In a year when politics became performance art, it's only natural that artists return the favor. Such was the case for campy Chicano art-rocker and favorite San Diego son, El Vez, who hit the road this year on a whistlestop "El Vez '04 Prez" tour.
The National City-bred performer takes the age-old practice of Elvis impersonation into the realm of Mextravaganza, weaving Presley songs with rollicking references to groups like The Who, Santana, The Doors, T. Rex, BTO, Bowie and the Beatles. In his hands, standards are transformed into Latinized anthems about Frida Kahlo, Cesar Chavez, Chicanisma and the spirit of rock 'n' roll.
Over the years, El Vez has packed his versatile Memphis Mariachis and Lovely Elvettes onto stages as small as the defunct downtown venue, Bodies, or as large as Street Scene (at which he proclaimed, "this next song is dedicated to the Zapatistas, who are fighting injustice even as I dance").
"The hardest migrant working-man in show business"-as he was once called, thanks to his lengthy cross-country tours-took "El Vez '04 Prez" into 39 cities in 44 days, starting only 72 hours after wrapping his gig as emcee for Seattle's Teatro Zinzanni cabaret. He tore through the heartland promoting a razzle-dazzle platform of populism via pompadours, platform heels and that old-time revolution rock.
Representing the America of Cesar Chavez, Martin Luther King Jr., JFK and John Lennon, El Vez hit the stage in a glam Uncle Sam getup, delivering campy campaign speeches, trying to liberate the hearts and minds of the people and hoping to save America the way it was saved so many years ago, through humor and hip-swiveling rock 'n' roll.
Although his glittery Guthrifying and cheeky digs at Homeland Security might have been touchy stuff for cities like Memphis and Chattanooga, it made for powerful political theater that pulled no punches.
In the end, El Vez may not have been able to rescue America from the greedy corporate grinches and repressive Talibangelists who have co-opted the country. But he was able to leave a swath of tolerance across the nation, fighting blue-state blues with blue suede shoes and turning heartland into Graceland.
Not one to be defeated, El Vez continues his endless revolution, reminding us that "It ain't over 'til it's over, as Lenny Kravitz said-as did Yogi Berra."
The King who would be president brings his sexy sleigh ride to San Diego for the traditional last stop of his annual Merry Mexmas tour. Promising a more intimate experience this year, El Vez vows to steal back the true meaning of Christmas if only to warm the cockles of hearts in dire need of a serious cockle-warming.
And while he may not know who's been naughty or nice, word has it he's coming to find out.The annual El Vez Merry Mexmas Show returns to the Casbah, 9 p.m. on Dec. 22. $17. 619-232-4355. Rookie Card and Human Hands also perform.