Members of the luchador-guised Los Straitjackets shake things up as ‘60s-style rockers The Outta Sites
By Michael Aushenker
Los Straitjackets, the Mexican-wrestler-mask-wearing instrumental combo, have not hung up their championship belts for good. However, they do make time for serious side projects, and The Outta Sites is no exception.
Fondly recalling British Invasion-style rock ‘n’ roll of the early 1960s, The Outta Sites, who perform Friday night at the West Los Angeles vinyl shop Record Surplus, features Chris “Sugarballs” Sprague on lead vocals and guitar, Zack Simpson on bass, Jason “Mongoose” Eoff on organ, and Pete Curry on drums.
What’s interesting is that Sprague and Curry, two members of Los Straitjackets, play different roles in the Outta Sites than in their main band. Normally, Curry plays bass for Los Straitjackets and Sprague drums.
With The Outta Sites, Curry and Sprague dispense with the lucha libre shtick and are free to show their real faces. But that doesn’t mean they perform sans uniforms.
“We generally wear matching suits, with ties or turtlenecks, as a nod to the ‘60’s style of music we play,” Curry said. “The choreography is also reminiscent of that era: synchronized, simple and fun. It seems like most of the bands you see nowadays look just like the audience, so we try to stand out a bit.”
Also different: the music. Unlike the music of Los Straitjackets, these tunes have vocals and lyrics — and lots of them.
About two years (30 gigs) old, the band already has an album (on CD and vinyl) called “Shake All Night with the Outta Sites.” Decked out in matching uniforms, the Outta Sites play live sets that are about half covers and half originals, including songs with such swingin’ titles as “Martian Jive,” “Shake All Night” and the eponymous “Outta Sites.”
Buoyant and girl-happy, the material on “Shake All Night with the Outta Sites” borrows from an array of late 1950s / early ‘60s pop sounds, topped with a smidgeon of Esquivel space-age bachelor pad kitsch. The first few tracks resemble the earliest, most insouciant and bubble gum of Beatles tunes, while “Give It a Try” is built around a dependable riff right out of Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman.” There are also a few instrumentals: “Man Behind the Shadows” ventures into The Ventures’ territory, and the album-closing “Outta Site” delivers a cosmic twist on the Champs’ classic “Tequila.”
Side projects such as Outta Sites are nothing new for Los Straitjackets, whose various members constantly reconfigure for other bands, including The Sprague Brothers, Planet Rockers, The Neanderthals, The Hi-Risers, and The Halibuts.
However, Curry emphatically notes that he is serious about the Outta Sites.
Having played before 50,000 people with Los Straitjackets, Curry said he prefers playing the “smaller, more enthusiastic places than bigger venues with no interaction with the audience.”
The Outta Sites is recording a second album for fall release and for the past seven months has held a monthly residency at The Barkley Restaurant and Bar in South Pasadena.
The luchador mask-wearing Los Straitjackets started circa 1996, and Curry replaced their exiting bassist in 1998. Los Straitjackets have since toured the world, put out numerous albums and performed on late-night talk shows.
The band advanced its Mexican wrestler angle at a time when luchadors were not all that common in mainstream American pop culture.
“Even now, I don’t think many people know about it,” Curry said. “Some people think they’re kabuki masks. We do really well when the guys go to Mexico. We were nervous they thought we were making fun of them. We’re really not.”
The mask gimmick grew out of frontman Danny Amis’s affinity for campy Mexican flicks starring wrestlers such as El Santo and Blue Demon.
“He was a fan of Mexican culture in general. He started buying up the masks because he thought they looked interesting. He suggested we wear them,” Curry said. Since then, “we’ve never done a show without them.”
So is there a sense of empowerment or liberation inherent in performing masked or donning a fancy suit?
“I wouldn’t call it empowerment,” he said, “but there is a liberating feeling that comes along with dressing up. It’s more showbiz. I suppose it’s easier to get away with a bit of silliness when you’re dressed the part!”
As a masked Mexican wrestler musician, “you can do things you normally would do,” Curry continued. “You can act like an idiot and nobody would know it is you.”
Curry laughs as he recalls how once, after Los Straitjackets opened for Tom Petty, he and his fellow band members sat at a hotel bar after a performance and “we overhear people talk about how stupid we were.”
Curry let The Argonaut in on a little secret: for most of the band’s 16 years, Los Straitjackets has rehearsed at Curry’s Mar Vista home. It is also where the Outta Sites practice.
A resident for 27 years, Curry still enjoys living in this part of town, lunching at Mitsuwa Marketplace once a week. Los Straightjackets haven’t bowled at AMF Mar Vista Lanes, but they did throw a party there for The Halibuts’ drummer.
Having opened with his new band for Los Straitjackets back east and abroad, Curry — an avid vinyl enthusiast — said he’s proud that the Outta Sites will perform their first Westside gig at Record Surplus tomorrow night.
Record Surplus owner Neil Canter began hosting free monthly in-store live appearances in November, welcoming groups such as Kim Lenz and Her Jaguars, The Concentrates and Insect Surfers.
“I’ve known Pete for years. He comes by the store and he gave me some vinyl,” Canter said.
“They’ve been so much fun,” wife Cheryl Canter said of the independent record store’s concerts. At December’s Insect Surfers show, “The crowd was really into it. [The band] jumped up on top of the counter and people danced around the store.”
Ultimately, the Outta Sites intend to entertain.
“You come out on stage and you look around and everyone has a smile on their face,” Curry said.
“It’s just a fun band,” Neil Canter said. “It’s good time music that gets you dancing.”
The Outta Sites play at 8 p.m. Friday at Record Surplus, 12436 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles. Free. Call (310) 979-4577 or visit recordsurplusla.com.