Stray Cats at Pacific Amphitheatre

Very few bands can say they changed music in the way the Stray Cats have. Bursting onto the scene in the early 80’s, the Stray Cats fused blues, country, and rockabilly with a punk rock edge to create a sound that was uniquely their own. That genre bridging sound resulted in a string of successful albums and a passionate fan base. Over the years, the Stray Cats have toured around the world – occasionally taking brief hiatuses to pursue solo projects. That all changed in 2008, when the band announced that their Pacific Amphitheatre show in July of that year would be their last U.S. performance.

Well things change, ten long years have passed, and the Stray Cats are once again on the prowl. With two shows at the Pacific Amphitheatre, Rock in the OC was there to witness.

The first show was on Thursday night, and the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies opened things up with a nine song set list. As the Daddies are a swing and ska band – much of the rockabilly audience around us was unfamiliar with their songs. That is, until they played their hit song Zoot Suit Riot which got much of the crowd up on their feet. Lead vocalist Steve Perry (no, not that Steve Perry) entertained the crowd throughout the set – and their horn section was on point. They wrapped up with The Ding Dong Daddy of the D-Car Line – by that time the crowd was ready for some Stray Cats.

As the stage was prepared for the Stray Cats, the venue started to fill. The fans showed up ready to have a great time – there were parades of pompadours, rolled up jeans, and bandannas. On stage was the normal minimalist setup, a small stand up drum kit for Slim Jim Phantom, an upright double bass for Lee Rocker, and a classic Gretsch 6210 guitar for Brian Setzer. As usual, Setzer had his 1960’s era Fender Bassman head unit sitting atop a blonde 2×12 Fender amp cabinet. For what little effects he needed, his guitar was plugged into a Roland RE-301 Chorus Echo.

With everything set, the Stray Cats strutted on stage and immediately opened with Runaway Boys. The crowd showed their approval by dancing and singing in all directions. Without much of a pause, the band progressed through hit after hit – covering¬†Stray Cat Strut (an obvious crowd favorite), (She’s) Sexy + 17, and Gene & Eddie (which had the crowd shouting the chorus back at Brian).

About midway through the set, Brian paused to ask the crowd “how we doin’ so far?” – to which the response was a roar of approval. The band seemed to feed off of the crowd’s energy, with Slim Jim often racing around the stage returning to his drum kit just in time to provide the beat.

Later in the set Lee Rocker showed off his outstanding vocals on My Baby Left Me and Bring it Back Again. And of course the evening wouldn’t have been complete without Slim Jim standing on his bass drum while Lee balanced (and planked!) on his upright bass.

Near the end of the show they played some of my personal favorites Built for Speed and Fishnet Stockings, before finishing with Rock This Town (which very well could have had the entire town of Costa Mesa rocking). After leaving the stage, they returned for a brief encore of Rumble in Brighton and Somethin’ Else.

To say the band sounded fantastic would be an understatement. Listening to them, you’d think they were three friends who hung out and played music together every weekend – not three artists that have separate schedules and haven’t played on stage together in years. The tones were clean, the melodies were spot on, and their stage presence was fantastic. Leaving the amphitheatre, we couldn’t wait to return for more.

Runaway Boys
Too Hip, Gotta Go
Stray Cat Strut
Double Talkin’ Baby
(She’s) Sexy + 17
Gene & Eddie
Something’s Wrong With My Radio
Cry Baby
I Won’t Stand In Your Way
My Baby Left Me (Lee Rocker on vocals)
My One Desire
Gina
Bring It Back Again (Lee Rocker on vocals)
Lust n Love
Blast Off
Built for Speed
Fishnet Stockings
Rock This Town
—Encore—
Rumble in Brighton
Somethin’ Else

We were back for day two on Friday with the amphitheatre filled to near capacity.  The Paladins took the stage promptly at 7:30pm. They are a rockabilly band in the truest sense of the word. Modeled much like the Stray Cats, they consist of Thomas Yearsley on stand up bass, Brian Fahey on drums, and Dave Gonzalez singing and playing guitar. Originating from San Diego, The Paladins have a bit of Dick Dale styled surf rock riffs in their songs. The crowd enjoyed the set, and were properly warmed up when the Stray Cats came on stage at 8:30pm.

Just like the previous night, the Stray Cats opened with Runaway Boys. If the house was rockin’ on Thursday, it was ROCKIN’ on Friday. The venue was on their feet dancing from the first row to the very last – with the band rarely giving the crowd a break as they tore through a set list that was (nearly) identical to the previous night. At one point Brian did take the time to pause and comment how they started this band almost 40 years ago, and that Slim Jim had the crazy idea to make a video and get it on MTV. I guess that worked out all right for them, eh?

Runaway Boys
Too Hip, Gotta Go
Stray Cat Strut
Double Talkin’ Baby
(She’s) Sexy + 17
Gene & Eddie
Something’s Wrong With My Radio
Cry Baby
I Won’t Stand In Your Way
My Baby Left Me (Lee Rocker on vocals)
My One Desire
Gina
Lust n Love
Bring It Back Again (Lee Rocker on vocals)
Blast Off
Built for Speed
Fishnet Stockings
Rock This Town
—Encore—
Rumble in Brighton
Somethin’ Else

Want more Stray Cats? Well, for now you’ll have to wait as they have no further shows scheduled. In the meantime, you can catch The Brian Setzer Orchestra in Los Angeles on December 22nd as they perform their annual Christmas Rocks! show. You can also catch Lee Rocker at The Coach House in San Juan Capistrano on October 6th. If and when the Stray Cats come back to town, we’ll be there – and you should too.

By |2018-08-18T18:00:32-07:00August 18th, 2018|0 Comments
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