Jannus Live; St. Petersburg, FL • January 15, 2017
by Carl F Gauze
Bad planning on my part sent me across the I-275 bridge to downtown St Pete to catch this scion of America’s most notorious musician. Père Frank Zappa gave us over 100 of the oddest, most challenging albums of the rock and roll era. Frank passed away a while back, and his son Dweezil (actually Ian Donald Calvin Euclid Zappa) works to preserve his dad’s legacy by touring and playing what might be called “The Hits.”
The Jannus venue is an open air concert space in the heart of St Pete’s commercial downtown. To the north is a string of pseudo-Irish pubs; to the west tall buildings and the men’s room, to the east a former flop converted into condos, and to the south a long suffering apartment building. The sky is above; it was a delightful evening for music but this could be trouble in the rainy season. The show started a bit late as a crucial Sportsball game was on the bar TV. The Upstate Pudknockers were playing the West Central Yeehaws; it was a nail biter of a game by all reports. The results will crucially determine the joyousness of all Sportsball fans for up to a month. But I digress…
Zappa took to his simple stage with a half dozen back up musicians. The bass player was dragged out as a preppy Bon Scott, the keyboard player wore her hair up tall while the backup singer went with a young Joan Jett look. A mutant drummer did all the real work up behind risers and an earnest young man worked a bass sax and helped with some vocals. The sound was quite clean, loud but not to the point I needed my earplugs. The crowd features mostly older ex-hippies with great pony tails, long suffering wives and just enough medical pot to keep the atmosphere interesting.
The set was long on mid-career material from Zappa senior and, while I’m a moderate fan, I did cheat with the Sound Hound app to identify some of the tracks. A long version of “Inca Roads” took top applause, it’s from their last studio album and takes up nearly half an album side. “Apostrophe” and “Moving to Montana” were well received, and a bit of Florida Trash Tabloid fun came with “Fembot in A Wet Tee Shirt.” The crowd was calm and intense but you could wander close to the stage if you wanted, or just hang out and reminisce about “those days”.
Photography was prohibited, or at least you had to sign a massive waver and hand over your camera; that was the only real non fan-friendly aspect of this show. As the chords of “Water Melon on Easter Hay” wafted over downtown St. Pete I snuck out before the encore; there was still a 100 mile drive back to home base. Was this truly nostalgic? For some, but for me it was a re-introduction to music I had heard briefly before the E chord punk took over my college days. Zappa gave us permission to be as weird as we could imagine, and he was no slouch as a jazz composer.