘n’ roll-based hol­i­day show. Be­ing that Christ­mas mu­sic, in general, is more orches­tral, a three- or four-piece rock ‘n’ roll band wouldn’t cut it. This is where my big band fits in per­fectly. The mix­ture of my take on rock ‘n’ roll and my new big band ar­range­ments seemed to work magic on the au­di­ences.

What is the chal­lenge of keep­ing the show fresh, par­tic­u­larly for the fans that re­turn year af­ter year?

Part of the rea­son peo­ple keep com­ing back year af­ter year is that they know they will get a new show.


• Brian Set­zer played Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Ed­die Cochran in “La Bamba,” the 1987 biopic of doomed 1950s rocker Richie Valens.

• In 2002, Set­zer gave the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in­duc­tion speech for Chet Atkins. They can ex­pect new out­fits, new props and new ar­range­ments of prac­ti­cally any song in any genre. The ‘Christ­mas Rocks’ Tour has be­come such a tra­di­tion for peo­ple and their fam­i­lies that they come ev­ery year. Clas­sic Christ­mas songs are very well writ­ten gems. It’s a real chal­lenge to de­con­struct some of th­ese and make them my own. I can tell you it’s never bor­ing play­ing them.

Look­ing back, when did you re­al­ize that a BSO Christ­mas show wasn’t just a one-off un­der­tak­ing?

Once I re­al­ized the tour could make money tak­ing 37 peo­ple, four coaches, two semi rigs, a full crew and two dogs on the road, I knew I was on to some­thing. Peo­ple tell me all the time what joy I bring them over the hol­i­days. I don’t take this for granted. Peo­ple don’t say some­thing like that un­less they mean it. When we get a stand­ing ova­tion at the end of the Christ­mas show, it means some­thing just a lit­tle ex­tra.

Visit bri­anset­zer.com for more in­for­ma­tion.


Ris­ing to fame with The Stray Cats in the 1980s, Brian Set­zer has been per­form­ing as the front­man of a big band called the Brian Set­zer Or­ches­tra.


The poin­set­tias in the fore­ground and the band mem­bers with Santa hats in the back­ground mean it’s time for the Brian Set­zer Or­ches­tra Christ­mas show.

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