Guitarist/vocalist Brian Setzer, bassist Lee Rocker, and drummer Slim Jim Phantom, better known as The Stray Cats, cut a swath through the early 1980’s with their re-invention of rockabilly music by their adding punk elements to the mix. Songs such as “Stray Cat Strut,” “(She’s) Sexy + 17,” and “Rock This Town” not only found huge commercial success but introduced a new niche into rock music.
The band has reunited several times down through the years but it was their first incarnation that set the tone for their career.
Their newest release is a look back in time to two live performances. Live At Rockpalast is a two-CD and one-DVD set. There is a CD and DVD of their concert at Open Air Loreley, recorded August 20, 1983. The second CD is a concert recorded July 16, 1981, at Satory-Sale Cologne.
Their sound always had a primitive feel but the Loreley concert added sax player Mel Collins to the mix, who filled in a lot of the gaps and gave the band a fuller sound and more flexibility while performing live.
The two years between concerts also shows a growth in the band’s capabilities as seen through their stage presence and the increasing expansion and sophistication of their set list.
The early 1981 set find the Stray Cats near the beginning of their career. It is a set of four originals plus 10 covers of rockabilly songs. They rip through such classics as “My One Desire,” “Gonna Ball,” “Somethin’ Else,” and “Ubangi Stomp,” which are updated into a modern day rockabilly sound.
By 1983, they were well-established stars on the international scene. Originals such as “Built For Speed,” “Look At That Cadillac,” “Stray Cat Strut,” and “Rock This Town” evoke the loudest audience reaction. The also add such timeless tunes as “The Race Is On,” “Tear It Up,” and a brilliant “Banjo Time (Foggy Mountain Breakdown).”
The sound is excellent for the day. The DVD has limited angles and the band looks a little lonely on the big stage and playing in front of thousands. The audience does seem engaged and the band responds and is on fire.
The Stray Cats have reunited several times since their first dissolution in 1984. Live At Rockpalast is a nice look back to a band that not only created good music but helped bring a forgotten musical style into the modern age.