Oh, the Things Yule See!
Los Straitjackets discover the meaning of Christmas
By Bill Forman
Trends may come go, but the timeless combination of twangy guitars, yuletide burlesque and Mexican wrestling masks never goes out of style. At least that's what Los Straitjackets, the World Famous Pontani Sisters and MC Kaiser George are counting on as they pull into Moe's Alley for their rock & roll Christmas Pageant.
Although Los Straitjackets introduced "precision synchronized choreography" to their act years ago, guitarist Danny Amis admits they're no match for the Pontani Sisters when it comes to costumes and choreography: "Their dancing is far better than ours, their choreography is much better than ours and they're better to look at."
Sisters Angie, Tara and Helen, who come across as a postmodern mix of Busby Berkeley and Bettie Page, were performing every Friday night at the World Trade Center's Windows on the World when they first met up with Los Straitjackets. Their old stomping ground is no more, but the trio has since been touring on and off with Los Straitjackets for the last four years.
The Pontanis aren't the only Christmas pageant performers with roots in New York City. Amis got his start in its downtown New Wave/no wave scene as part of the Raybeats with former Contortions guitarist Jody Harris.
"I ended up leaving the Raybeats, because we were not on the same page musically," recalls Amis, who moved to Nashville and did TV production for 10 years before starting Los Straitjackets. "I would say the Raybeats were a lot more experimental, and Los Straitjackets is a lot more basic rock & roll."
While guitar-based instrumental groups are often labeled surf bands, Amis says there's more to both their heritage and repertoire. "There's always been a lot of different instrumental genres," he says. "Look at what Booker T and the MG's were doing, and a lot of stuff coming out of Memphis, and out of New Orleans at the time too. And then in the '70s, there was that heavy rock instrumental thing with hit songs by people like Edgar Winter. And don't forget that big instrumental jazz movement back in the '50s."
Of course, Martin Denny never wore wrestling masks, a shtick Amis never imagined would last more than a decade. "Well, when I first picked up the wrestling masks, I didn't even know I was going to have a band. I happened to be at a wrestling match in Mexico City, and I bought a bag of them."
These days, Los Straitjackets get their masks from a guy in Mexico City who makes them for professional wrestlers. "Yeah, they cost a little more, but they're much easier to play in."
As for fans who wish to follow in Los Amigos' footsteps, Amis offers some simple fashion advice: "What do I look for in a wrestling mask? Um, bright colors. Yeah, and it has to be sparkly."
A Christmas Pageant. Los Straitjackets perform and the World Famous Pontani Sisters with special guest MC Kaiser George, on Wednesday, Dec. 14, at 9pm, $18 day of show, at Moe's Alley, 1535 Commercial Way, Santa Cruz; 831.479.1854.
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