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El Vez
The King of Camp: Rock & roll royalty lives on in the loving parody/homage of Chicano Elvis imitator El Vez.

Marty Sohl

El Vez walks the line between camp and commentary

By Judi Blackwell

IT WAS TWO years ago that I first saw El Vez perform his Christmas show in a hot, crowded and choked-with-cigarette-smoke room at the now-defunct Ajax Lounge in San Jose.

I remember trying to push my way to the front of the stage as the Mexican Elvis impersonator gyrated about in gold lamé, sequins and a Santa hat singing about Poncho and Pedro instead of Blitzen and Vixen, as his Elvettes--Priscillita, Gladysita and Lisa Maria--showed off their choreographed moves. The crowd was all smiles, and it was easy to see why.

Undeniably suave, a cross between a sweet-faced pompadoured crooner and a trashy pickup artist, El Vez, entertains with a contagious blend of Elvis kitsch, grassroots politics and pop culture--complete with references to the music of José Feliciano, David Bowie, Patsy Cline, the Stooges and Public Image Limited. Wrapped up in the glitz and glamour emblematic of Elvis culture, his thoughtful commentaries about the Latino/Chicano experience entertain both ideas and senses.

The former singer for the seminal L.A. punk band the Zeros, Robert Lopez began his career as El Vez while working as a curator at a folk/pop art gallery, La Luz De Jesus Gallery, on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles. "I had curated a show on Elvis, and we had Elvis impersonators and a whole month of Elvis-themed events," he explains via phone from his digs in L.A. "After seeing the Elvis impersonator, I thought I could do better." So off he went to Elvis Tribute Week in Memphis, where he won an Elvis impersonator contest.

"I had only planned on doing it once," he says. "But it's become a full-time job."

For the last several months, Lopez has been out promoting his latest and most revolutionary album, G.I. Ay, Ay! Blues (Big Pop). The first track, "Say It Loud! I'm Brown and I'm Proud," pays tribute to James Brown while delivering political commentary on immigration. "I've worked all day with my hands and feet/and all the time we're running from some governor named Pete/187 tried to keep us down/that won't happen just because I'm brown/say it loud! I'm brown and I'm proud."

"Elvis is the king of the American dream," explains Lopez. "I want to show my audience that you don't have to be a white male to make it. It's all done in a show-biz light, but it's serious at the same time. It's about Chicano pride. When people leave an El Vez show, I want them to be happy to be Mexican even if they're not."

Tonight, and throughout the rest of the holidays, El Vez will be performing his Christmas show and performing songs from his Merry Mex-Mus album. Then he plans to take a break and work on some other projects, which include spoken word and a new punk band called Bob.

El Vez performs Saturday (Nov. 30) at 10:30pm at the Usual, 400 S. First St., San Jose. Tickets are $7
($9 door). (408/535-0330)

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From the November 27-December 4, 1996 issue of Metro

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