Brian Setzer with Johnny Hatton and Noah Levy, of St. Paul

Brian Setzer with Johnny Hatton and Noah Levy, of St. Paul

Early on a balmy Saturday night at the soldout Orpheum Theatre, Brian Setzer acknowledged that it was kinda early to present a Christmas concert.

But math and economics dictate that his 18-member Brian Setzer Orchestra’s holiday tour requires 31 shows to make ends meet, so his 12th annual Yule trek began in mid-November in his hometown of the past decade.

To compensate, Setzer mixed in lots of non-holiday music – including “Stray Cat Strut” and “Jump Jive and Wail” – throughout the set. In fact, except for the red-and-green outfits and holidays props (wrapped gifts, Christmas trees, poinsettias), it didn’t feel a lot like Christmas.

That’s because Setzer and his players were truly rocking. Whether it was “Boogie Woogie Santa,” “Fishnet Stockings” or a riotous “Let’s Shake,” BSO rocked this town. Setzer stretched out often on guitar, showing a wide vocabulary of rock, rockabilly, jazz, blues and surf licks.

The most fun, though, may have come courtesy of new piano man Kevin McKendree, who tore it up on the upright piano on “Great Balls of Fire,” a version that would melt any snow drift as the tour travels.

On this first night of the tour, there were a few kinks, including microphone malfunctions, guitar glitches (on both the cherry-red and Granny Smith-green Gretschs) and a sound mix that didn’t keep Setzer’s voice loud enough.

But the 56-year-old was loose and having a whale of a good time – so much so that he asked his three backup singers (wife Julie Reiten Setzer, Leslie Spencer and bassist Johnny Hatton) to redo “Jingle Bell Rock” with a gentler feel – and they did it masterfully.

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