Scotty Moore & Lee Rocker – Birchmere (Alexandria, VA)
Without Scotty Moore, Lee Rocker would be just another charismatic former Stray Cat fronting a crackerjack band with a penchant for uptempo nostalgia. But with the 70-year-old Rock and Roll Hall of Famer in the group, the 40-year-old Rocker is assured a measure of authenticity that considerably widens the audience base.
The Birchmere’s music hall is famous as a serious “listening club” — there are printed reminders on the tabletops not to talk during the performance, and heaven forbid there should be dancing — so the venue’s management debated whether to put the rockabilly revival in the front bandstand area where dancing is possible. Otherwise, where would the poodle skirt girls and sideburn boys Lindy Hop?
As it happened, the show went on in the music hall, but poodles and burns were in short supply anyway. The half-full house (respectable for a midweek school night) was made up of fans “of an age” who seemed more familiar with Moore’s repertoire than Rocker’s. The band responded to the seated, and sober, audience with a showcase concert as opposed to a reckless rave-up.
Rocker, thumping his silver metallic double-bass and in excellent voice, served up a 35-minute opening set joined by guitarists Tara Novick (formerly with El Vez) and Brophy Dale (playing the role of Brian Setzer at Madam Tussaud’s any minute now), plus Jimmy Sage on drums. The quartet ripped through “Bulletproof”, “Little Piece Of Your Love”, “Memphis Freeze” and “One More Shot”, among others, with explosive dexterity. “Stray Cat Strut” b/w “Rock This Town” paved the way for Moore’s entrance, which sparked a standing ovation.
The opening block confirmed how much of a contribution Moore has made to the genre. Moore-like quotes stuck to the songs like fingerprints, and when he began plucking his drop-dead beautiful chocolate brown Chet Atkins Gibson on such seminal hits as “Mystery Train”, “That’s All Right, Mama”, “Blue Moon” and the others, it was clear that this was the man who helped create the language some 50 years earlier.
In other hands, playing the classics with the originator might have turned into glorified karaoke, but Rocker, ever respectful and reverential, sang with vigor and passion, never once trying to sound like Moore’s former vocalist.
Moore, looking dignified with white hair and a sport coat and tie, played as he ever did, without face-grimacing histrionics or much movement at all. His right hand held a black thumb pick, while his left hand contained all the patience in the world as he calmly, expressively played solos that have become nearly genetic in their familiarity. To see him play the solo of “Heartbreak Hotel” played is to witness history, but the thrill comes when it dawns on you that there are two of those solos. At that moment, you realize “cool” means “chilling” — and it was.