Review by Fred Rudofsky
“I’ve been to a lot of bars and played in a lot of bars, but the Ale House is my favorite!” remarked Eddie Angel, guitarist for Los Straitjackets and hometown hero, an hour and a half prior to taking the stage for the second of their back-to-back standing-room-only shows there last Wednesday.
Since the mid-1990s, Los Straitjackets have played around the world in venues small and large, and on late night national television shows as well. For fans of rocking, melodic instrumentals, the Ale House must have felt like the center of the universe. Wearing their trademark Mexican wrestling masks and decked out in black blazers and skinny ties, the quartet (Angel; Chris “Sugar Balls” Sprague on drums; Pete Curry on bass; and Greg Townson on guitar) opened with their classic, “Pacifica” and followed it with “Casbah,” a perfect one-two punch to start what turned out to be 22 songs for the evening.
“Aerostar” from their just-released Jet Set album (YepRoc Records) brimmed with melody, and could very easily be seen as a closing song someday. Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me” and the Hollies’ “Bus Stop” were unexpected treats; “Caveman” and “Space Mosquito” brought heavy reverb beats. Indebted to the late, great Link Wray the band played a monstrous “Itchy Chicken,” then switched gears into a stroll for the crowd-pleasing “University Blvd.” The Beatles’ “I Feel Fine” rocked like it was written today; Angel and
Townson’s guitars blended rhythm and lead perfectly, propelled by a strong contingent of fans singing the lyrics.
In Troy, you never know who will walk in to sing a few. Lounge singer Ritz Carlton entered in a powder blue ruffled 1970s Vegas tuxedo attire with more rings than Michael Jordan, and gave a frenetic take on “It’s Not Unusual,” followed quickly by an epic “River Deep, Mountain High” that made the ladies in the front row swoon and screaming for more as he left the building during the fading notes.
The big band standard “Sing Sing Sing” was a showcase for the incredible showmanship of Sprague and Curry, complete with the drummer pounding out the beat at one point on his bandmate’s strings and doing some mighty fine tap dancing. A cover of the Phil Upchurch Combo’s “You Can’t Sit Down,” in title and performance, underscored the kinetic mood of the night.
Donning a Neanderthals jacket and Zorro mask, local legend Johnny Rabb took the microphone next to Angel as Curry and Sprague switched instruments. Elvis Presley’s “Suspicious Minds” soared like the epic you’d expect. The crowd wanted more, so Rabb and the quartet returned for their encores: the garage rocker “Ball Buster” roared, while Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode”/”Little Queenie” became an indelible visual memory with Sprague playing bass while being held upside down by his ankles for a good minute or two.
Long after the show, the bandmembers were autographing CDs, LPs, singles and posters that were flying off the merchandise table under a tent outside. One woman could be heard remarking to her friends: “This band has class and rocks!” Amen.
Openers the Knyghts of Fuzz set the bar high for the night with an 11-song set that clocked under 40 minutes. Brian Goodman hit the drums and tore into “She’s U-G-L-Y,” a signature tune for the local trio that has been building a strong following since debuting in 2011. “Squad Car” was a menacing instrumental, rumbling bass courtesy of Big Frank Novko and guitar sirens from Ian Carlton. The Rolling Stones’ ode to sleazy living, “Rocks Off”, brought a roar of approval from the crowd, as did band original “Fleshtones Saved My Life” and a ragged but righteous take on the Beatles’ “Back in the USSR.”
Spicey wings, BBQ ribs, cold beer, Knyghts of Fuzz and Los Straitjackets on a rainy Wednesday night – it doesn’t get much better than that.