Monday, 30 October 2006

In the early planning for my 2006 Heartland Tour there were some logistical difficulties. The first Roger Clyne show was in Cleveland, then Detroit, Chicago, and Minneapolis. As a series of one way tickets, or a multi-city trip were prohibitively expensive. I don’t know that the truck would survive a 1000-mile road-trip, so I ruled out that option as well.

Then I discovered that Los Straitjackets were still touring Twist Party and would be in Chicago a few days before the first Roger show. It was a eureka moment. They didn’t have any Twin Cities dates on the schedule, so I quickly changed my plans to a round trip to Chicago, car rental from there to hit Cleveland and Detroit, back in the Windy City for another Roger show, then home for the final show. I’d find things to do with the spare days in between.

Los Straitjackets where playing the Abbey Pub in Chicago. Once I found the place, I learned just how tough Chicago can be. Finding a place to park anywhere in the city is harder than finding something on the U of M campus. It’s all on-street and everything is restricted to permit zones. I got lucky and found something a couple blocks from the club.

Inside, the Abbey is a tiny little place with one bar, an upper level all under barrel-vaulted ceilings. The walls are painted to look (somewhat) like stones from a castle or old church. I was also surprised to learn that Chicago has not yet banned smoking in bars and restaurants. Not that it matters to me since I don’t smoke, but New York has gone that way, I was sure Chicago had too.

The opener was a group called the Patrick Sweeny Band. A three-piece rock-n-roll group that were kicked ass. It was so good that I picked up all both of their CDs plus Sweeny’s solo acoustic CD that he released before forming the band.

After Sweeny and company’s 60 minute set, there was a Halloween costume contest where a guy in a Mexican wrestling mask took first prize. I think it was more for his schitck, rather than the costume. The MC asked each contestant their name and he had this 20 word stream of Spanish that he blurted out. Second was some guy dressed as a “North Korean rocket scientist” and third was this pair of girls dressed in very lame Martian outfits. I thought the 70’s styled “Pimp Daddy” should have taken second with the Korean in third.

Finally Los Straitjackets took the stage and tore it up. They had the World Famous Pontani Sisters and Kaiser George with them, as usual, and the show was just great. I’m so glad I went.

During the show I realized that the Straitjackets work without a set list. Daddy-O announces them in his rapid-fire Spanish and they just lay into each song. I had never actually noticed that before.

The girls were beautiful as always, with their Go-Go/Twist routines and a few new costumes. Kaiser George sang for a few of the songs and play saxophone here and there.

I also noticed that the Straitjackets have a new CD/DVD combo available. It’s called Twist Party and has several of the twist type songs on it like “Peppermint Twist,” “The Twist,” and “Twistin’ Gorilla.” I’ll have to check, but there are a few songs that appear on some of their other albums and quite a few new ones.

I will actually be able to put together a set-list for the night, but it will take some time. I used the video function on my camera to shoot clips during each song. I just have to listen to each one and match it up with the CDs.

Overall it was a great night and Los Straitjackets are still the premier instrumental rock-n-roll band around.

I didn’t stick around for autographs and pictures after the show, but still managed to snap 227 pictures and 38 chunks of video.

Thursday, 07 July 2005

Last night it was surf guitar at its finest when Los Straitjackets brought their Summer Twist Party to First Avenue. The Pontani Sisters were there, of course, with their burlesque/go-go revue; as was Kaiser George to pull double duty as announcer and part-time singer.

I was a bit surprised to see them back so soon. They had been here less than a year ago for their Christmas Pageant, which was the first time I saw them live. Previously I had only caught them a couple times on Conan O’Brien, but even then I was hooked.

The Twin Cities was the first stop on their summer tour. I was told they didn’t have much time to practice, but you wouldn’t have known. They were tight and put on a great show. And they have a new drummer too! Jason from The Hi-Risers recently joined the group after Jimmy Lester left the band.

The 90+ minute set included several old favorites, but unfortunately they didn’t do “Batman” or “The Munsters Theme.” On the flip side, they more than made up for it with several new songs along the way.

The opening act was a group called Chrome Johnson. The guy working the merch table described them as being similar to Reverend Horton Heat which, once I heard them, wasn’t quite accurate. What they are is still pretty cool. They’re a San Francisco four-piece that does a rockabilly, gypsy swing, twang sort of thang.

From just the opening song I could tell I was in for a treat. They did several songs off their one and only CD, including a cover of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues.” I liked it well enough to buy their disc at the show and listened on the way home.

So far Los Straitjackets are 2 for 2. They’ve put on two great shows and introduced me to two bands I never would have found otherwise. You can bet I’ll see them every time they come into town.

Final score for the evening: 3+ hours of live music, 12 autographs (including Chrome Johnson), and 328 pictures. Most of the pictures are crap, but there are 10-12 decent ones with a couple real winners.

Thursday, 16 December 2004

Another week, another great show. This time it was Los Straitjackets at First Avenue with their Christmas Pageant. It was truly a banner night!

The opening act, The Hi-Risers, was fantastic! They’re a rock-and-roll act who’s sound I’d compare to Buddy Holly. I was so impressed that, right after their set, I hit the merchandise table and bought two of their CDs. Turns out they’re really nice guys too.

Los Straitjackets put on a great show, doing several Christmas tunes along with a bunch of normal tracks. You gotta love that 50’s surf-rock sound. Add to that the Pontani Sisters doing their Go-Go thing. The whole thing is a sight to behold!

After the show, all the bands came out and I managed to get autographs from all 11 performers: Los Straitjackets (4), The Pontani Sisters (3), The Hi-Risers (3), and Kaiser George (the announcer and part-time singer with Los Straitjackets.

The guys in The Hi-Risers were totally cool. I hit up Greg, the guitar player, for his autograph first. He saw me and said I looked like a "man on a mission." When I relized I fogot my Sharpie and only had a ball-point, he ran to get his own marker. We chatted for a couple minutes, then he pointed Todd, the bass player, at me (not the other way around) so I could get his autograph. Todd, in turn, caught Jason, the drummer, before he could sneak out. Admittedly, it was no big deal, but it’s the kind of thing that turns someone who simply likes your music into a fan.

Finally, a friend and I were standing in front of the club when "Pedro", the bass player from Los Straitjackets, came out and was getting directions from one of the club staff. I caught up with him at the end of the block and got a chance to chat for about half a block where we each headed our separate ways; me to my car, him to a cab.

I’m kicking myself now for not offering him a lift. I’ll remember next time.