Brian Setzer/Jim Jones Revue: live review

Brian Setzer Rockabilly Riot
Jim Jones Revue
Manchester Academy
July 2011

The mysterious ‘they’ always go on about rock n roll being dead.

Obviously they were not here tonight. This had to be one of the most vibrant, electric rock n roll shows ever held in The Academy and proof that the form is far from dead; with it’s music still making sense in the 21st century and the Hypa fifties look of cranked up quiffology and heavy duty tatts being one of the key looks for anyone who still cares to dress up.

The fifties had cat class and cat style but they also had some of the most intense music ever.

Jim Jones Revue have somehow raided the rock n roll idiom and come up with something that is supercharged raw power for the now. They don’t so much play a set as breathe the firebrand power of rock n roll like sweatshod preacher men on a mission. It’s like watching Little Richard facing his demons, screaming, ‘rock n roll or the bible, sex or god’ over and over again. There is that sort of primal understanding of the form that scorches it right back to it’s roots when there was a feral danger to the form instead of the neatly packaged college rock that is has somehow become.

Jim Jones have the whole thing nailed down.

They look fantastic – sharp clothes are so much part of pure rock n roll. It’s part of the theatre. Part of the schtick. You gotta dress to impress, god knows how anyone can wear a three piece suit in that heat but the effect is everything. They hit the stage with an intent and then switch into a frenzied state, the on tour laundry bill must be insane.

Jim Jones underhand that sharp creases, starched shirts and gunslinger suits are the frontline in rock n roll. If you hit the stage like a battalion of well tailored maniacs, it sets the tone and it sets the mood.

If you can back it up then your on the home run. I can’t imagine playing to a Brian Setzer audience is easy – these people know their rock n roll and they know what they like but Jim Jones has them and he earns their approval with an impassioned, flaming set that captures the fire of Chuck Berry, the MC5, garage punk and sweet soul power into a self flagellating whole. Every song is anthemic and lasts for ever in the right way with climax after climax, played with the barrelhouse power of a band at the top of their game, the impassioned flame thrower of everything that makes rock n roll great.

The have the paper, the chops, the songs and the white of the eyes intensity to breathe life into a decades old form. Watching Jim Jones is like a glimpse into the very formation of this holy music and proof that even in these cynical, seen it all before, times it is still possible to play a music with a pure unadulterated joy.

When Brian Setzer walks on stage he gets the heroes welcome.

He has earned it over the years since the Stray Cats burst onto the scene at the tail end of punk with a series of huge sounding singles that shoehorned rockabilly, punk rock and a touch of glam into a fantastic series of taught and shiny pop records that were huge hits . They looked cool as fuck as well and pretty well patented the tattoos and quiff look that is fast becoming the alternative look this decade.

Setzer has lost nothing over the years. His quiff is still immaculate and his guitar playing is stunning. Those damn Gretsches are tough to play but he peals out the licks and the runs like it’s so simple, The Rockabilly Riot are just that and there plenty of old school showboating- one of the highlights is a darkly cool rendition of Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues and having a triple Double Bass battle were the band’s two double bass players trade off licks before Setzer emerges from backstage with his own double bass and joins the frey. The band kick back in and it sounds massive.

That was always Setzer’s trick, he understood the flash and the panstick of rock n roll roll, not for him the dour museum piece of the form- the Stray Cats knew electric rockabilly through and through but they always instinctively understood punk rock and the big shiny pop of the early eighties. They didn’t fear the charts and wrote great songs and made them sound like anthems. With the Rockabilly Riot Setzer is playing for fun, the band are super cool and he is trading licks with them still in love with the rock n roll.

The highpoint, though, is when he brings Slim Jim Phantom on and they run through the Stray Cats hits, it’s a brilliant crescendo to a set already full of crescendos. The songs have stood the of time and his voice still has the raw urgency that was such a trademark in his early days. The hits still sounds great, Runaway Boys, Rock This Town, Stray Cat Strut, Rumble In Brighton…great songs that have never sounded dated.

What both band sported tonight in their owns specific ways that’d Rock n roll is far from dead, that in the right hands it’s still a raw, vibrant and sexy music that is full of the yearning and lust for life that fired up the primeval days of pop culture.

‘Don’t push us when were hot’ Joe Strummer once sang in his Clash days.

He would have understood the heat tonight.


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  1. London was damned good too.
    As near a perfect rock ‘n’ roll night as possible.

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