Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The triumphant, transcendent return of Fat Kid Wednesdays

Adam Linz, JT Bates, Michael Lewis

“Fat Kid Wednesdays.” What kind of band name is that?

The kind you make up when you’re teenagers crazy for jazz.

Michael Lewis (saxophones), Adam Linz (bass) and JT Bates (drums) started playing together as friends in high school. On Monday, November 27, 2017, some 26 years later, they played two sets at Icehouse.

Between then and now, they played together often, then less and less. For years, they were the band in residence at the Clown Lounge, a bar in the basement of the old Turf Club. The Clown closed suddenly in January 2011. Two years earlier, in January 2009, Fat Kids spent two nights at the Stone, John Zorn’s club in New York City. Someone reviewed the first night for the New Yorker’s Culture Desk, noting the trio’s “preternatural mutual responsiveness that comes from an instinctive sympathy, but is developed over time through work” and their “exhilarating performance” that “revealed both the depth of their individual artistry and the symbiotic wonder of their interplay.” The review ended with “They play again tonight. Don’t miss it.”

Fat Kids made some albums: “Shiftercar,” “Singles,” “The Art of Cherry.” A mini-album called “Bomb” is listed at, and something called “Set One” is available at Shifting Paradigm Records. Some songs “recorded at the clown lounge by sam” are on myspace but no longer playable. Same goes for a few labeled “Minnesota sur Festival,” which means recorded at the Minnesota Sur Seine Festival, a late, much-lamented, trés amazing improvised music festival held in the mid-2000s that brought artists from France to play with artists in Minnesota. Fat Kids played often in France.

When Mike, Adam and JT took the stage at Icehouse on Monday, it had been four years since they last played together. The room was packed. The tables had been moved around to make standing room for 120 people. Everyone was there to listen.

I don’t know what they played. They didn’t announce the songs. The singer Wendy Lewis, who is Mike’s aunt, thought she heard a reconstructed “Stardust.” I thought I heard Mingus. And so many other things; hints and asides that teased and evaporated. The music washed over the room in bursts of playfulness and waves of beauty. There were ballads so full of emotion that I wanted to weep. I had forgotten the trio could do this, or maybe they’re better at doing it now, as men in their forties, grown, working, with histories, making lives for themselves, all as in-demand, professional musicians. 

Mike’s saxophones wailed, screamed and sighed as he paced the stage. Adam’s big, gorgeous-sounding acoustic bass sang with a human voice. JT’s drums – clutches of thunder, crashes, skitters, the shimmer of cymbals – seemed like the source of all rhythm. They were happy to be together, old friends hanging out and doing what they love. We were damn lucky to be there.

During one song, near the end, I barely breathed. Without words, Mike’s saxophone told a story of sadness, longing, regret, wisdom and acceptance. I am not exaggerating. His horn said all of that and probably more. I heard it very clearly. I wish there had been a photographer on the stage, taking pictures of the crowd and the wonder on our faces, because the whole room was transfixed by the music. Afterward, I turned to Mary Lewis, Mike’s mom, and asked, “Where did that come from?” She put her hand on her heart.

Adam Linz, JT Bates, Michael Lewis

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