The only problem is, what deserves to be labeled unusual gets harder and harder to find as the years pass. Nakedness won't do it anymore (see Madonna, et al.) and hawking phlegm's old hat (reference Sex Pistols to Green Day). So what's a band to do?
If you're Nashville's Los Straitjackets, what you do is don the neatest looking masks worn by a rock group since Kiss, and back up your appearance with some driving surf-style guitar and hard-edged drumming. No vocals, just instrumentals, and a slew of press comparing you to surf greats such as Dick Dale and old-line British instrumentalists such as the Shadows. (Though truth is, where the music's concerned, Los Straitjackets are actually closer to the Ventures; you can hear echoes of "Walk Don't Run" throughout The Utterly Fantastic and Totally Unbelievable Sound of Los Straitjackets, the group's less than modestly titled debut CD.)
As the CD title suggests, Los Straitjackets began as a bit of a goof. Formed by four Nashville musicians -- Danny Amis of the Raybeats on guitar; Eddie Angel of the Planet Rockers also on guitar; Scott Esbeck of Dig Mandrakes on bass; and L.J. Lester of Webb Wilder's band on drums -- the name and the headgear came from Amis' professed love of things Mexican. (The masks are Mexican wrestling masks from the Lucha Libre in Mexico City.) What all this has to do with Los Straitjackets' music is absolutely nothing; the visuals may be Hispanic, but the sound's pure West Coast. Given the connection between surf and rockabilly (both go for the twangy guitar and the driving drumbeat), it's not really all that surprising that some country boys would moonlight as wave riders.
At any rate, word from the Tennessee capital has it that, live, Los Straitjackets' music is even more driving than what's heard on CD. Or maybe it's just the impact of the wrestling masks. It should be worth seeing to find out.
-- Mitchell J. Shields
Los Straitjackets plays at 12:30 a.m. Thursday, June 29 at Emo's Alternative Lounge, 2700 Albany. Cover is $7 for those 18 to 20; free for those 21 and over. For info, call 523-8503.