A Few Final Thoughts About Maxwell’s
My first show at Maxwell’s was December 2005. Yo La Tengo’s annual Hanukkah extravaganza, I can’t remember the specific date. I had just started dipping my toes into their discography that previous spring. We arrived in the middle of Sun Ra Arkestra’s barn burner of an opening set. I was shocked at how small the place was. Even with my limited experience as a concertgoer at that time, I knew this show was something special. The Arkestra jammed on Yo La Tengo’s songs for almost their entire set. The band culled material from their entire discography, not to mention their truly mind-boggling repertoire of covers. They ended the night with (what else?) “Nuclear War”, forming some sort of conga line through the crowd as though they never wanted the song to end. None of us wanted it to end either. But it did.
I’ve been a hopelessly devoted YLT fanboy ever since.
Flash forward to six years later. I was crashing on the couch of some close childhood friends, trying to work my way through some very heavy heartbreak and depression. Maxwell’s was literally a minute’s walk away. I found myself there many a night, nursing a few mixed spirits, trying to feel real human connection again. I watched the Timberwolves upset the Heat in the NBA Championships. I sang along to the jukebox, which had a practically perfect selection. It was nice to be surrounded by kindred spirits. Maxwell’s was one of those places where you may not know anybody else in the room, but you just intrinsically know that they’re your kind of crowd. The staff was always friendly. The door guy even let me into a sparsely attended Sun Araw show for free one time. I saw Real Estate preview a bunch of material from what would become their album “Days”. It was the first time I felt like we young Jersey kids were making our own history instead of basking in the amber glow of the past.
I was getting ready to meet up with my best friends and see The Bats and Wild Carnation when the news broke that Maxwell’s was closing. It felt numbing; the reality of what Hoboken had become finally encroaching on our party. That night was fantastic. Suddenly we had to make it count. And we did. A month later, we took part in that most hallowed of New Jersey indie rock traditions: The Feelies on 4th of July. They played for over three hours, and it was everything one would hope it to be. The last thing I saw at Maxwell’s was last week: Glenn Mercer leading a blistering cover of “Rock n’ Roll” by The Velvet Underground. It didn’t feel like an ending, though. More like we were being encouraged to start a new chapter.
Knowing that this continuum of daring, off-kilter, brilliant music had fermented here, in my home state, in this tiny little club, and that we were a part of it for a few fleeting moments was positively electric. It backed up what Tom Scharpling said so eloquently last night on the Best Show: Maxwell’s is just a building. It’s the people that counts.