Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Signs Of The End Time: Maxwell's of Hoboken Is Fading Away

It didn’t look like a club.  It looked like a corner restaurant (because, in fact, it was).

It wasn’t really accessible, as every trip I took to it required me to take the PATH train into Hoboken, then walk about a mile to almost the very end of Washington Street.

It wasn’t easy to get home from, as a return from a show usually required a half hour or more of my sitting in that cold, funny smelling PATH train.

And yet, Maxwell’s was my favorite venue during that long, long period where I was going to see live music three or four nights every week, stumbling home at three or four a.m. to get about two and a half hours sleep before heading off to work.  I loved the fact that the performance space was roughly the size of a largish den.  I loved the fact that--at least during that period of my life--it was the only venue that was air-conditioned.  I loved that if you showed up early enough, and I am one of those people who is perpetually early, you could position yourself in a certain corner of the dining room and listen to that evening’s headliner doing their soundcheck.  I loved the intimacy of the place sometimes resulted in one of the acts interacting with you before or after the show.

And now, as of July 31st of this year, it joins such landmarks of my misspent youth as The Comic Book Art Gallery, Pinky’s, The 59th Street Forbidden Planet, The Continental, The Ritz and CBGB’s as a thing of the past.

To be fair, I have not been to Maxwell’s in a very, very long time.  I think the last time I was in its hallowed halls was when, for my birthday, I ventured out to see Stan Ridgway perform in support of his Black Diamond album.  Somehow, my friend got word to Stan that it was my birthday, and he pulled me up on stage to play that flute-thing on ‘The Big Heat,’ signed a set list for me that I have posted above my work station to this day, and invited me to be his guest for his second New York City area show a few days later.  That big night was close to twenty years ago....

But that was just the most recent of memories.  A lot of them are about the people I got to see in a much more intimate venue, like being literally two feet away from Lloyd Cole as he did an acoustic set one absolutely frigid Thursday night in December.  There was going on a first date with a woman to see the Boston band Orangutan one Sunday night and ending up with what pretty much was a private show, as we were the only two people who showed up (the band, who knew me, played anyway).  There was the time Jersey natives The Melting Hopefuls were celebrating the release of their one and only album, Space Flyer, by handing out toy rayguns.

And there were the memories I made at Maxwell’s due to my musical journalism. There was the time my friend Vaughn gleefully tore apart the hipster doofus veneer of a certain 4 AD band spokesman by quizzing him on the comic books he claimed to love.  There was the time I was invited to interview Pat Fish of the The Jazz Butcher Conspiracy over a dinner, a dinner that resulted in us bonding over our love of Hammer horror movies (it turned out Hammer stalwart director Terence Fisher was related to Mr. Fish).  And then there was the strange and wonderful not-quite friendship that grew up between me and one of my musical crushes Tanya Donnelly, which I chronicled here.

I’m sure you can gather from some of my war stories that Maxwell’s hey day was in the early 90‘s, during that time when the success of Nirvana (who played Maxwell’s) briefly saw an overwhelming interest in independent music.  It’s a credit to the owner Todd Abramson that he kept it open as long as he did, but the changing face of the neighborhood, with the gentrification wave hitting it hard in the last decade, has made running this legendary venue to difficult.

So now one of the most legendary, intimate venues in the tri-state area is about to disappear into the mists of history.  And that is why we are living in the End Times.

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