It was billed as the Stray Cats and Dave Edmunds show at the Merriweather Post Pavilion last night, but the two musical high points were provided by Billy Bremner and Geraint Watkins. The Stray Cats, the chart-topping young trio from Long Island, were most entertaining in their theatrical evocation of rockabilly style but they never got beyond the style to the substance. Edmunds, the Welsh veteran who's gotten to the substance many times before, had a sore throat and cut his opening set to 25 minutes.
Before he did, though, Edmunds turned the mike over to Bremner, his former partner in Rockpile. Bremner sang "Trouble Boys" with a stubborn blue-collar toughness that lies at the heart of rockabilly. He turned the mike over to pianist Watkins who strapped on an accordion and led Edmunds' band through a steamy Tex-Mex version of "You Ain't Nothin' But Fine, Fine, Fine." Edmunds delivered a rough but punchy version of his 1970 New Orleans rhythm and blues hit, "I Hear You Knockin'," before clutching his throat and insisting he couldn't continue.
The Stray Cats put on a flashy hour-long show. They wore painted leather jackets and embroidered cowboy clothes, complemented by bicep tattoos and greased pompadours. Lee Rocker climbed atop his acoustic bass as he played it and Slim Jim Phantom climbed atop his drums. Over their rudimentary rhythm, top Cat Bryan Setzer sang the requisite yelps and squeals. Setzer's superbly picked, carefully shaped guitar solos actually were far more expressive than his vocals. The Stray Cats are a young band looking for direction; so it was no coincidence that their best numbers were those produced by Edmunds ("Stray Cat Strut" and "Rock This Town") or those written by Eddie Cochran ("Come On Everybody") or Johnny Burnett ("Baby Blue Eyes").