Of all the dances to have risen from the pop 'n' roll maelstrom, the most democratic – as memorably dramatized in Hairspray – arguably has to be the twist. A minimal amount of moves to memorize, no uncomfortable close contact; it's no wonder that the dance was so popular among the pre-teens in my peer group back in 1963. Where most moves kept boys and girls nervously hugging the bleachers at junior high school dances, the twist was guaranteed to get us all out on the basketball-court-turned-dance-floor. Heck, you didn't even really need a partner to step out and start twistin'.
Leave it to Los Straitjackets, that retro-minded quartet of savvy masqued instrumentalists, to bring this dance back with a vengeance. Twist Party!!! (Yep Roc) is a two-disc CD/DVD combo fully devoted to the joys of wrenching your back outta shape. First disc is an audio featuring sixteen tracks of fresh and classic Twist Trax; the second is a DVD starring the World Famous Pontani Sisters doing aerobic dancercises and twistin' their way thru a series of calculatedly low-budget music vids. (The best, "Twistin' Gorilla," features a Coney Island backdrop that I wish had been more fully explored.) The Pontanis have spunk – at times coming across like real-grrl versions of Brini Maxwell – and I bet they're a gas to watch in some smoky dive, shakin' their Capri pants as a part of the whole Twist Party Show. But even without 'em, this would be a fun time.
Workin' with a horn-rimmed singer named "Kaiser" George Miller, the boys pull out their DiPinto guitars and just let go-go. Combining bump 'n' grind instrumentals like "Foot Stomp" (swell sleazy sax-work by Miller here), "Hypno-Twist" and "Mad Scientwist" (cue the sound of bubblin' beakers!) with evocations to get up 'n' dance, the boys refuse to take this goofy stuff unseriously. Silly novelties like "Gorilla" knock alongside insistent instructions on how to do the latest twist moves ("Daddy-O"); Seeds-styled organ adds a pungent slice of cheese to tracks like "Twist 'N' Grind" and "Chocolate Shake;" while Los Straitjackets' Class-A surf guitars happily continue to ground the sound.
And because even a Twist Party isn't complete without a coupla slow hug-yer-honey dances, we're also given two bits of early Beatlesque (or is that Bobby Fuller Five-ish?) teen angst tracks ("Isn't Love Grand" and "Twistin' in the Rain," which nicely deploys some Lennon-fresh harmonies near the end). In addition to including a cover of Fats Domino's hale attempt at jumpin' on the sixties dancewagon ("Domino Twist" – hey, if Chubby Checker could rip his name, why couldn't The Fat Man cut a twist track?), the Party ends with a remake of perhaps the greatest dance cut ever attempted by a group of Italian white kids: Joey Dee & the Starlighters' "Peppermint Twist." LS' version may not cut Joey DiNocala's in terms of sheer freneticism, but after sixteen tracks of Twistin', I know I was grateful for even the slightest easing off.
Great album. Now where'd I put the capsaicin?