Pojama Party: Sept. 2 at Spark Museum

In the annals of the music industry, few artists left the size of footprint that Frank Vincent Zappa did. His impact on modern music – rock, jazz, classical… hell, even country – is undeniable. While many dismiss Frank’s musical output as merely “comedy music” (this is a man who, after all, released a record called “Burnt Weeny Sandwich”), those who take the time to delve deeper into his discography discover a polyrhythmic world full of gyrations and gymnastics the likes of which only the best musicians are able to understand, much less play.

Which brings us to Ike Willis…

Ike joined Zappa’s band in the latter part of 1978. His voice (and guitar playing) became a type of signature for the band from Joe’s Garage (on which he played the role of “Joe”) through You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore Volume 6. His contributions to classic records like Tinseltown Rebellion, You Are What You Is, Man From Utopia, and the HIGHLY underrated Broadway production of Frank’s genre-bending play, Thing-Fish (for which Ike played the titular character) are easily some of the most recognizable in the Zappa discography.

And that brings us to Bellingham’s Spark Museum of Electrical Invention…

On September 2, Willis’ Pojama People rolled into town and played an astounding show which lasted nearly three and a half hours. The exemplary five-piece band tore their way through such classic Zappa tracks as “Brown Shoes Don’t Make it,” “Dirty Love,” “Cosmik Debris,” “Can’t Afford No Shoes,” “San Ber’dino,” “Andy,” “Bamboozled By Love,” “Hungry Freaks Daddy,” and three of the greatest Zappa instruments of all time – “Zoot Allures,” “Black Napkins,” and the seminal “Peaches En Regalia.”

As far as the band itself, Pojama People are populated by exceedingly talented musicians who were able to play Frank’s admittedly challenging material with ease. Standouts were Alli Bach (voice, percussion, winds) whose performance was an enticing amalgam of Ruth Underwood and Flora Purim. Rhythm section Glen Leonard (drums, voice) & Andrew Walley (bass, voice) carved out a solid foundation from which Bach, keyboardist Ted Clifford, and, of course, Willis could improvise.

As for Ike Willis, it’s pretty widely regarded that his rhythm guitar playing with Zappa was impressive, but seeing his soloing with Pojama People, raised him markedly in many attendees esteem. His subtle and fluid playing during “Black Napkins” was a high point of the show.

Sadly, the one small downside was the venue. With Spark’s hardwood floors, brick sidewalls and cavernous acoustics, the auditorium made everything sound muddied and therefore some subtleties were swallowed up by the space. Still, Willis and Pojama People presented a stellar show that not only highlighted the genius of Zappa’s music, but also served as a means to show just how talented the band was.