Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Brooklyn Bowl opens in Fishtown, with ‘Bowlive’ and Questlove as DJ and drummer

The Fishtown music venue, bowling alley and restaurant opened, with funk band Soulive and the Roots drummer showing off his many talents.

George Porter Jr (left) performs with Soulive’s Eric Krasno (right) during the Brooklyn Bowl Philadelphia opening Thursday night on Canal Street in Fishtown. Nov. 4, 2021.
George Porter Jr (left) performs with Soulive’s Eric Krasno (right) during the Brooklyn Bowl Philadelphia opening Thursday night on Canal Street in Fishtown. Nov. 4, 2021.Read moreELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer

A music venue that dares to use the word Brooklyn in its name opened in Fishtown Thursday night.

And did Philadelphians express their displeasure at such an effrontery? Of course they did, though only briefly.

Brooklyn Bowl Philadelphia came to life with a double bill that began with funk-jazz trio Soulive playing with Meters bassist George Porter Jr. and singer-guitarist Tom Hamilton Jr. That was followed by a star-turn by hometown hero Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, who first sat with the band and then lit up the room with a two-hour “Bowl Train” DJ set.

Before Soulive went on about 8:30 p.m., remarks were made by big wigs who brought the venue to town and whose original Brooklyn location opened in 2009. Now, it has outposts in Las Vegas and Nashville. Live Nation regional chief Geoff Gordon said a few words, and Brooklyn Bowl co-founder Charley Ryan said many more, thanking all who made the venue possible.

Then Ryan’s partner Peter Shapiro — the jam band impresario who is also publisher of Relix magazine, among other ventures — declared himself pleased that so many people from New York were at the show, eliciting a smattering of boos and “Eagles!” shouts. “Not in Philly you don’t!” a woman on the dance floor admonished him.

What followed over the next five-plus hours made a strong argument that Brooklyn Bowl will indeed work in Philly, even when faced with New York antipathy and skepticism of a showplace not content as simply a music venue but aims to be a funhouse that incorporates bowling and a restaurant.

Brooklyn Bowl Philadelphia is a 38,000-square-foot, two-level space that opened with a capacity of 900 people on its second floor where the music is staged in front of a general admission dance floor roughly comparable in size to that of nearby indie rock club Union Transfer.

The sold-out room never felt squeezed even as the crowd, about half wearing masks, grew larger as fans arrived to see Questlove’s late-night show.

That comfort quotient was partly due to the venue choosing to silence the upstairs bowling lanes and use the space as a VIP area. Patrons who came just to bowl or eat at the comfort food restaurant were able to do so downstairs on Thursday.

And what about the music?

The Soulive trio of guitarist Eric Krasno and brothers Alan Evans on drums and Neal Evans on Hammond organ traditionally open BB locations while bringing on special guests as Bowlive. They will again be joined rhythmic genius Porter Jr. on Saturday.

The Brooklyn Bowl sweet spot is the jam-band nexus where the Grateful Dead meets New Orleans party music, with Neal Evans’ robust keyboard connecting to the rich Philly jazz organ tradition of Jimmy Smith, Shirley Scott, and Joey DeFrancesco.

The sound was clear and strong, with no opening night hiccups. During the first hour-long set, the band was an agreeable, earthy outfit, with Krasno stretching out on lead guitar. But when Porter Jr. arrived at the end of the set, the quartet transformed into a dance band.

» READ MORE: Brooklyn Bowl Philadelphia is ready to open in Fishtown, with Soulive and Questlove

With Hamilton Jr. singing lead on “West L.A. Fadeaway” and trading vocals with Porter Jr. and Krasno on “Sugaree,” the Dead-under-the-disco-ball dance party was on.

All of that was a prelude to Questlove. Shortly after 11, the Roots drummer took over Alan Evans’ chair behind the drum kit and brought a jolt of energy to the room as Porter Jr. led the way on “Africa” and “Just Kissed My Baby,” two 1970s Meters classics.

Hugs were exchanged, and Questlove immediately moved to a DJ booth across the room, located under a carnival banner hand-painted with the words “A Daring Exhibition.” By this point, the crowd was older and more diverse than it had been earlier, and the Summer of Soul director and author of the new Music is History book got to work making the room jump.

And that it did, thanks to a marvelous mix of crowd-pleasers and the far-from-obvious. The Average White Band into Babla & His Orchestra. Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s “Crazy In Love” and The Normal’s “Warm Leatherette.” James Brown meets Sly & the Family Stone and encounters Terence Trent D’Arby along the way.

The Soul Train videos that were supposed to provide a multisensory experience did not materialize. No matter. The inaugural Philadelphia Bowl Train was a masterful display of yet another thing that Questlove does extremely well, and it brought Brooklyn Bowl Philadelphia’s opening night party to one peak after another. Consider the room broken in.