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A Punky Cinco Party with The El Vez Punk Rock Revue At The Echoplex, Monday May 5th 2014


El Vez

‘My body is Mexican, my mind American, a fucking jukebox ready to explode, but my heart is punk rock’, said El Vez the ‘Mexican Elvis’ in the middle of his show at the Echoplex. Robert Lopez has been performing as El Vez for decades but he is much more than an Elvis impersonator,… yes he is a real jukebox but he has revisited Elvis and much more, via the Chicano experience and with a true punk spirit. The 54-year-old guy was restless on stage for close to 2 hours, kicking the air, making splits after splits, giving a hot-energy Cinco de Mayo show, re-baptized for the occasion ‘It’s A Punky Cinco Party with The El Vez Punk Rock Revue’.

The members of his young band opened for him, first there was the very punk rock Diana Death and her loud surf guitar who played a few songs;  she was already cooking some dangerous embers when the Schizophonics took the stage and everything was definitively on fire. Wow, I have seen some high-energy shows before, but these guys brought it to another level, in particular frontman Pat Beers seemed to be possessed by the demon of rock’ n’ roll! No offence to the bassist and the cute drummer, but you couldn’t detach your eyes from Pat during the whole show! He instantaneously launched into the craziest guitar solo, his body moving like a disarticulated puppet producing the most fluid and elastic dance, going in all directions at the same time, always landing on his two feet despite the risky moves, while trashing the stage with his guitar and channeling the spirit of a punked Jimi Hendrix. ‘This song is about Little Richard’, he said. It was a scene to see, he was constantly losing the strap of his guitar, but couldn’t have cared less, pursuing his restless bluesy abandon, bouncing, kneeling down, and screaming while his guitar was clearly playing itself? Hey he was hardly holding his instrument at times and hardly streaming the damn thing, please, explain this to me!! ‘It’s all about the freak-out. That’s all it is. I don’t even care about the songs, necessarily’, said Beers in an interview, ‘The rhythm guitar is all meant to be, like, played while on your back or doing a somersault’. The rage and the energy he unleashed during his performance were just priceless, even scary! How long is he gonna be able to do this before falling exhausted on the floor, I thought. Was he on something? I don’t think so, he was back to normal later on during the show, but all this fury was coming from far deep inside, as if some devilish magical raw power had to come out, letting him drenched in sweat just after playing a few songs. It was the kind of performance that makes the Black Keys or Jack White look like little wimps, an excitation pushed to extreme proportions, an excess looking natural. I guess these guys are all about the live shows, no recordings can possibly match these manic stage antics. ‘Fuzz rock that makes you dance’? their Facebook page says,… dance? It was much more than this, it was as if his whole body was oscillating with his guitar strings.

El Vez didn’t let the energy down a second, not only he brought back the intensity of the Shitzophonics on stage with Diana Death, but he added charisma, glam and a lot of humor. This time, El Vez had revisited his vision of the King through big punk glasses – I had seen him before, years ago when he had the El Vettes backing him up, and the show had this loaded-in-Las-Vegas appeal, this Che-Guevara-meets-Liberace (or Tom Jones) improbable comeback duo. On Monday night, it was all about glam punk rock. Glam because of the costumes – Elvis was all about the costume change right? – and punk because of the attitude and repertoire. Diana Death was shouting these Ramones-que ‘un dos, tres’ before each song, and the band was playing punk music interludes during the costume changes which went from white, red, and black jumpsuits à la Presley to Sex-Pistols-logo ‘God Save The King’ shirt, from giant belts on the hip to anarchy sign on the chest… El Vez showed what a phenomenon and multicultural experience he is, and what a regurgitation of American culture injected of Latino activism he could be! And this is why you may have some difficulties to follow an El Vez show, any song may well be a kaleidoscopic vision of several of them, ‘Blues Suede Shoes’ into ‘Hurraches Azules’, No Fun mixed with CC Ryder,… there was a bit of ‘Suspicious Minds’ at one point, a lot of Richard Hell (‘Blank Generation’ ‘Lil Jonny Jewel’) some Iggy’s ‘Shake Appeal’, some NY Dolls’ ‘Bad Girl’, some ‘false’ Sex Pistols (‘Anarchy’, God Save the Queen’), ‘Walk on Water’… El Vez rewrites the lyrics of punk rock classics, mashes them up together and even puts his own compositions in the mix, so no wonder I got lost. Even the setlist didn’t help me much, but who cares at the end? Let’s just say we weren’t exactly in Graceland anymore.

El Vez may have a few more grey hairs since last time I saw him, but the guy does more costume changes than Beyoncé and can still kick his foot higher than his head. Did I mention how talkative he was, and how nice he behaved with women? I should also go back to the red latex jumpsuit that wasn’t hiding anything of his anatomy – but don’t worry, he still look very good. El Vez is a lot of things at the same time, a dream for history musicophiles? A kitschy cult brought back to life? A Chicano activist? A joke? May be, but it’s a brilliant one, I mean just his name is genius. Robert Lopez, who started his career in a punk band called The Zeroes (a sort of Mexican Ramones) has reinvented himself more times than the greatest entertainers generally do – he once called himself the Thin Brown Duke and opened for Bowie! He has re-appropriated an iconic white figure (and beyond) to sing about immigration, poverty, safe sex, gang violence, Pancho Villa, Zapata and César Chávez, and never had a problem going all political with re-engineering covers, without leaving his hot leather pants.

More pictures here.

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