Los Straightjackets came out of the gates ripping and roaring when they hit the stage in front of a sold out crowd at Austin’s legendary Continental Club on Thursday night. They would be joined by one-of-a-kind rocker Deke Dickerson later in the set, but to get things going the lucha libre-masked quartet cranked out a string of instrumental surf rock classics to get the crowd moving. “Casbah” was sly, spooky and playful while the band’s surf-ska rendition of Vince Guaraldi Trio’s “Linus and Lucy” (Peanuts theme song) was danceable and even hinted at big band swing.
After a handful of tunes the suited Straightjackets welcomed Deke Dickerson, who lumbered on stage adorned in a wide brimmed cowboy hat. As such a tight instrumental combo, it is no easy task fronting Los Straightjackets as a vocalist, but Dickerson’s smooth rockabilly crooning fit like a glove around Eddie Angel’s precise picking. For much of the set the group focused on their recent collaboration album that features Dickerson singing vocals of famously instrumental tunes. Seeing songs like “Fury,” “Perfidia,” and possibly the most famous surf rock tune of all time, “Misirlou,” performed with vocals was bizarre, quirky, and highly entertaining, especially with a jovial troubadour like Deke Dickerson at the wheel. Of course, the group also nailed down covers ranging from standards (James Brown’s “I’ll Go Crazy”) to oddities (a lost Sammy Davis Jr. vocal version of the Hawaii Five-0 theme song). Dickerson is no slouch on guitar even compared the Eddie Angel, but around the virtuosos in the Straightjackets he hung back for the most part, occasionally grabbing his own ax and even assisting Eddie Angel from behind the back on the band’s boogieing take on “California Sun.” Dickerson took his exit after singing “Fury” in the voice of 1960’s wrestler The Crusher only to hop off the stage and lift a member of the audience over his head in his own rock and roll wrestling move.
While Deke took a breather Los Straightjackets got back to playing instrumentals with knife-like precision that included a tribute to the recently departed Small Faces member and Austin resident Ian McLagan with a rollicking cover of “Itchycoo Park” and a sinister, reverb laced “Caveman.” It wasn’t long before Deke Dickerson was brought back to the stage to close out the night with a silly yet brilliant cover of The Trashmen’s classic “Surfin’ Bird.” On their own Los Straightjackets very well could be the finest instrumental surf rock combo playing today, but as their performance with Deke Dickerson in Austin, as well as their recent work playing behind the venerated Nick Lowe, they may just be the best damn backing band around.
All photos by Arthur VanRooy.