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Maxwell's Moments: Looking Back At Hoboken's Music Institution

Soundcheck's technical director, Irene Trudel, shares some Maxwell's memories. Tell us your favorite moments below!

Tuesday, June 04, 2013 - 03:00 PM

Yo La Tengo's Ira Kaplan performing at Maxwell's in Hoboken on Dec. 7, 2010. Yo La Tengo's Ira Kaplan performing at Maxwell's in Hoboken on Dec. 7, 2010. (Barry Yanowitz/Flickr)

Yesterday, I heard the news that Maxwell's, the famed music club with international recognition in Hoboken N.J., is closing after July 31. The news struck me hard: I've been to Maxwell's more times than I can remember and so many of my best musical memories are wrapped up in that place. It was a lifeline to twentysomething me.

I lived an hour's drive from New York City in a seemingly ultra-backward suburban New Jersey town. It became a destination as comfortable as going to a friend's house for a few beers and some tunes. Except the music was live and more eclectic than I'd ever hoped for. It was as if my college radio station had come to life. In the early 1990s, I lived within walking distance of the club, making it a quicker trip to see bands.  

It was a club I never felt out of place in, with good food and beer, a jukebox filled with the best indies and oldies rockin' the front bar. I met one of my best friends there, and recorded my first radio interview there with R.E.M.'s Peter Buck and Mike Mills after one of the band's early live shows. I even tried out to be a fill-in soundperson -- which I thankfully decided wasn't for me -- but I ended up engineering many live broadcasts there for my other radio station, WFMU. 

Here's a partial list of some of my favorite shows and musicians I remember seeing at Maxwell's:

The Mekons: The best New Year's Eve I can remember, in 1992; Singer Sally Timms was chewing gum and wearing a sparkly tiara, the band rocking our brains out, and so hot in there that our collective sweat dripped off the ceiling.

Richard Thompson: This night in the early '90s was the first time I saw him play solo acoustic, squeezing into a spot near the front of the tiny stage. And his opening act, the late Vic Chesnutt, was a totally unexpected delight.

American Music Club: I saw Mark Eitzel fronting American Music Club many times (and many times drunk out of his skull, but still superb). Guitarist Vudi once let me hold his custom-made guitar because I admired it.

Kevin Ayers: I dragged a date named Peter there so I could record Ayers in a rare appearance in 1993, with Gary Lucas and David Thomas opening. (The date worked out: Peter's my husband now.)

The Fleshtones: At a show in the early '80s, with the band churning out surf-style garage rock, frontman Peter Zaremba singled me out of the audience, cradling my head and singing and testifying about having "a personal Fleshtones experience."

Robyn Hitchcock: I caught Hitchcock many occasions both solo and with a band, one night in 2005, Hitchcock surprised everyone by singing "Kung Fu Fighting" as he walked into the audience, with guitar in hand, getting the crowd to sing along.

And then there were countless amazing shows from the likes of The Pixies (as an opening act!), Throwing Muses, The Bongos, Tiny Lights, The Feelies, Yo La Tengo, Speed the Plough, R. Stevie Moore, Husker Du, Bob Mould, The Fall, Incredible Casuals, NRBQ, The Mommyheads, The dB’s, Continental Drifters, The Bats, The A Bones, Hazil Adkins, Alex Chilton. So many others, too many forgotten.

I'll admit my patronage of the club diminished once I married and moved to Manhattan. Parking near the club became an impossibility. But I'd also fallen out of love with Hoboken in general as drinking fans, not music fans, seemed to be overtaking the town near the PATH station and spreading. Maxwell's had fallen on bad times in the '90s as well, and sold to some people who tried to turn it into a microbrew pub with an unimaginative booking policy. Todd Abramson, along with Sonic Youth's Steve Shelley and Dave Post of The Amazing Incredibles, eventually rescued the club, bringing it back to its former glory.

Unfortunately, all good things come to an end and the club owners feel it's time to close the club for good. As one of my friends put it, "It's like a death in the family." But I will always remember all the good times and great music.

So what's your "Maxwell's Moment"? Tell us your favorite concert memory or share a personal story about the rock club in the comments section below, on Twitter at @Soundcheck, or call us and leave a voicemail at 866-939-1612.

In addition to serving as Soundcheck's technical director, Irene Trudel has hosted shows on WFMU for nearly 27 years. 


