EL VEZ with the CHICKENS at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), Friday (September 21). $12.50. 416-532-1588.
while many artists are postpon-ing gigs if not cancelling tours in light of recent horrifying events, El Vez is among the few determined to stay on the road and keep playing shows. The madcap Mexican Elvis believes the spiritually enriched music of his new Boxing With God (SFTRI) gospel album carries the right message for the moment.
Judging by the ingeniously Jesus-juiced recasting of Iggy Pop's Lust For Life as Lust For Christ and his hymnal transformation of the Stones' Just Want To See His Face, El Vez's take on gospel may be skewed, but his heart's definitely in the right place. Besides, it's hard to argue with a man wearing boxing gloves.
"I'm like God's little counter-terrorist," claims sharp-witted Los Angeles performance artist Robert Lopez, whose El Vez alter ego has added glitzy boxing trunks and a hooded warmup robe to his fabulous stagewear selection. "We're out here each night fighting hate with our message of love.
"My whole thing has been about using Elvis as the all-American icon and superimposing the moustache, Latino culture and politics on top to show that this, too, is part of America.
"I'm not making fun of Elvis, I'm just using his image as a jump-off point for my own statement. I'm using gospel music in a similar way. There's nothing blasphemous about it. In fact, people now seem to be reading their own stuff into the comments I've been making about America and turning the shows into a big pro-USA thing."
As might be expected, some long-time El Vez fans have been much less enthusiastic about the sudden religious conversion. Yet Lopez, who was raised a Catholic but says he "outgrew it," insists that such spiritual detours are a part of rock and roll tradition. And as every Elvis Presley fan knows, the only Grammy Awards the King ever received were for his gospel recordings.
"Hey, just look at Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Little Richard, even Madonna -- if you stick around long enough, you eventually go through your spiritual phase. It was just my time.
"There are people who've been turned off by it, like, "Oh, no, El Vez has got religion?' But that doesn't bother me. Putting people off is part of my punk rock roots. It's a good way to get people thinking, and maybe rethinking their own beliefs."
For the moment, El Vez has no plans for forming a cult or starting a television ministry. However, he hopes his performances, backed by his Memphis Mariachis and the Lovely Elvettes, may provide some enlightenment along with the usual razzle-dazzle entertainment.
"The show is very positive. I'm not interested in finger-pointing part of organized religion. My idea of spirituality isn't just about what happens in church -- it's a 24-hours-a-day, seven days-a-week thing.
"The point I'm trying to make is that we don't necessarily need to separate what happens on Saturday night from Sunday morning. Spirituality and sexuality go hand in hand, and it's the conflict that arises from that meeting that often leads to the creation of great art -- at least in my mind."