The reunited Stray Cats launched their 40th anniversary tour back home on Long Island Friday night with a private show for SiriusXM contest winners at the tiny Revolution Bar and Music Hall in Amityville.
Singer-guitarist Brian Setzer said it was the same bar they wanted to play when the Massapequa natives were starting out as a rockabilly band, arriving at the audition at what was then the Past Times Pub in a ’57 Chevy with Lee Rocker’s trademark stand-up bass in the backseat.
“We didn’t pass the audition,” Setzer told the crowd packed into the sweaty club and those listening to the show broadcast on SiriusXM’s Outlaw Country, First Wave and Little Steven’s Underground Garage channels. “It’s OK because we’re here now.”
“We got better,” added Rocker.
That was certainly clear from the band’s impressive 90-minute show, which spanned the Long Island Music Hall of Famers' entire career, from “Runaway Boys” to songs from its new album “40” released in May, including the current single “Cat Fight (Over a Dog Like Me).”
Though it’s the trio’s first major American tour in 10 years, Setzer, Rocker and drummer Slim Jim Phantom have played together at the occasional festival and never stopped performing in their solo projects.
All three are now virtuosos on their instruments, with Rocker and Phantom weaving together intricate rhythms while Setzer delivers wild guitar solos. And Setzer’s rockabilly croon has only deepened and improved with age, as he showed on their breakout hit “Stray Cat Strut” and a gorgeous version of “I Won’t Stand in Your Way.”
The simplicity of their setup makes what they do with songs like “Rock This Town,” which becomes an epic anthem live with solos from Setzer and Rocker, all the more stunning.
“Rockabilly music may not be for everyone,” Setzer said. “But if you like it, we’re the best at it.”
The band’s new songs certainly support that, whether it’s the country-tinged “Mean Pickin’ Mama” or the upbeat “When Nothing’s Going Right,” where Rocker handles the vocals.
“Did we pass the audition?” Setzer asked the crowd, who roared in response.
“We’ll be here every Friday,” he joked, though the band does play The Rooftop at Pier 17 in Manhattan on Tuesday.