He's not an impersonator? An imposter, maybe. El Vez doesn't look like Elvis (except for the jumpsuit fetish), or try to sound like him. For Robert Lopez, former curator of L.A.'s La Luz De Jesus art gallery and singer for San Diego punk band the Zeros, Elvis is just a jumping-off point for his alter ego El Vez — the Mexican Elvis.
El Vez first surfaced in '88 at Weep Week, Memphis' week-long wake/anniversary recognition of Elvis Presley's death in 1977. "I've been told by people who work in Elvis [Presley] Enterprises that 'half of us love you and half of us hate you,'" he cackles, "which is a great thing."
As El Vez, Lopez customizes the king's lyrics, replacing them with Chicano themes. "In the Ghetto" becomes "En el Barrio." He even gets the "GI Aye, Aye! Blues."
For his current El Vez for Prez tour, El reaches out to the repertoire of other artists, as well. "We're doing a version of ABBA's 'SOS,' but it's another 'Bush, you S.O.B.' kind of thing," Lopez says. "A euphemism of America as a submarine, 'cause we're goin' down."
George Michael, Depeche Mode, Alice Cooper, Oasis, J. Geils and the Doors also appear in song snippets. Lopez wraps Dylan's "Ballad of a Thin Man," around Mahalia Jackson's "You Gotta Live the Life You Sing About in Your Song" for what he describes as "a couple of anti-Bush moments."
It's theatrical, to say the least. For his Teatro ZinZanni shows in Seattle, Lopez sports a light-up jumpsuit "like the main street light parade at Disneyland," he says. "By the end of the show I was flying, dressed as a piñata with candy coming out of me, being hit by a 6-foot-4 blonde dominatrix who was yodeling."
Lopez has no intention of retiring El Vez soon. "I'm older than Elvis ever was already," he says with a laugh. "As long as I'm entertained, I hope you guys will be."
El Vez plays the Variety Playhouse for the Elvis Death Day spectacular w/ Dames Aflame and Big Mike Geier's Kingsized Rock 'n' Roll Orchestra. $22.50-$25. Sat., Aug. 16. 8 p.m. El Vez for Prez tour stops at the Earl Sun., Aug. 17. $15. 8 p.m.