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Maxwell’s in Hoboken closing after 35 years the way it began

Photo Credit: Richard Barone
Photo Credit: Richard Barone
Photo Credit: Richard Barone
Photo Credit: Richard Barone

YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: Maxwell’s, the Hoboken restaurant with one of alternative rock’s most famous and influential back rooms in the world, will close the way it began — nearly 35 years to the day — with sets by the Bongos, the Individuals and assorted other musicians, Richard Barone told CLIFFVIEW PILOT tonight.

“Maxwell’s was a one-of-a-kind venue when it first started,” Barone said. “With its all-embracing loving arms it nurtured bands and customers alike in a unique, non-aggressive, yet totally energized rockin’ kind of way, which simply defied description or duplication.

“Unlike other bars, there were no neon beer advertisements on the walls (Springsteen had to bring them in for the “Glory Days” video),” he told CLIFFVIEW PILOT . “Instead, it was an open, blank-canvas, artistic space that invited everyone to have a good time. It allowed and encouraged everyone to be themselves – musically and socially.”

“We were offered a renewal with rates that weren’t necessarily onerous,” Todd Abramson, the club’s booking agent and co-owner, told nj.com . “But after much thought, given the changing nature of Hoboken and the difficulties of trying to run a business in this town, we decided it was time.”

REM guitarist Peter Buck once bought an interest to help keep new music alive. Another alternative giant, Bob Mould, later bought out Buck’s share at the landmark on the corner of Washington and 11th streets.

Liz Phair at Maxwell’s, Nov. 2010 (CLIFFVIEW PILOT photo)

This time, there’ll be no encore, says Abramson, who instituted several changes after taking over bookings in 1986 — including having different acts play as many as three separate-admission shows in a night to draw the largest possible crowd.

Instead, there will be the star-studded sendoff, and a flood of memories for countless fans.

There was one of New Order’s first American gigs after the death of lead singer Ian Curtis prompted the band — formerly known as Joy Division — to reinvent itself.

There were the Feelies reunion gigs, after 17 years, each July from 2008-2010.

And there was the Replacements’ surprise 1990 show: For 5 bucks (if you were lucky), you got to hear Paul Westerberg and company — including brand-new drummer Steve Foley, who’d replaced Chris Mars — drunkenly barrel their way through covers, including a powerful version of the Hoodoo Gurus’ “What’s My Scene?”

Here’s a clip of Richard Barone playing a Bongos’ tune at Maxwell’s (Nov. 2010):

Maxwell’s was once the local watering hole for another former Hoboken landmark, the old Maxwell House Coffee plant. Standing outside, you could smell the aroma a block east along the Hudson.

Getting in on the ground floor of what was to become a gentrification boom in the Mile Square City, sisters Kathryn Jackson Fallon and Anne Fallon Mazzolla, along with brother-in-law Mario Mazzola, bought the building and converted it into a restaurant.

Preceding Amanda’s, Maxwell’s had what many considered Hoboken’s best Sunday brunch — at a time when it hadn’t yet become trendy in Jersey.

Then, in August 1978, brother Steve opened what would be a must-stop for the seminal musicians of a sprawling alternative scene that ranged anywhere from New Wave to punk to ska to grunge, among a host of progressive styles.

The Replacements at Maxwell’s

Old-timers remember that the music began in the restaurant area, where the Hoboken band “a” (featuring Barone, Morrow, Frank Giannin and Rob Norris) got their start. Morrow went on to create the Individuals ( above, bottom left ), a Maxwell’s favorite, while Barone and his bandmates transformed into the Bongos ( above, top left ), arguably Hoboken’s most famous group — not counting Yo La Tengo or Sonic Youth.

No one cared that the joint was dark and barely held 200 people if you scrunched in tight. It could get hot in there in the summer, even with the AC cranked. Most of the musicians, rather than leave the postage-stamp-sized stage and wade through the crowd to get out, simply announced that a regular set had ended and an encore was about to begin.

“The legend is bigger than the room,” Fallon once said.

Maxwell’s was a favorite of REM’s ( above, bottom right ). Besides playing there in the band’s early days, the group often stopped by after shows at larger venues such as the Capitol Theater in Passaic, what once was the Felt Forum at Madison Square Garden, Radio City — and MSG itself.

Maxwell’s often brought out the best, and quirkiest, in its performers.

