With El Vez at Lee’s Palace, a new film kicks off

Believe it or not, Mitchell Kezin’s doc JINGLE BELL ROCKS is kicking off shooting! Searching out the true spirit of Xmas, Mitch is hunting down obscure Christmas songs and their obsessive fans, from the Ramones to John Waters. He’ll be kris-krossing North America in his sleigh of tunes all month! Special thanks to Knowledge Network, SCN, Access, Bravo!  TVO and the Harold Greenberg fund.


Click to see the first show, in Toronto:

“Christmas came early to Toronto’s Lee’s Palace on Tuesday night. Actually, it was more like Mex-mas made an appearance at the club, since the Lucha Libre-mask wearing instrumental quartet Los Straitjackets, El Vez and his two lovely El Vettes were the stars of the evening.

So it was a no-brainer that I’d don my gay apparel and put on my Santa Claus suit, white beard and Mexican wrestling maskto cover the show as my holiday season alter-ego, Santez. You could have had your picture taken with him in exchange for a five-dollar donation (which Santez always matches) to The Kidney Foundation Of Canada. Tuesday’s total came to $90.

But that’s enough of Santez for now. Let’s get back to the show.

An excellent 35-minute opening set by local trio The Flying Bordelos (looking like waiters from a cheesy Latin restaurant in matching black pants and vests, and ruffle-fronted red tuxedo shirts) that covered instrumental and vocal performances, covers and originals — encompassing surf, garage, twang and ’60s freak beat styles — set the stage for the main event.

Los Straitjackets — a Grammy Award-nominated, Nashville-formed band of seasoned musicians — also specialize in guitar-driven surf and twang sounds. The group’s 2002 album, “‘Tis The Season For Los Straitjackets,” is my favourite Christmas record. It opens with “Here Comes Santa Claus,” and so did the set. A Santa suit-adorned El Vez, with the dancing El Vettes also adding backing vocals, then came out to do “Holiday Twist.”

El Vez is the “Mexican Elvis” persona of Robert Lopez, who was a member of Los Angeles punk band the Zeros and was later in Catholic Discipline with Phranc before embarking on his new career. The man puts on flamboyantly funny shows with numerous costume changes, props and both original songs and parodies with lyrics that promote Latino culture and tackle important social issues, while still maintaining a sense of humour.

Different tours have different themes. I’ve been treated to “El Vez For Prez” and gospel shows in the past and, while some songs overlap between performances, El Vez’s humour and originality make each one unique.

Los Straitjackets performed a number of holiday songs — including “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” “Deck The Halls,” “Jingle Bell Rock,” “Silver Bells,” “Sleigh Ride,’ “A Marshmallow World” and “Let It Snow” — while El Vez and the girls left the stage frequently to change outfits. The band also brought out “Itchy Chicken” (the song I used to finish fourth in the 2007 Canadian air guitar championship) in the encore.

Los Straitjackets also acted as the backing band for El Vez, which made for many interesting musical moments. It was like a Christmas feast for music geeks who wanted to play Name That Tune, as snippets of songs weaved their way in and out of others. I detected parts of The Velvet Underground’s “I’ll Be Your Mirror” and “There She Goes Again,” and Grandmaster Flash’s “White Lines (Don’t Do It),” among many others.

A take-off of “Blue Suede Shoes” featured a “Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer” instrumental bridge. There were a handful of James Brown-like splits by El Vez during “Santa’s Got A Brand New Bag.” “En El Barrio,” a Mexican take on Elvis Presley’s “In The Ghetto,” evolved into a parody of Oasis’ “Champagne Supernova” called “Souped Up Chevy Nova.”

There were both the Christmas and Three Dog Night versions of “Joy To The World.” “White Christmas” was changed to “Brown Christmas” and segued into “Happy Xmas (War Is Over).” “Feliz Navidad,” featuring a giant inflatable snowman on stage, ended the night.

A crew shot the show for a documentary film titled “Jingle Bell Rocks!,” a “pop culture pilgrimage into the odd and irreverent universe of alternative Christmas music.”

Santez obliged when filmmaker Mitchell Kezin asked to interview him on camera for the movie, and to have his picture taken with him in front of the Lee’s logo. I’m also sending Kezin photos, videos and ideas that can hopefully be incorporated into the film, which should hit the festival circuit in 2011.

Check out the “Jingle Bell Rocks!” web site to see what’s in store. It looks like it will be more entertaining than watching a fat man getting stuck in your chimney.

You can see more photos from Tuesday night’s show here”