Another Life for Stray Cats
In this age of “classic rock” radio, one has to suspect that any band reunion is a cash-in for the nostalgia dollars that have eluded band members in their solo pursuits. The Stray Cats would certainly seem to fall under suspicion as, since breaking up in 1982, Brian Setzer, Slim Jim Phantom and Lee Rocker have each led careers that seemed likely to soon find them working night shifts at all-night mini-marts.
But in two sold-out shows at the Coach House on Thursday evening, the recently regrouped trio proved every bit as dedicated and effective at resurrecting its own career as it had been at kicking new life into ‘50s rockabilly six years earlier.
At times the three appeared to be merely going through the motions on rote, somnambulant versions of the Top 10 hits “Stray Cat Strut” and “Runaway Boys.” But more often they seemed genuinely caught up in the exhilaration of their roots-rock rhythms. While “Rumble in Brighton,” “Rock This Town” and other catalogue numbers were set alight during the show, the group clearly wasn’t interested in reliving 1982.
Most of the passion in the 14-song set was reserved for new songs. Propelled by a roaring, descending Setzer guitar riff, “Blast Off” mixed lyrics full of ‘50s sci-fi imagery with lightning guitar solos, while “Nine Lives” was a sultry “Fever"-derived ballad that highlighted Setzer’s smooth growl of a voice.
The standout of the new songs was a melodic rocker named “Gina,” a relative of Buddy Holly’s “Peggy Sue,” if Phantom’s careening tom-tom rolls were any indication. The packed house greeted the new songs with the same zeal it did the old favorites, making up for the Coach House’s lack of a dance floor by dancing on tables and chairs.