Donning Mexican wrestling masks and conducting all on-stage banter in gringo-fied Spanish, Los Straitjackets would be easy to dismiss as a joke if they weren’t such a damn fine band. Since 1994, the California foursome — Danny Amis, Eddie Angel, Pete Curry, and Jimmy Lester — have been playing surf instrumentals with a zeal and authenticity that few of their peers can match. On their first live recording, ¡Damas y Caballeros!, Los Straitjackets deliver a fun and energetic blast of ’60s-style rock that makes you feel like you’re there.
This set, recorded at the Foothill Tavern in Long Beach, California, finds Los Straitjackets mixing originals and covers with equally impressive results. There’s a lot of great — and surprisingly diverse — music to be found on ¡Damas y Caballeros!. Besides offering up the pure surf workouts “Kawanga!” and “Tempest” (the latter used to great effect in the movie Psycho Beach Party), Los Straitjackets let loose with a mystery-man vibe on “Casbah” and provide an almost sweet take on Celine Dion’s mega-hit “My Heart Will Go On”. The guitar squawking on “Itchy Chicken” lets the band show off their musical chops, while their cover of Floyd Cramer’s “Last Date” (a tune that R.E.M. once covered, too) oozes a cinematic sentimentality that is hard to disparage.
In addition, Los Straitjackets throw in some stylish flourishes that make the listener feel more a part of the live experience. Besides including the above-mentioned Spanish-language banter, there is a great introduction, conducted in a radio-announcer tone, that features such helpful hints as, “If you’ve seen Los Straitjackets before, please do not reveal the ending to others.”
Perhaps the classiest touch, however, is the illustrations of the band performing at various unexpected venues. Rocking out in someone’s living room with a picture of the Virgin Mary hanging overhead, Los Straitjackets, according to the caption, “put the ‘golden’ in Senor and Senora Pedro Muñiz’s golden anniversary celebration.” Senor and Senora Muñiz should think themselves lucky.