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Review: Contemplating Jannus Landing with the Plain White T's




(This is the 23rd entry in Soundcheck's summer concert series, The 50-50 Club. For previous entries, click here.)

I'm at No. 23 on my quest for 50 concerts, and so far, aside from a couple of local artists, I've managed to avoid seeing an act I've already seen.

Until Wednesday.

Last night, I headed to Jannus Landing to catch the Plain White T's, a band I had previously seen at 97X's Next Big Thing in 2006.

I'm not a huge Plain White T's fan or anything -- although I'm a sucker for a god pop-punk song, and I do think the T's are an underrated band (more on that in a minute). The real reason I went was the venue.

I've seen a handful of concerts at Jannus Landing over the years -- Liz Phair, Dashboard Confessional, Better than Ezra, 30 Seconds to Mars (I swear that last one was for work*) -- but for whatever reason, I haven't been to a show there since the Flaming Lips in 2007. Admittedly, that one was kind of a tough act to follow.

But as you might have heard, these aren't the best of times for Jannus Landing. And so I thought it was time to see return to the courtyard, and contemplate everything the beloved venue does well, and what still needs some work.

I came up with a few observations. And I welcome your thoughts, too.


Let's start with the obvious: Jannus Landing can be a lovely venue. It's an outdoor courtyard, surrounded by historic apartments and offices, with a bar on one end and a giant tent-covered stage on the other, and several trees and palms sprouting throughout, providing a relaxing green canopy**.

Until the emergence of the Ritz Ybor in February, Jannus was the only real rock venue with a capacity in the 1,200-1,700 range, giving it a virtual monopoly on mid-level rock and hip-hop acts coming through the area. And because the sound is good, and the atmosphere is rocking, that's a good thing, right?

Two things about Jannus consistently bug me, though:

1. It's hot as f---. Not once have I ever been to a concert at Jannus Landing where the performer didn't end up sweatier than LeBron James' headband, and then complain about the fact that it's absolutely roasting. Both the Plain White T's and opener Company of Thieves commented on the heat. But at least they had fans on the stage. We audience members were left to broil like chicken drumsticks.

2. No matter where you stand during a concert at Jannus Landing -- and anyone who's ever been there knows what I'm talking about -- at some point during the show, your view will be this:


WHAT THE HELL. Architecture in some form has existed for thousands of years. The Romans built aqueducts that still work to this day, using nothing more than beeswax and old corncobs***. AND YET HERE WE ARE IN 2009, and the only method Jannus Landing can think of to hold up the tent above its stage is to plant a gigantic pole smack-dab in front of the singer? When I am king, my first order of business will be to tear down this pole, similar to how the Iraquis tore down statues of Saddam Hussein in 2003. For this, a city of grateful music fans will put my picture on money. I am convinced of it.

Okay, I'm off my soapbox. My point is this: Jannus could, in fact, use a little bit of work, a dash of sprucing up. I don't have an opinion on the tax charges facing John C. "Jack" Bodziak, but if a new owner were to take hold of Jannus Landing, I think a few improvements could turn this into a wholly unique venue. And at that point, Jannus could go back to being Tampa Bay's premiere mid-level rock venue.

Until then, the Ritz is making hay while the sun shines. More power to 'em.

So, the Plain White T's. Look, I dislike Hey There Delilah as much as the next guy. It was an overplayed, over-cutesy, overrated ballad that somehow picked up a Song of the Year Grammy nomination, which resulted in singer Tom Higginson walking the red carpet with the actual, real-life Delilah, which is so saccharinely, heart-renderingly sweet I think I just grew an ovary.

But I do like a few T's songs -- in particular, the Christmas song Season of a Lifetime, the punk shoutalong Our Time Now and the clever, splendid new ballad 1,2,3,4 (which sounds like a Jonas Brothers song, but a thousand times less whiny****).

Watching them perform in 2006 and then again Wednesday, I began to realize that I think they're getting an unfair shake. They're not quite a Warped Tour pop-punk band, not exactly. Their songs are witty, poppy, rockish and extremely catchy.

You know who they remind me of? Marshall Crenshaw. Nick Lowe. The Kinks. Even -- and I'm cringing a bit as I write this -- the Beatles. Seriously, Hey There Delilah is an emo-pop nephew of Yesterday. If you like any of the aforementioned artists, give the Plain White T's another listen, particularly some song other than Hey There Delilah. You might like it.

The crowd of several hundred -- dressed very cazh, like they just got back from Anchor Blue -- were laid back and sweaty, and over the course of about 17 songs spread across three mini-sets (including an acoustic one in the middle), their love for Higginson (a wee little sprite of a man) probably increased by 56 percent. Especially during the ballads (1,2,3,4, I Will Write You a Song, A Lonely September, and, yes, Delilah, which they played following a short but welcome snippet of the Mamas and the Papas' California Dreaming).

The band spent a good portion of the set pitting St. Pete fans against Tampa fans, in cheering contests and such. And they promised to come back to Tampa Bay as soon as possible.

Whether they plan to play in St. Pete (Jannus Landing) or Tampa (the Ritz) is something we'll just have to wait to find out.

Next up in The 50-50 Club: Joey Cape at Reax Space, June 25, Ybor City.

-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*

* Although The Battle Of One does kick some kind of ass. YOU HEARD ME.  

** This would be more impressive if Tampa Bay didn't already have another great concert venue canopied by a sprawling live oak, Skipper's Smokehouse.

*** Or something like that. I got a C in European History.

**** Bring it on, teenage girls!

[Last modified: Thursday, June 25, 2009 1:02pm]


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