Oracles of 'Delphia

In the middle of the Philadelphia Experiment's blowin' session at Bowery Ballroom last Friday, Roots drummer and walking embodiment of charisma Ahmir "?Love" Thompson told an anecdote to impart the depth of the camaraderie that brought him and bassist Christian McBride into an all-star jam with pianist Uri Caine and guitar master Pat Martino. "When Christian and I were in music class [at the Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts], any time we were playing anything in the key of D, we'd turn it into a James Brown tune. Gershwin, Bach . . . " He broke off, 'cause McBride and Caine were already proving the point, rushing headlong into an abbreviated vamp of "The Big Payback." ?Love joined in with the backbeat and a grunt-filled vocal, a wide goofy smile on his face.

Rock 'n' Roll High School: polygraph lounge’s schwimmer with regular guest melissa fathman
photo: Cary Conover
Rock 'n' Roll High School: polygraph lounge’s schwimmer with regular guest melissa fathman

Of course, if anyone assumed that this one-off gathering by three generations of jazz-minded Philly experimentalists was going to be anything but a sweaty, groove-filled goof, they weren't paying attention to the joy exhibited by their self-titled album, stocked with City of Brotherly Love-associated tunes (Sun Ra, Grover, "Philadelphia Freedom," etc.). Sales show that few did—the crowd getting off on the group's soul-jazz smoothies was mostly made up of Wetlands types and funkheads having a blast playing call-and-response with McBride's encyclopedic knowledge of classic basslines.

It took Martino a while to get into the pocket. Busy constructing fluid but hi-IQ lines, he finally got his Jimmy Nolen on with help from Philly tenor Robert Landham's sax on a cover of Marvin Gaye's "Trouble Man" that the soloists turned into a greasy, modernist stew. Caine, on the other hand, was in the center of the action all night long, establishing an intimate rapport with ?Love—it seemed like they were trying to inhale the entire Ramsey Lewis Trio songbook at every turn. You had to wonder what a music class between them would've produced. —Piotr Orlov

Wu Clan Time

Dave Weckerman was the most charismatic Feelie by default. In the '80s heyday of that notoriously unprepossessing band, he would set up his milk carton of percussive tricks by Stan Demeski's proper drum kit, hunch over his mic with maracas, a tambourine, or maybe a wood block, and focus his intense gaze on the feet of guitarists Glenn Mercer and Bill Million, as if he couldn't bear to watch their frantic playing. Feelies shows at Maxwell's were religious experiences, and then owner Steve Fallon couldn't even advertise them in this newspaper—you had to spot the notice in the Pier Platters window on your way to the PATH. "But when Steve couldn't get another band, he knew he could always call us," says Weckerman. "If Smashing Pumpkins couldn't make it—time for Yung Wu."

The Wu was Weckerman's band, a lighter, steadier version of the Feelies' itchy rhythms. Eventually every other member was a Feelie too, and that lineup made a record for Fallon's Coyote label. The Feelies broke up 10 years ago (after Million left in the night for Florida) and Yung Wu hadn't played in 13, but four weeks ago Ira Kaplan of Yo La Tengo called to ask if they could open the first of his band's eight Hanukkah benefits at Maxwell's. It wasn't hard: Mercer and Demeski still rehearse every week with Weckerman and his old gang, and they've played some shows together as Sunburst.

Except for one new song, they stuck to the record. Eyes closed, fleece zipped even under the hot lights, Weckerman revisited ringers like the Stones' "Child of the Moon" and his own "Empty Pool," covered by Yo La on their first LP. The six of us old enough to remember were thrilled. "See you in 2014," Weckerman said at the end. More like two hours: For their own encore, Yo La brought him and Mercer back for a five-song Feelies set of increasing proficiency, culminating in a radiant "When Company Comes." It turns out there are some benefits to reliving 1991. —Josh Goldfein

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