It’s hard not to love surf rock instrumentals. It’s harder still not to love when the band exclusively performs wearing Lucha Libre Mexican pro-wrestler masks. It’s an outstanding gimmick, especially for a bunch of guys originating out of Nashville. But Los Straitjackets are a great band first, a great gimmick second. Their leader, Eddie Angel, is a serious guitar slinger, coming at Ventures-style surf by way of Chuck Berry and Link Wray, and they’ve been producing killer wordless multi-guitar jam albums now for 23 years and counting: their most recent, 2017’s What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and Los Straitjackets, is a full-on tribute to Nick Lowe tunes (also their touring partner for years); their first arrived back in 1995 with fitting tongue-in-cheek immodesty, The Utterly Fantastic and Totally Unbelievable Sound of Los Straitjackets. This featured song, ‘Fury,’ is the first track on that first album, and appropriately proclaims their arrival with a rumbling explosion then the rat-a-tat of the snare drum before the harmonizing guitars thunder in. And then at the 23-second mark, Angel takes over. Just try to sit still.
I’ve seen Los Straitjackets live at various venues many times, but one of the times was on one of those small booze cruise boats circling Manhattan, so there was no backstage to which the band could retreat between sets. My friend Zing and I went for a drink during their break, and started chatting amiably with a guy by the bar who, judging by his well-groomed looks and manner, we might’ve guessed to be a banker from Connecticut. After a few minutes of conversation about how much we were enjoying the show, and gazing out to the Statue of Liberty, the guy said he had to go, shook our hands, and departed. We watched him walk a few paces away, turn his back as he crouched down, slide on a black and gold Luchador mask, sinch up the laces in back, and head to the stage. It was like seeing Clark Kent turn into Superman, only there was no phone booth available, and Eddie Angel had another set to play. Rock and roll magic.
I can strongly recommend every Los Straitjackets album – I count them as having 19 in all, including a few zany collaborations and compilations – but there’s probably one in particular that really can’t be missed and which unfailingly gets numerous plays at my house every holiday season, and that’s 2002’s Tis The Season For Los Straitjackets! The opening track, ‘Here Comes Santa Claus’ sets the merry tone, and when Eddie’s guitar rings in at 1:06 you’ll have everyone from grandma to the grandkids rockin’ around the Christmas tree. Or Hanukkah bush. Whatever. It’s definitely at least a Festivus miracle.