Local Current Blog

Photos and review: ‘Would you like to hear a little rockabilly?’ Stray Cats evoke nostalgia on 40th anniversary tour

Photos by Mary Mathis/MPR

Watching “Rock This Town” on MTV as a child in the ’80s felt unbelievably cool, but nothing prepared me for the ultimate experience of seeing the iconic song performed live — almost 40 years later.

While my personal dance moves have progressed from a simple jump-in-place, to a more Elaine Benes dance kick-move, the Stray Cats have also evolved in the past 40 years, becoming rockabilly revival legends. What’s more, they’re now at least one-third a local band: Setzer has lived in Minnesota since the early 2000s.

The Stray Cats, still comprising founding trio Brian Setzer, Lee Rocker, and Slim Jim Phantom, recently recorded and released their first album in 25 years. The album, 40, was named to commemorate the band’s monumental anniversary. The band also celebrated with a rigorous worldwide tour that began in June and stopped in Minnesota for an energy-driven, song-packed performance.

Nostalgic fans filled the Treasure Island Event Center in Red Wing on Sunday evening: some with pomade-styled slicked-back hair, while others wore 1950s-inspired vintage dresses, heels, and Converse shoes.

Winnie Powers, a fan from Fort Lauderdale, has followed the band for 40 years. “We would follow them everywhere,” said Powers before the show. “We had silkscreen shirts of ‘Stray Cat Strut.'”

“They have been around for a long time and for them, 40 years later, to say ‘Hey, we are going to get back together and show our fans,’ for them to be doing this is really cool,” said fan Robert Lawton of Eden Prairie. “The new album is still in their style, but has originality to it.”

The band took the stage to thunderous applause, and began the set with “Cat Fight (Over a Dog Like Me),” a song from their new album, as concertgoers immediately began dancing and clapping to the rockabilly beats.

Setzer asked the crowd, “Would you like to hear a little rockabilly?”

The 22-song set continued with older hits like “Stray Cat Strut,” “(She’s) Sexy +17,” and  “Fishnet Stockings,” but also included several songs from their new album, 40. 

The set included several cover songs. At one point, Setzer addressed the crowd and said, “This song goes out to Dick Dale, king of the surf guitar,” and began playing their cover of “Misirlou.”

Before playing “Stray Cat Strut,” Setzer addressed the crowd and said, “If you want to sing along to this one, we don’t mind.” Lee Rocker’s bass solo during the song inspired fans into a standing ovation.

Performing in his usual standing-up style, drummer Phantom played the entire set with his typical bass drum, snare, hi-hat and crash cymbal, while Rocker switched among upright basses, often playing them on their sides like bass guitars. During “Fishnet Stockings,” Setzer even stood on top of Rocker’s bass.

The set ended with the entire crowd (including myself) out of their seats, dancing to “Rock This Town,” and continued with a three-song encore that included “Rock It Off,” from their new album, and concluded with “Rumble in Brighton.” Setzer ended by saying, “Thank you, Minnesota,” as the trio danced on stage for a few minutes and fans continued to applaud.

The show opened with the James Hunter Duo, who has been with the Stray Cats for part of the tour. The guitar-and-bass duo engaged the crowd and set the stage for the main act.

The Stray Cats tour will continue until Sept. 1, and end in San Diego.

Stray Cats setlist
“Cat Fight (Over A Dog Like Me)”
“Runaway Boys”
“Double Talkin’ Baby” (Gene Vincent & His Blue Caps cover)
“Three Time’s a Charm”
“Stray Cat Strut”
“Mean Pickin’ Mama”
“Gene and Eddie”
“Cry Baby”
“I Won’t Stand in Your Way”
“Cannonball Rag”
“Misirlou” (Dick Dale cover)
“When Nothing’s Going Right”
“(She’s) Sexy + 17”
“Bring it Back Again”
“My One Desire”
“Blast Off”
“Lust n Love”
“Fishnet Stockings”
“Rock This Town”
“Rock it Off”
“Built for Speed”
“Rumble in Brighton”

Marla Khan-Schwartz is a Local Current associate blogger. She has a specific background and interest in counseling psychotherapy and public health emergency preparedness.