Los Straitjackets: Sept. 19 at The Shakedown

Ever since musicians like Duane Eddy, Link Wray, and The Ventures first turned up the reverb and flatten the tone of their guitars, surf music has captured the imaginations of both land-locked teens and board riders on both coasts. It was the height of popularity between 1961 and 1966 but then – with the rise of “folk rock,” “blues-rock,” and “psychedelia” – interest declined to the genre being the obsession of small niches of aficionados online (and used liberally in surf and skateboarding videos).  Then, with the rise of the punk era, some bands (such as Man or Astroman, The Mermen, Aqua Velvets, Laika And The Cosmonauts, and the ubiquitous masked men… America’s Instrumentalists… Los Straitjackets) have risen up to keep the musical style alive and vibrant.

So, as an admitted fan of the genre, I had high expectations when I went down to The Shakedown on Sept. 19 to see the masked men of surf, Los Straitjackets. I’d seen them once before at the old Nightlight space and I knew how good of a show they put on.

For those that have never heard of Los Straitjackets, they are a quartet made up of seasoned studio musicians from Nashville (mostly) who – united by their love of all things twangy – decided to launch the consummate surf band. Decked out in black business suits and ties and multicolored “Lucha Libre” masks, the boys came out swinging with a set that was pure sun, sand, and, at times, gave off a very cool 60s Euro-spy / James Bond kind of vibe.

As this was my first experience at The Shakedown, I found the venue to be a tad small, but the room offered good sound, a great food and drink menu, and a welcoming staff that was attentive but never crossed that line into pushy.

The night began with a one-man act by the name of Lone Bird. Like one of those one-man-bands you see on urban street corners, Lone Bird’s music is a sort of stripped down arrangement with minimal percussion and an overly modulated acoustic guitar. The set was interesting – people seemed to like it – having a distinct White Stripes / Jack White feel to it.

After a break, Los Straitjackets mounted the stage and, in a word, “delivered.” I mean, it is simply impossible to see these guys and NOT dance. Great songs. Infectious rhythms. Impeccable musicianship. What’s not to like? The song list was a mixture of favorites: “Casbah,” “Isn’t Love Grand,” “Pacifica,” “Calhoun Surf”), brilliantly rendered covers: “My Heart Will Go On” (from Titanic), “Theme from The Magnificent Seven,” “Theme From Midnight Cowboy,” “Theme From The Munsters,” and “Sleep Walk (during which I had a delightful dance partner), and songs from their new Jet Set release: “Aerostar,” “Wrong Way Inn,” “Space Mosquito,” “Brooklyn Slide,” and “Jet Set.”

Despite rumors online that original Los Straitjackets member, Danny “Daddy O-Grande” Amis, would be on the tour, he was not at The Shakedown show. Amis had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a form of bone marrow cancer, in 2010, and was forced to take a hiatus from the band in order to seek treatment. What’s Up was told that he would be at some shows on the tour, but Bellingham would sadly not be one of them.

Still, the group that played this gig was a barn-burner. Super tight. Super hip. Super cool.