Review by Greg Haymes
You can tell there’s always something going on behind those Mexican wrestling masks.
Los Straitjackets – Nashville’s premier instrumental rock ‘n’ roll combo – rolled into Club Helsinki last month with plenty of old favorite tunes and a few surprises, too. Led by twangmaster/guitarslinger/Rensselaer native Eddie Angel and his six-string compadre Greg Townson, the masked foursome unleashed the very best of their Nippertown shows in recent years – which include Club Helsinki with Dave Alvin & the Guilty Ones (2011), the River Street Festival in Troy (2011) and Lake George’s Shepard Park (2010).
Why was this show so good?
Maybe it was the fact that the band was fueled by a new drummer, Chris “Sugarballs” Sprague, a frequent Deke Dickerson cohort and a solo artist in his own right with “Miles Away” on Angel’s Spinout Records label. He ripped it up during his solo on “Sing, Sing, Sing,” as bassist Pete Curry dragged his tom-tom all around the stage with Sprague flailing away on it all the while. And he backed up his drum kit with a gigantic gong, too, which he utilized perfectly throughout the night on nuggets like “The Munsters” and “The Batman Theme.”
Perhaps it was because they fired up some fine new selections. A righteous rendition of the Sam Cooke soul classic, “You Send Me” done up as second cousin to Santo & Johnny’s trademark “Sleepwalk” was one of the night’s highlights.
Maybe it was the special guest appearances by Ian “Ritz” Carlton, the Singing Merch Dude. Decked out in a ’70s powder blue tuxedo, ruffled shirt, bling on every finger and a truly creepy used car salesman/porn star mustache, Carlton jumped up mid-set to uncork “River Deep, Mountain High” and then returned during the encores to sing a majestically manic treatment of Tom Jones’ hit, “It’s Not Unusual.” Un poco loco? Oh yeah…
Perhaps it was because they dredged up a handful of the vintage gems that hadn’t been in their recent repertoire. I’m not joking when I say that Los Straitjackets’ towering version of “My Heart Will Go On” – yes, the theme from “Titanic” – will make you forget you ever heard of Celine Dion.
Or maybe they were just all fired up after the terrific 75-minute opening set by Eilen Jewell and her crack band. Jewell is a dynamic singer with a huge stylistic range, and she showcased her eclectism perfectly, as she tackled Arthur Alexander’s soul nugget “The Girl That Radiates the Charm,” Loretta Lynn’s “Fist City” and the Reverend Gary Davis gospel fave “12 Gates to the City,” as well as plenty of her own excellent originals, notably the opening “I Remember You” and the spooky “Warning Signs.” Meanwhile, guitarist Jerry Miller set the totally twangin’ tone for the evening, giving his whammy bar a workout and ripping it up on tunes like the revved up “Heartache Boulevard,” the woozy blues of “High Shelf Booze” and the rollicking “Back to Dallas.”
Oh, it was likely just a glorious combination of all of those reasons… and more.
But who cares why, really? The show was not only great, it was also great fun.
Los Straitjackets will be releasing their new album, “Jet Set” on Yep Roc Records, on Tuesday, August 7. And they’re rumored to be returning to Nippertown at least one more time before the year is out.