The Mexican Elvis unwraps Christmas

EL VEZ with MAXIMUM R’n’B at the Horseshoe (370 Queen West), Tuesday (December 11). 9 pm. $13.50. 416-598-4753. Rating: NNNNN

knowing how dearly elvis presley loved Christmas, El Vez couldn’t really go around calling himself the Mexican Elvis in good conscience if he wasn’t into the yuletide vibe.So along with releasing barrio-bent versions of his favourite seasonal swingers as No El Vez Si: A Christmas Album (Poptones) — an expanded version of his 94 classic Merry MeX-Mas (SFTRI) disc — he’s again spending the month of December making spirits bright with a Christmas tour that stops at the Horseshoe on Tuesday (December 11).

Some might argue that it’s a bit early for songs about sleigh rides and Santa Claus when the first snow has yet to hit town, but nevertheless, El Vez and his Lovely El Vettes and Memphis Mariachis are ready to run Rudolph-style.

“Around this time every year,” explains El Vez (aka Robert Lopez) from his Los Angeles hacienda, “a switch flips in my head and I’m in Christmas mode.

“I don’t know what it’s like in Toronto right now, but hear in L.A. they’ve already got Christmas displays up in stores everywhere. Each year it seems they start earlier. As soon as Thanksgiving’s over, it’s “Here comes Christmas.’

“But actually, all year round I’m thinking of different Christmas show ideas — what songs to do, what outfits to wear, how the stage should look, everything. We’re just getting things together for the road, so it’s very hectic. You know, like, “Where’s my black jump suit? Do we have enough candy for the piñatas?’ All of that.”

Piñatas? Of course, piñatas! The whole Vegas-y stage presentation is very important to El Vez. From the choreography to the costume changes and musical interludes, each screwy themed show is carefully plotted and runs like clockwork.

It’s not enough to add a new set of seasonal selections to his regular repertoire of El Vez evergreens like Feliz Navidad (set to the anthemic rumble of Public Image Limited’s Unlimited Supply) and the disco stomp ¿Mamacita, Donde Esta Santa Claus? The new tunes will come with their own dance routines, flashy costumes and evidently, special piñata-pummelling effects.

“We’ve got this great new rocker called La Piñata that is going to be a lot of fun. I’ve been contacting people from our fan clubs so that someone in each city we play will bring a piñata to the show. If everything goes according to plan, we’ll have a piñata to destroy every night!

“This time around, we thought we’d add a little Jewish flavour and do the Dreydl Song, and we’ve worked up a new version of Little Drummer Boy that has sort of a Gary Glitter feel to it.”

It’s great that El Vez is getting into the Hanukkah spirit, but there appears to be a conspicuous lack of Elvis-identified songs in the mix. Strangely enough, only a rewrite of White Christmas as Brown Christmas and Sometimes Santa Claus Is Brown are the extent of the connection to the King.

“No, that can’t be. We’re doing more Elvis songs than that. Let me check. OK, there’s Brown Christmas, Sometimes Santa Claus Is Brown, and then there’s there’s. I guess you’re right.

“But it’s not really the point to just sing Elvis’s songs. What I try to do is give people a suggestion of Elvis and then take it someplace else.

“We’ve worked up a version of Roy Wood’s I Wish Everyday Could Be Like Christmas where I mix in a little of a lesser-known Elvis song called Why Can’t Everyday Be More Like Christmas. Still, I think I’m at the stage now where I can reference him without singing his songs.”

That’s a significant point. The El Vez persona Lopez created has now evolved beyond a reliance on the music of Elvis to get over. After attending his Boxing With God gospel show last September and hearing how genuinely affecting he can be by soulfully singing gospel and R&B songs straight, I can imagine him leaving parody behind.

There has always been much more going on with El Vez than a cheap Elvis put-on. The socio-political subtext of a song like Sometimes Santa Claus Is Brown is inescapable. His message might not hit you at first, but if you listen closely to his comical childhood recollection, Oranges For Christmas, it’s there, woven with subtle poignancy around the Brut-scented uncles.

However playfully zany the pose and outrageous the jumpsuits, there’s an underlying truth to what El Vez puts down, and that’s his edge.

“My parents always have a traditional evergreen tree with a special ornament on top that falls off at least once a year for some reason.

“We have a family thing where we make tamales together that has been carried on from generation to generation. As long as I can remember my grandmother was in charge, but since she passed away we’ll have to carry on without her.

“But this year I’ll be home for Christmas so I can help out.”


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