The Stray Cats: Still Rockin’ After All These Years

Stray Cats | Rocked This Town: From LA To London | (Surfdog/BMG)
4 out of 5 stars

Videos by American Songwriter

Assuming the ageing Stray Cats audience is fine with the wince inducing concept of a bunch of 60 year old men singing “(She’s) Sexy + 17,” which should at least raise a few eyebrows, this is an impressive document of the band’s best performances from 2019’s reunion tour.

And even if it seems more like the Brian Setzer show, especially without the visuals of Slim Jim Phantom jumping/stomping on his cocktail drum set and bassist Lee Rocker manhandling his instrument to the shattering point, the trio sounds fired up on these 23 sizzling tracks.

To their credit, the Cats released 40, a disc of fresh originals in May, 2019 to commemorate four decades from the rockabilly band’s inception. So they were already rehearsed, primed and ready to rock on this tour which was fortunately finished before the pandemic. There are four tracks from that recent album mixed into a set list not surprisingly heavy on the “Stray Cat Strut”-ting hits.

But there are some surprises too. They pay tribute to surf guitarist Dick Dale by roaring through a powerful “Miserlou” and bassist Lee Rocker (who had a relatively successful solo career), gets a rare vocal on his own “When Nothing’s Going Right.” Setzer displays his formidable chops on an unaccompanied cover of Merle Travis’ caffeinated “Cannonball Rag” and croons the slow dance “I Won’t Stand In Your Way” in his best Bobby Darin voice.

The Stray Cats dig deep into their catalog to dust off the frantic “Blast Off” which does what its title implies with a particularly fiery Setzer guitar lead. They also charge through “Lust ‘N’ Love” that should have been a big hit and tell a story of how rocking will cure your medical ills on the bluesy “Rock It Off.” Setzer is in fine form throughout; important since he is such an integral part of the outfit. And while Slim Jim and Lee aren’t nearly as essential, at least on CD, their jittery dynamism is very much in evidence on this packed 78 minute set. Closer “Rumble in Brighton” is so energized it makes the studio version sound wooden in comparison.

The audio is exquisitely recorded which makes the notoriously stripped down trio sound like a larger band. And even if we wish we had a DVD displaying the vibrant stage show (the cover photo conveys some of the excitement), this is a more than worthy document of what may end up being the Stray Cats’ final tour.

Let’s hope that’s not the case.   

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