Gig Review: The Stray Cats at the Powerstaion

By Graham Reid

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Curious layers of strange nostalgia fold into themselves at a Stray Cats gig. After all, here's a band which, when it emerged almost three decades ago in Britain's post-punk era, drew on a musical style from more than two decades prior to that. It makes you wonder who goes to their shows, and for which piece of nostalgia?

Most bands like to claim they have a wide cross-section in their audience, but for the Stray Cats at the Powerstation that seemed true: a guy in his 20s wearing a Johnny Cash t-shirt, longhairs and those in their 30s with shaven heads, women of all ages, old time rock'n'rollers with quiffs or balding, post-punks who remember Stray Cat Strut, Rumble in Brighton, Fishnet Stockings, Rock This Town and Runaway Boys from 1980, people there to party to songs which are all vaguely familiar ... .

Lots of layers of various forms of nostalgia. But on stage this long-standing three-piece play this rockabilly rock'n'roll grounded in the late 50s as if it is the most important music happening right now.

At his minimal kit Slim Jim Phantom hammers out elemental rhythms or plays like Sandy Nelson on speed, on upright bass (the most beautiful to grace a New Zealand stage) Lee Rocker uses the thick strings like percussion to pull out a driving pulse, and in the middle the slightly paunchy singer/guitarist Brian Setzer delivers what we might call "strum und twang" which is as sharp as a stiletto.

The Stray Cats work a narrow but remarkably deep vein: it obviously refers to its heroes Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran, but in Setzer's playing you can hear echoes of Chuck Berry, Link Wray, Elvis' guitarist Scotty Moore and Duane Eddy. But he also draws on country players such as Johnny Cash, Marty Robbins and Chet Atkins.

Add that to their original material and deft acknowledgements of similar music by contemporaries (the late Ian Dury's Sweet Gene Vincent) and this adds depth to what could otherwise be just another oldies rock'n'roll revival show.

Initially Setzer's vocals sounded a shadow of themselves but as the night progressed he got stronger and on their terrific but largely overlooked Gina he conjured up the spirit of that era when bad boys wanted to make good for their girlfriends, and maybe take them to the drive-in.

Yes, there is weird nostalgia at a Stray Cats gig, but in 70 short, fat-free minutes (with a 10 minute encore) it all went by in the blink of an eye and rockabilly music from the 50s and 80s merged seamlessly.

Three cool cats, indeed.

- NZ Herald

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