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DVD Review: Stray Cats - "Live at Montreux 1981"

Stray Cats Live at Montreaux 1981 Eagle Rock Entertainment Brian Setzer’s albums over the last couple of decades have been so progressively ambitious that some might look back on the

Stray Cats
Live at Montreaux 1981
Eagle Rock Entertainment

Brian Setzer’s albums over the last couple of decades have been so progressively ambitious that some might look back on the early Stray Cats days as almost quaint—like he, bassist Lee Rocker, and drummer Slim Jim Phantom almost lucked out with a handful of catchy songs when there happened to be a rockabilly revival across the Atlantic.

But the 15 tracks on the new Stray Cats DVD Live at Montreux 1981 will smack any such notions right out of your pompadour. Filmed six months after their first album debuted, it’s a thumping, sweat-soaked testament to just how hungry, relentless, and dedicated they were. Setzer, just 22, looks like a London street punk with his platinum hair, black leather, and sneering stage presence, but armed with his famed 1959 Gretsch 6120 and a blonde Fender Bassman head driving a Vox AC30 cabinet, he howls and prowls like a seasoned showman and holds the elbow-to-elbow crowd enthralled for 70 minutes with the same raw rave-up riffs and jazzy chords that are the core of his style today. Rocker, then 19, is incredible too—manhandling his upright like a vet with his taped-up knuckles—while Phantom, 20, stands atop his kit and never misses a beat (the former also croons shockingly well on his own blues number “Drink That Bottle Down”).

This long-overdue release captures budding prodigies of the rarest sort—those who don’t let the drive for instrument mastery overshadow energy, chemistry, and genuine rock ’n’ roll swagger. A must for any serious Setzer fan. —Shawn Hammond
Must-watch tracks: “Ubangi Stomp,” “Storm the Embassy”

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