By Ty Simmons
Frank Zappa is a legend. The musical virtuoso and genre-hopper has influenced some of the most prominent musicians in the Western stream of consciousness. Bands like Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper, Primus, and Trey Anastasio all owe some musical debt to the great goateed one.
Zappa last played Baton Rouge at the LSU Assembly Center in 1977, but his spirit rocked the house last Friday night. Local jammers Captain Green filled the Varsity’s stage, took Zappa’s classic compositions, and pushed them through a heady, space-funk filter.
They are more than happy to join the list of musicians within his sphere of influence.
After a decent opening set by the three-piece Righteous Buddha, Captain Green took the stage with a smilingly loud and absurd announcement, launching into “Cleetus Awreetus Awrightus.” Performing this time with ten band members, they sounded loud, and they sounded good.
Their next bit was a shrieking and sprawling rendition of “Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow” that led into “Nanook Rubs” that then led into “I Am the Slime.” The music of Zappa remained intact throughout, despite the extensive room made for Captain Green’s trademark jamming solos.
Despite the limited space both on stage and in the audience’s ears, the band didn’t trip over one another, instead allowing each instrument and player be heard over the course of the night.
The appearance of the band was a treat. Keyboardist Ross Hoppe sported the full Zappa goatee, and the rest were in equally Neapolitan attire. The guitarist, Grant Hudson, looked like a Sgt. Pepper’s-era George Harrison with his facial hair and psychedelic vest, and he played like it too.
In center-stage, the bassist, Robert Kling, rocked the dreadlock ponytails while bopping around stage, and big drummer Chris “Katt” Lee kept it cool and steady right behind him on the drums.
The horns section consisted of Matt Bizot on alto sax and flute, Darin Jones on tenor and baritone sax, David Melancon on trumpet, and Nick Garrison on trombone. Solos from any of this group on the left side of the stage were greeted by the crowd with a roar and a smile. Jones in particular stood out with a few blistering tenor solos.
Lead vocals were handled by Chloe Johnson and Christopher Alexander, the former bringing soulful pipes, height, and range to the band, and the ladder bringing consistency and baritone.
Ross Hoppe, however, took the mic for the majority of the night, excellently and emotionally telling stories and shrieking Zappa’s lyrics in the only way that they can be. He also played with deft fingers all over the keys.
The band soloed and jammed their way through 14 songs of Zappa’s library, including “Black Napkins,” “Watermelon in Easter Hay,” “Cosmik Debris,” and a wonderful, spiritual performance of “Peaches in Regalia” for an encore.
The genius of Frank Zappa is non-emulatable (except, perhaps, by his son Dweezil), but that doesn’t mean tributes to it aren’t more than welcome. Looking at his work through the creative jam-funk lens of Captain Green was pretty niche, but it was well executed, and oh so much fun.