About halfway through Louisville-based rock band Houndmouth’s opening set at Maxwell’s on Tuesday night, longtime fans of the club decided to give the band a history lesson. After all, the Kentucky youngsters only released their debut album this year, and are relatively obscure. The Maxwell’s faithful wanted to make sure they knew about the hallowed stage they were occupying.
“R.E.M. played here,” shouted one fan.
“The Replacements played here,” yelled another.
The relatively unknown band, to their credit, took the chastising in stride. Its drummer, Shane Cody, replied jokingly, “We hope to be back soon,” while bassist Zak Appleby noted that “the list [of performers] goes on and on.”
But it doesn’t always, does it? All lists must end at some point.
Hoboken lost a giant this week, when Maxwell’s finally closed its doors after 35 years of rock n’ roll. It went out in style as part-owner and head booking agent Todd Abramson closed off half of Eleventh Street on Wednesday evening to throw a block party for fans who had supported his club for so long.
“People saw their favorite band here or met their husband or wife here; that’s special.” – Todd Abramson
“Over the past couple of months a lot of people – people I know and people I don’t – have come in here to tell me how Maxwell’s changed their life,” he said. “They saw their favorite band here or met their husband or wife here, that’s special.”
A place full of memories
Three men at the block party on Wednesday, one wearing a Maxwell’s shirt, one wearing a Neutral Milk Hotel shirt (they played the club in 1998), and the third wearing a Yo La Tengo shirt, discussed how none of them knew each other before coming to Maxwell’s, but are now close friends.
“There’s a family feel here that you never really got anywhere else,” said Tom Conroy, the Yo La Tengo lover who came from upstate New York for the occasion. “And I think it was that same feeling that made the music so good. The atmosphere brought out the best in those who performed here.”
Another fan, James Giordano, who came from Morris County for the block party, recalled the time he saw the Brian Jonestown Massacre here in 2002. The lead singer, he recalled, came on about two hours late, highly intoxicated, and played the entire set on a sitar, an Indian string instrument made famous in the West by Ravi Shankar.
“I thought it was the most incredible thing I’d ever seen,” he said. “I was pretty high at the time, but that was the type of stuff that would happen here that wouldn’t happen anywhere else.”
Too much change, not enough parking
Abramson has cited his reasons for leaving Hoboken -- the city’s ongoing parking problems and the cultural shift in its population – since news of the club’s closing broke. He was critical of the administration of Mayor Dawn Zimmer for not doing enough to improve parking, though he did say she made overtures to save Maxwell’s in the eleventh hour.
On Wednesday, many residents and visitors said that they understood Abramson’s frustrations, and didn’t blame him for leaving.
“It’s a sad story, but this town’s just not viable for live music anymore,” said Tim Hourigan, who came from Brooklyn. “Parking was an issue in the ‘90s as well, but it wasn’t this bad.”
Local entrepreneur Dawn Kaplan, who owns and operates the Liberty Grill on Fourteenth Street, worried aloud that Maxwell’s would be replaced by one of the more rowdy sports bars typical of downtown Hoboken, or even worse, she said, a chain store or restaurant.
“They’re going to put in some cheesy chain, and it’s going to be awful,” she said. “This is a Hoboken landmark, and really one of the last one’s that’s remained untouched.”
With a November mayoral election just around the corner, some of the block party’s attendees took notice of a Vision for Hoboken campaign poster that had been placed in the club’s window. Vision for Hoboken is a slate challenging Zimmer and her City Council allies this fall, led by Assembly Ruben Ramos.
“The restrictions from local government just made it too difficult to operate a business which pulls in most of its clientele from out of town,” said Abramson.
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org