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Comments [14]

pcp from once a hobokener

working there was the best. fallon was the only boss in all the restaurants i have worked at, that took the side of his staff, against the patrons.

the bands i saw and the fun i had, are a whole 'nother post.

Jun. 22 2013 12:47 AM
Mackey from Maxwell's Memory Lane

Back in '84, after the REM/dB's show at the Capitol Theater in Passaic, we all headed over to Maxwell's to continue the party on stage and off where an drunken, impromtu Hindu Gods of Love show about 1am, I was informned by Peter that dB's Drummer, Will Rigby, had hijacked the db's van and and he and Amy had headed home to their apartment in the East Village. Luckily, Steve Falon let me crash on his couch, but unluckily, the next morning we found out the van had been vandalized and everything in the van was stolen. (can you imagine?) Most of the equipment was on the REM Truck, but they did get away with many smaller items, including my suitcase containing just about everything I owned on earth. I still have the "Little America" tour shirt Stipe gave me and the shaving kit from the REM bus driver. About 20 years later, I ran into Stipe and Mills at Bridge School and they were only able to remember me after I mentioned I was "The guy who got his suitcase stolen after Maxwells." Thank you, Will Rigby, I'd trade this story for that suitcase anyday. (well, I still miss my KUSF sweatshirt!)
John Mackey

Jun. 12 2013 12:34 PM
Valerie Horowitz from Mendham, NJ

Like so many, I moved to Hoboken because of Maxwell’s. It was 1980 or 1981. I was not a musician, but I had friends who were (Schramms, Human Switchboard, later Yo La Tengo), and I loved the Hoboken scene and what it represented as an outgrowth of the punk new wave scene of the late ‘70s. Maxwell’s was home, plain and simple. I went to hundreds of shows there. Yo La Tengo’s first show stands out, as do those wild Human Switchboard New Year’s eve shows. Schramms shows with songs featuring Emily Dickinson poems as lyrics. Not to mention Jonathan Richman, Pere Ubu, Bongos, Lyres, db’s, Alex Chilton, Husker du, Fleshtones, Johnnie Johnson, Feelies, REM…
Back in 1972 I went on a date with Ben Horowitz to a Grateful Dead concert at Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City. He was at Hampshire College, I was a junior at Montclair High School, we lost touch. 24 years later I was in my Hoboken apartment two doors down from Maxwell’s when an old high school friend called and said she was at Maxwell’s and had a surprise for me. She was with Ben Horowitz, who was there reviewing a Health & Happiness (with Richard Lloyd), Valentine Smith, and Volebeats show for the Star-Ledger. That was April 27, 1996. Ben and I hadn’t seen each other since that Dead concert in 1972. We’ve been together ever since. That August I left Hoboken after all those years, moved back to Montclair where we bought a house and got married in our back yard. Now we have a 14 year-old son. Needless to say, some of the best moments of my life happened there. Thank you, Steve Fallon.

Jun. 09 2013 07:22 PM
Andrew Price

Irene, I lived a few doors down from Maxwell's in 1994, very much on purpose. Amazingly, I was there for the first time in 18 years on Monday, to see the Bats, when the news broke.

Jun. 07 2013 10:18 PM

I did sound mixing for a friend's band once and the master volume fader levels were labeled "loud", "louder" and "Das Damen". I was tempted to, but didn't push the volume to Das Damen level.

Jun. 07 2013 01:21 PM
DaveG from High Bridge, NJ

Though folks focus on the rock/punk/experimental stuff, Todd booked some great country and rockabilly shows too:

Sleepy La Beef many times... always great.
Junior Brown - can't help thinking that Maxwell's really helped put him on the map in the NY area consciousness...
Radney Foster - amazing show in about 1999/2000 (?) NO ONE WAS THERE - me and my wife, and 6 other people. We apologized to him...
Pete Anderson - Dwight Yoakum's guitar player and producer, playing with the other guys from Dwight's band. He also did a guitar workshop at Jim Mastro's Guitar Bar store downtown.
Dave Edmunds - solo, packed. I recall he played Chet Atkins' version of Lady Madonna as though it were his own.
Marshall Crenshaw numerous times.

