Friday, November 24, 2006

They bill themselves as the Greatest Living Rockabilly Band in the World.

It's the Stray Cats.

I can feel your eyes rolling back in your head as I write this, because undoubtedly you are anti-Brian Setzer, or anti-80's, or even, heaven forefend, anti-rockabilly (although you have certainly stumbled into the wrong blog if that is your stance.) All I know is that I have only wanted to watch rockumentaries and biopics about country stars lately, and my two favorite things are, "Sing to the babies, Loretta" and the Stray Cats' Rumble in Brixton, which celebrates their 25th reunion with London. I say with, and not in, because they were a bunch of high school dropouts who found themselves panhandling together on the streets of London before walking into some small recording studio and laying down "Runaway Boys." It would shoot to number one on the British pop charts in the summer of 1980, and the boys would become the darlings of the British airwaves while making themselves somewhat known as a novelty act here in the good ole U.S.A. The rest of this chapter is basically a review of this DVD, so if you've got something better to do, or if you think I have finally gotten around to ordering aubergine colored wool flannel for my fabulous repro 40's dress, go get yourself some chips or something.

These cats were made to be seen in concert. This was only a movie, and I was snugged up cozy-like in my bed, but I got all caught up in the excitement. They play like they really, really like what they do, like twenty five or six years hasn't blunted the awe they feel at actually getting paid to play their instruments. They jump and scream and stand on their monitors and on their drums and, in the case of Lee Rocker, on the SIDE of his silver glitter double bass (can you feel the waves of jealousy from me right now?) Once you step away from Brian Setzer's incessant show-boating and the weird faces he keeps making (Look at me! I'm a Rock Star!), you can see Slim Jim Phantom pounding the drums like he's beating them into submission, and Lee Rocker doing a great Sid Vicious snarl while screaming his lungs out. Plus, as much as my tastes lean towards blond pompadours, Lee Rocker in his vintage leopard trim leisure coat and his Roy Orbison glasses and his skintight black jeans kinda made my heart do a weird little thing. Then he started standing on the side of his bass and carrying it around like it was a little gi-tar and stopping while Brian Setzer was talking to comb back his 'do, and my heart kinda did a little double-time thing. And finally, in the special features, they had a bit of backstage stuff, and he did a 15 second slap bass demo thing that I think actually made my heart stop beating in my chest. There was hero worship and attraction and I don't know what all all mixed up in one. That does bring me to my one issue with the DVD. While the sound is remarkable for concert footage, it is weighted so heavily towards Setzer's lead guitar and vocals that you can barely hear the bass, and sometimes even the drums. This leaves it sounding a little flat, especially when there is obviously harmony that is damped down. Once or twice there is some solo stuff that they don't bother to highlight, and the really huge bass solo in Stray Cat Strut is under-emphasized, with an unnecessarily loud back-up guitar. Also, you can see bits of Slim Jim doing crazy-ass gymnastics while standing up to drum, but they never really focus on it until the second encore, when he takes the whole stage to get up to an impressive run.

Long story short? Get yourself a six-pack of longnecks and settle in for the weekend, because seriously, it's amazing how long fifteen seconds can stretch into when you view it a couple thousand times.

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