Continuing our series My Best And Worst Gigs Ever, rockabilly superstar Brian Setzer talks about two shows that stand out in his mind as being the greatest he's ever played – and one that wasn't so much.
“Of the best shows, they go from small to big. From an ego standpoint, there’s me as a young guy getting lit up by the audience. It was of the first shows with the Stray Cats at a club in London called Dingwalls. We hit that town and were just knockin ‘em dead.
“Half of the people in the club were punks, the other half were rockabillies, and you could literally draw a line down the middle. They were elbowing each other too, because they didn’t like each other. But the punks liked us, so it was cool.
“There was a pole in the middle of the stage too, so you had to move around it while you played. And Slim Jim came out wearing his Massapequa gym outfit. Remember those things? They had the shorts and you had to write your name across your ass. Our school had an American Indian as our logo. So instead of trying to look all cool with a black leather jacket or something, he put on a Massapequa gym outfit. I couldn’t believe it – it was just the best. I don’t even know if they knew what it was over there in England. But the show was incredible, and the crowd went wild.
“The other show that sticks out for me was when I did three nights in 2012 at the Hollywood Bowl. We had the fireworks and the 100-piece orchestra and the whole bit. To do three nights at such an iconic venue with a huge orchestra behind me was just remarkable. Hearing the strings behind me, I got teary eyed – you know, these guys are playing my songs! Sixty thousand people, 20,000 a night – that’s pretty cool.
“The big shows can get kind of nerve-wracking, though. When you’re playing to those large audiences and you’re the headliner, it’s a lot to think about; there’s a lot on your shoulders. Hats off to U2, man – I don’t know if I could handle that kind of pressure every night. We did a giant show in Montreal in front of 125,000 people. I went, ‘My God… ’ It can get to you.
“And you know, there’s so many things that happen before you hit the stage: The plane is late, your luggage didn’t arrive – there’s 100 different things that can go wrong. But you know, once I get up on that stage and I hear the sound of my guitar and it sounds good, the jitters kind of melt away. ‘OK, I can hear myself. The guitar sounds good. I can hear everybody else – this is gonna work!’ So it always comes down to the sound.