Jun. 07 2013 11:21 AM

A big +1 for fond memories of Richard Thompson's solo acoustic show. We lived two blocks away at the time, were (and continue to be) big fans of Fairport and all things RT, and the chance to see him so up close was thrilling. And, he was gracious with his time afterward, hanging for a while at the bar.

Jun. 07 2013 11:03 AM
The Chadster from Philly

One of the more memorable evenings I had at the club was in 89, or 90 where I found myself hanging out with Richard Lloyd after he played a great set with Matthew Sweet who was then supporting his Girlfriend release (one of the last great rock/pop albums with great playing and production to boot). Anyway, I had a vintage Sears Silverstone guitar amp in mint condition (at the time) that Lloyd was asking about (I was actually a drummer) that someone left behind after a band I was in broke up. I regret just not getting it to him since he's such a great player and the amp ended up collecting so much dust and mold over the next 14+ years that it ended up in the dumpster.

Jun. 07 2013 04:38 AM

Seeing Husker Du and being so close that Bob Mould's sweat was flying onto my shirt.

Jun. 06 2013 09:20 PM
John from Hoboken

My roommate from college was a manager at Maxwells back in the mid eighties. I was just about to lose my apartment in Jersey City and was looking to move to Manhattan. I was spending so much time at Maxwells I found myself moving to an apartment around the corner. That was 1986 and I never left.

I eat there twice a week and dessert is often free admission to hear whatever band is in the back room that night. I can honestly boost that there are few people that have seen more shows there than me!

My favorite Maxwells story happened not in the back room but on the street. I bumped into Steve Fallon, one of Maxwells original partners, on the street one day.

Steve asked, "John I'm flying to Germany with some friends next week to go hang out with R.E.M. while they are on tour. Do you want to come?" Peter Buck from R.E.M. was also partner in Maxwells.

I had been out of work for a few months and had a lead on a new job and I had to turn him down. I know.

My greatest memory of Maxwells will be the friendships I've made there. Most of my friends from those days have moved on and out of Hoboken. I'm still living around the corner. I haven't stopped in since the announcement about the closing. Frankly I'm afraid to face such an emotional moment. Like visiting a friend you know hasn't got much time left.

Jun. 06 2013 08:27 PM

Yo La Tengo, Yo La Tengo and Yo La Tengo. The Wedding Present. Luna. J Mascis (Solo and Acoustic). The Feelies. Penn and Teller (with Yo La Tengo). Versus. Velocity Girl. Mission of Burma (with Yo La Tengo). Bobcat Goldwaith (!) with Yo La Tengo ("Firetruck!"). Alex F'n Chilton with Yo La Tengo. And the best show ever: Hannukkah-palooza with The National opening for Yo La Tengo.

Anybody thought of buying the place with a Kickstarter campaign?

Jun. 05 2013 03:17 PM
Caryn Aych from Brooklyn, NY

I think I was at that 2005 Robyn Hitchcock show, Irene! I got him to sign my arm and seriously contemplated getting his name tattooed in permanently.
Also saw Kylesa there, and got to be the closest I will probably ever get to the band to admire the crush of the double drummers and almost get my headbanging mane stuck in Laura's guitar.
Plus, I saw Naked Raygun there just a few years ago and had a mosh buddy for the whole show! Sorry to see Maxwell's go.

Jun. 05 2013 11:14 AM
Steven Swartz from Brooklyn

I was at that same Mekons show, Irene! I lived in Hoboken for many years – Maxwells was like my second living room. Saw Vic Chesnutt at least once there, along with: Hüsker Dü, Minutemen, Wire, My Bloody Valentine (one of their first American shows), Buzzcocks, Pussy Galore, and Jonathan Richman, plus many many shows by the Feelies, Yo La Tengo, and the Fleshtones. Was an extra in a Jonathan Demme-directed video for the Feelies that was shot there. Saw Oasis, was not impressed. (They were obnoxious to the Maxwells staff, everyone complained about them.) For some reason, turned down a chance to walk a few blocks and see a band called Nirvana. Another time, I passed up a band billed as Hornets Attack Victor Mature. If I'd shown up to see them, I would've been treated to a show by REM!

Jun. 05 2013 10:12 AM
Marie Martin

Ken Stringfellow solo 2004. EPIC wonderful show. I've seen so many great acts at Maxwell's, I will miss that place SO MUCH.

Jun. 04 2013 05:06 PM

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