Friday's "¡Viva Christmas!" affair at World Cafe Live was a fine concert - but praising its musical proficiency only reveals the tip of this stimulating, wildly satisfying iceberg of a show.
Yes, Los Straitjackets of Nashville, the surf-rock quartet that famously performs in colorful Mexican lucha libre ("free fight") wrestling masks, played flawlessly. The musicians delivered souped-up, twanged-out standards off the two Noel-oriented albums of their 20-year career: 2002's 'Tis the Season for Los Straitjackets! and the new Yuletide Beat.
And Robert "El Vez" Lopez, the savvy Mexican American Elvis impersonator - or cultural "translator," as he prefers - was in warm voice, flanked by his two "Lovely Elvettes," Priscilita and Lisa Maria. In a "MeX-Mas" spirit, he crooned modified yule faves and oddball offerings like Augie Rios' 1958 single "¿Dónde Está Santa Claus?" along with his Latinized Presley hit rewrites ("Blue Suede Shoes," for example, yields "Huaraches Azules").
Instead of being accompanied by his usual Memphis Mariachis, El Vez was ably backed by Los Straits for the night's single 90-minute set. The masked instrumentalists impressed with their seasonal treats ("Deck the Halls" with licks from "I Fought the Law," etc.) when El Vez and the gals left the stage for costume changes.
The gig's brightest star, however, was the ingenious pop-musicological feast of a song-splicing set-list created by El Vez. It was an unrelentingly clever mashup of old carols and anything from early rock to soul, glam, punk - even vintage hip-hop, when he and the Elvettes frantically worked cocaine-referencing quips from Grandmaster Flash's "White Lines (Don't Do It)" as Los Straits cruised through "Jingle Bell Rock."
El Vez the showman also played out some unfamiliar-backing-band schtick by feigning frustration in getting Los Straits to play José Feliciano's "Feliz Navidad" in a faster "estilo punk-rock!" Los Straits kept starting the tune with the intro from "La Bamba," whereas El Vez's habitual version kicks off with the invigorating intro to Public Image Ltd.'s "Public Image."
Having both played here regularly, combining forces freshened up each act. Both also have local ties: the Chicano performance artist has a cordial relationship with Stephen Starr's El Vez restaurant (and has played there), while Los Straitjackets are longtime players/promoters of Philly's DiPinto Guitars.