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Celebrate 'Merry Mex-mas' with El Vez

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ElVez_BurningTree.jpg

El Vez, "the Mexican Elvis," is driving around Los Angeles looking for snow.

"I'm trying to find a snowy backdrop for my photos with Santa at the show," says El Vez, a k a Robert Lopez. "The only ones I can find in Hollywood are plastic ones that look like bricks. I want blue sky and a snow scene. I want something that looks like a 'Mad Men' cigarette ad. It's the details!"

EL VEZ 'MERRY MEX-MAS'
• 9 p.m. Dec. 12
• Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee
• Tickets: $12-$15; (773) 489-3160; doubledoor.com

( See a list of other pop music Christmas concerts )

An El Vez show ages ago in a small club remains one of my all-time favorite concerts partly because of that attention to detail. Original music and re-engineered covers blend in a potent show that's both socially conscious and entertaining spectacle. The performance I saw boasted conquistador costumes, intelligent theatricality, a wicked wit and a serious understanding of and reverence for rock history.

Seriously, an Elvis impersonator -- but he's not, and that's the point.

A swift musical satirist in the guise of a pompadoured Elvis figurine, Lopez' El Vez act reworks the King's catalog ("You Ain't Nothin' but a Chihuahua," "Misery Tren") as well as many others ("Say It Loud, I'm Brown and I'm Proud"). In El Vez' hands, Presley's "Suspicious Minds" becomes "Immigration Time" and often segues into a winking cover of Kim Wilde's '80s hit "Kids in America." In addition to his subtitle as the Mexican Elvis, El Vez has also been called the Thin Brown Duke (and once opened for Bowie).

"I've found you can meld all these points of view and go back and forth from the political to the spiritual, all wrapped up in the rock-star homage that El Vez is," Lopez says. "Blurring the lines makes it work. I can sing about Cesar Chavez and still wear gold lame hot pants."

Next year will be the 25th anniversary of Lopez' El Vez act. A visual artist before he was a performance artist, Lopez had hired an Elvis impersonator for a gallery opening and spent the night criticizing his performance, vowing to do it better. Lopez remains active in theater, spending half the year working with Seattle's circus-like Teatro ZinZanni (which, Lopez says, still plans on opening a Chicago outpost).

The El Vez holiday show hasn't toured in a few years, and this year includes the usual twisted Christmas covers (his "Feliz Navidad" incorporates the music from PiL's "Unlimited Supply"), including a Neko Case song. That cover of "Loretta" from the '04 live album Case cut with the Sadies? "I made it about Santa Claus," Lopez says.

Of course he did. Sign up for Santa those photos with El Vez at elvez.net.


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Thomas Conner

Thomas Conner covers pop music for the Chicago Sun-Times. Contact him via e-mail.

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This page contains a single entry by Thomas Conner published on December 7, 2012 3:00 PM.

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