Not since Creedence Clearwater Revival has a band so instantly galvanized the rock public with traditional, rockabilly-based material as the Stray Cats have. Part of what makes its openly derivative material sound fresh is the band's unabashedly enthusiastic attitude. These three young, handsome and talented rockers didn't so much take the stage of the Ontario Theatre last night as storm it.
At the center of the commotion was singer-guitarist Brian Setzer. Despite his limited vocal expressiveness, Setzer excited the crowd over and over, charging around the stage, dropping to his knees and ripping off stinging leads. On songs like "Stray Cat Strut" and "Fishnet Stockings," his playing was an imaginative synthesis of Chuck Berry, Eddie Cochran and especially the cool, jazzy style of Cliff Gallup.
If Setzer wasn't enough, drummer Slim Jim Phantom was a show unto himself. Working with a minimal drum kit at the front of the stage, he jumped on and off and around his kit, cracking his snare drum with the wicked explosive snap of a string of firecrackers. Meanwhile, Lee Rocker slapped out the ascending and descending bass patterns that give the band much of its characteristic jazzy feel. By the time the band finished its second encore with Cochran's "Something Else," its mission was accomplished. The Stray Cats came to rock this joint and rock it they did.