When it comes to swing bands--even retro swing bands--size counts. Which is why Brian Setzer had a distinct advantage over most of his peers when he performed at Merriweather Post Pavilion on Wednesday night with his orchestra. This full-fledged big band was loud enough to drown out any competition for miles.
Sporting a platinum-blond pompadour and black-and-white rockabilly threads, Setzer opened the show with a splash of surf guitar music (the theme from TV's "Hawaii Five-O") before delighting the dance-eager crowd with his Grammy-winning brand of retro-swing. As always, his guitar playing was a lot more impressive than his singing--his voice began to wear thin halfway through the show. But the combination of his blistering solos and the band's brassy punch generated plenty of thrust for several tunes, including "The Dirty Boogie," "This Cat's on a Hot Tin Roof" and an expansive version of "Stray Cat Strut." Every now and then, Setzer introduced a change of pace, be it a twangy excursion into country music or a reverb-laced reprise of "Sleepwalk."
All in all, hearing the band in concert was a far more entertaining experience than Setzer's recent albums would suggest. The horn charts made for vibrant fun, with the saxes often merging in unison with the guitars, the trombones adding a chorus of contrapuntal voices, and the trumpets capping several arrangements with exclamation points. Small wonder Setzer took obvious delight in allowing the band to roar.