One night, singer-songwriter Robyn Hitchcock asked the audience to write its requests on napkins — a stack of which was snatched from the backroom bar. Folks passed them forward, and Hitchcock dropped them around the stage.

One at a time, he picked them up, playing most of the songs that were requested as he went.

Another night, Glenn Tilbrook (formerly of Squeeze) strummed the opening chords of “Tempted,” the band’s biggest hit, and the packed house began singing along — the first verse, the chorus, the next verse, and so on.

Tilbook continued to strum, then hopped into the crowd and kept playing while everyone else sang his song.

During another show, he brought the audience out onto 11th Street.

North Haledon’s the Feelies were always a big draw, as were gigs by the dBs and week-long winter holiday residencies by YLT.

A listing of the acts that played there is staggering (see below — and then further below that). Anyone who was anyone on the alternative circuit played there, as well as at, among others, the Dirt Club in Bloomfield, Hitsville in Passaic Park (with a black-and-white motif that led Barone to dub it “The Zebra Club”), the Meadowbrook in Cedar Grove and a string of Manhattan clubs.

For starters, try:

Nirvana
The Pogues
X
Social Distortion
Jonathan Richman
The Continental Drifters (w/Peter Holsapple and Susan Cowsill — above, top right )
Richard Thompson
Graham Parker (solo & with the Figgs)
The Psychedelic Furs
Joe Jackson
David Byrne
Joan Jett
Husker Du
The Mekons
10,000 Maniacs
John Cale
Hole
Rufus AND Martha Wainwright
Liz Phair
Human Switchboard
Martin Sexton
Jeff Buckley
Dave Edmunds
Killing Joke
The Smashing Pumpkins
Afghan Whigs
Soundgarden
The Blasters
Los Lobos
Red Hot Chili Peppers
The Buzzcocks
The Fall

EDITOR’S NOTE: If an act you saw at Maxwell’s isn’t listed here or below, drop us a line (photos, videos & remembrances welcomed): CLIFFVIEW PILOT News Tip Line

The “Hoboken Sound” spread from Maxwell’s, as Morrow and Barone formed Bar None Records and Steve Fallon opened Pier Platters, which sold tickets to Maxwell’s shows along with hard-to-get imports, becoming a prime destination on its own.

A short-lived “brew pub” experiment in 1995 is best forgotten, many agree. Abramson, Sonic Youth Steve Shelley and Dave Post of the Amazing Incredibles and Swingadelic bought Maxwell’s back in 1998 and revived the vibe.

The club also caught some mainstream cred when most of the “Glory Days” was shot there in 1985 — including a walk-on role by one of the regular barmaids — by critically acclaimed Hoboken director John Sayles.

But that mattered little — as did a Rolling Stone designation of third-best music club in the U.S. — to the loyalists.

“The end of an era, yes, but everything changes,” Barone told CLIFFVIEW PILOT . “Maybe it is now that Maxwell’s — especially as it was in its pure and music-driven beginnings all those years ago — might be most fully appreciated.”

Rare Bongos publicity photo (COURTESY: Richard Barone)

Among some of the other acts who played Maxwell’s:

Rank & File, The Raybeats, Firehose,the Meat Puppets, Fugazi, Archers of Loaf, The Cynics, Dinosaur Jr., Sebadoh, Neutral Milk Hotel, The Juliana Theory, Mudhoney, Fire in Cairo, Tad, the Melvins, Mod Fun, Mystic Eyes, N, G Love and Special Sauce, Blue Öyster Cult, The Minutemen, The Mess Around, Katrina & the Waves, Flipper, Rain Parade, Wire, Pylon, Los Campesinos!, Schoolly D, Crime and the City Solution, Kevin Ayers, Snakefinger, Living Colour, The Slits, U.S. Chaos, Dick Dale, Royal Crescent Mob, The Stations, The Strokes, Matt Nathanson, John Doe, Mary Lou Lord, Electric Six, The Ataris, the Cyclones, The Individuals, Urban Allies, Gut Bank, The Dirtbombs, Lemuria, Crooked Fingers, Stars, and Longing for Liberace, Timbuk 3, Kevin Salem, The Swimming Pool Qs, Gigolo Aunts, Poi Dog Pondering, Amy Rigby, Pavement, Soul Asylum, the Cucumbers, Sleepy La Beef, Everclear, Dave Alvin, Rollins Band, Shawn Colvin, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Wreckless Eric …

… and Vic Chesnutt.

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