20 years later, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy has still got that swing

By Todd von Kampen / World-Herald correspondent

Now that’s making fast work of a concert.

Big Bad Voodoo Daddy set such a relentless, exciting pace Thursday night that it needed just 72 minutes to tear through its 16-song set. Fortunately, guitarist/bandleader Scotty Morris and his swinging pals just happened to have three extra “charts” in their back pockets to reward the Holland Performing Arts Center audience for its enthusiasm.

It’s been 20 years since Morris left the punk and alternative rock scene behind and joined drummer Kurt Sodergren in launching the swing revival’s new-yet-old wave. Their nine-piece band, which hasn’t changed its lineup since 1995, took the Holland crowd on an energetic review of its role in the movement that also produced Royal Crown Revue, the Brian Setzer Orchestra and Omaha’s now-retired Prairie Cats.

It was a movement of zoot suits, cool hats and the irrepressible vibes of New Orleans, the Cotton Club and Benny Goodman’s “Sing, Sing, Sing.” It had young people learning swing dancing at the turn of the millennium when it seemed that rock and its disco-techno offshoots had triumphed for good. Most of all, it reminded people of days when music was mainly about cutting loose and having fun, even when times were hard.

From the first bars of their opener, “The Ballad of Smokey Joe,” it was evident that Morris, Sodergren and their mates know how to have fun on stage. The song liberally borrows from Cab Calloway’s classic “Minnie the Moocher” (right down to Morris’ invitation to the crowd to join in the “hi-dee hi-dee hi-dee hi”). But it was a mere warm-up for “The Jitters,” when Sodergren’s rumbling floor tom and the five-piece horn section first let loose with their full power.

Morris was every bit the ringleader of the act, epitomizing coolness as lead vocalist (and occasional guitar and banjo-picker) as his friends strutted their stuff. Karl Hunter ripped off sizzling solos on soprano, alto and tenor saxophones, while Andy Rowley growled and rumbled impressively on the baritone sax and Alex Henderson readily pitched in with his trombone.

Glen “The Kid” Marhevka poured every ounce of his body into bebopping trumpet solos, while Anthony Bonsera Jr. ratcheted up the excitement with one long, sustained trumpet note in “Simple Songs,” a Morris-written tribute to Louis Armstrong. Dirk Shumaker laid down steadily frantic grooves on the string bass, while pianist Joshua Levy proved himself equally at home with rollicking chords, spare Count Basie-type solos and ragtime-inspired Dixieland stylings.

Big Bad Voodoo Daddy’s latest album, “Rattle Them Bones,” naturally was prominently featured in the main set. But longtime fans were rewarded with the tunes that helped make the band’s name — “Mr. Pinstripe Suit,” “Go-Daddy-O” and “You, Me and the Bottle Makes Three Tonight (Baby).” The three-song encore ended with the clever “So Long Farewell Goodbye,” which included a brief quote of “Sweet Home Alabama” that probably surprised only the uninitiated.