Memphis to Mexico

Imagine Ceasar Chavez fronting a punk rock band, Liberace teaching Chicano studies, and Tom Jones singing about the Virgin de Guadalupe. Toss in multiple costumes changes, mixed with dancing back up singers and a rocking band and you have El Vez.
He is ridiculous and hilarious, serious and passionate, but always unique and entertaining
Because Elvis Presley has become an international institution that can communicate across national and cultural boundaries, it comes as no surprise that El Vez — the self-proclaimed “Mexican Elvis” — has emerged.
El Vez, a.k.a. Robert Lopez, has been kicking around the L.A. underground music scene for nearly 20 years. He first appeared in the early L.A. punk band the Zeros and then played in Catholic Discipline (which also spawned folk singer Phranc).
While his albums represent the El Vez “phenomenon,” the only way to get the full El Vez experience is to see his show live, which features his band the Memphis Mariachis and the lovely El Vettes, cleverly named Priscilita, Gladysita, Lisa Maria, and Que Linda Thompson.
El Vez will give traditional holiday songs a saucy, cheeky, and funny makeover when he hits the Tropicana Laughlin stage on Saturday, Dec. 15 in the Pavilion Theater. Because his shows can be a bit racy, attendance comes with a parental guidance warning.
Clearly El Vez doesn’t take anything too seriously, describing his show as a combination of the Ike and Tina Turner Revue, a Tom Jones Las Vegas gig, the LSD episode of “Dragnet,” and Elvis Presley’s ’68 comeback special with a Latin twist.
An audience on any given night might hear bits and pieces of at least 200 songs, not all of them Elvis recordings. For instance, one of his medleys features “You Ain’t Nothing But a Chihuahua” and an instrumental version of the Beastie Boys’ “Gratitude,” mixed with the lead guitar riff from Santana’s “Black Magic Woman,” laid underneath Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May,” which melds into “En el Barrio” (aka “In the Ghetto”) and finishes up with the mandolin line that concludes R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion.”
Despite his use of humor, El Vez cannot be written off as a post-modern joke. His lyrics (many times rewrites of Elvis recordings or other popular songs) are very political and pro-Latino.
Much like Rage Against the Machine, his songs are littered with references to the Zapatistas and other Mexican revolutionaries. However, he does not beat the audience over the head with didactic polemics and testosterone-fueled monster chords.
Instead, he relies on the obvious play on words (“Say It Loud, I’m Brown and I’m Proud” and “Misery Tren”) and clever social satire (at the climax of “Immigration Time” — sung to the tune of “Suspicious Minds” — he shouts, “I’ve got my green card…I want my gold card!”).
Based in East Los Angeles, he is involved in anti-gang programs and other community outreach programs — a refreshing reminder that one doesn’t have to lose his or her sense of humor to remain an activist.
Lopez’s main persona and style are very similar to Elvis Presley, as his stage name suggests. However, he is not strictly an Elvis impersonator; on his recordings and in his live show, he covers many non-Mexican artists, such as David Bowie, Iggy Pop, John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, T. Rex, Queen and the Beatles.
He might also be considered the Latino version of Weird Al Yankovic because several of his albums and album cover art are parodies. For example, his 1994 album cover for Fun in Español is a parody of Presley’s Fun in Acapulco; Graciasland’s cover art is a play on Paul Simon’s Graceland; God Save The King’s album art is a parody of the Sex Pistols’ “God Save the Queen” single sleeve.
He has toured successfully in Australia, Germany, Spain, Norway, Holland, Austria, England, France, Belgium, Canada and more.
El Vez was once a contestant on the game show “To Tell the Truth” and starred in Wes Hurley’s cult comedy musical Waxie Moon in Fallen Jewel. He was also a contestant on The Weakest Link during an episode featuring Elvis impersonators.
He has appeared on “The Tonight Show,” “Oprah,” MTV, HBO, CNN, “Live with Regis & Kathy Lee,” and was featured as a question on Jeopardy.
El Vez is what would happen if a jukebox exploded and was put back together again. He mixes and remixes the last century’s music, matching and contrasting various genres and styles — in other words, he mixes metaphors musically every chance he gets.
He is a cross-cultural caped crusader singing for truth, justice and the Mexican/American way.
Take El Vez up on his suggestion — “see it for yourself” at the Tropicana Saturday, Dec. 15.


The Pavilion Theater at the Tropicana

Saturday, Dec. 15

See “Showtimes” for ticket info