The Place That Ran Contrary To (Almost) Every Negative Rock Club Stereotype : A Fond Farewell To Maxwell’s

Posted in New York, New York, Rock Und Roll, The Marketplace at 12:10 am by

(the Feelies soundchecking at Maxwell’s — making the world safe for Jack McDowell)

It was reported earlier today that Maxwell’s, the Hoboken, NJ venue that served as that city’s cultural hub in the late ’70’s and early 1980’s, eventually becoming one of the planet’s more revered rock clubs (and a stage the great and not-so-great all longed to play on), will close at the end of July. Club co-owner/booker Todd Abramson cited rising rent, crummy parking and creeping dumbfuckery on Washington Street (“a lot of the bars downtown are fighting with each other for who has the most giant TVs. That’s what Hoboken nightlife has become”), and while my first reaction was, “hey, at least you’re not next door to this place“, I can sympathize. Maxwell’s had a huge hand in the commercial revitalization of Hoboken, but the influx of $$$ and traffic shouldn’t be confused with hordes of people hoping to get a glimpse of Bob Bert (not most of the time, anyway).

Throughout the day, there’s been plenty of chatter on social media about great Maxwell’s shows of years past (G. Love & Special Sauce, Gutbank, Jack McDowell’s Stickfigure, Envelope) and that’s all well and good. I mean, if you wanna continue living in the past, be my fucking guest. What I’ll remember most about Maxwell’s (besides, y’know, Alister Parker tuning for 20 minutes) are all the amazing people I met. I can’t remember any of their names off the top of my head, but several were either very good looking or at the very least, extremely persuasive. Some of the best arguments I ever participated in took place waiting for the toilet at Maxwell’s — there’s a couple that are still going on to this day. The 1 am wait for the PATH train back to Manhattan will always occupy a special place in my heart — I learned at a relatively young age that managing not to projectile vomit in public is the sort of gallant non-gesture that can win the respect of your traveling companion (if he or she is actually awake at the time).

I’m not gonna tell you the place was perfect. But even before CBGB’s booking turned into an orgy of indifference, Maxwell’s took a curatorial approach to the old & new in a manner that respected the intelligence of the audience & performers alike. In stark contrast to barns like City Gardens or The Ritz, Maxwell’s felt like a place that was owned & staffed by persons who thought the players and paying customers were friends and peers. As opposed to, y’know, targets & tools in the all-important struggle to sell more beer. This might not seem like much to those of you who aren’t ancient and decrepit enough to remember the tri-state area’s club scene in the mid 1980’s, but trust me on this one. It was a genuinely big deal to see live music in a space where every single person on the premises was glad to be there. So to Steve Fallon, Todd Abramson, Steve Shelley and a very long list of bartenders, door persons, sound people and music fans of varied ages/hairstyles, thanks for everything. And to those elsewhere standing against the tide of giant TV’s, glorified pay-to-play bullshit and closed-shop booking policies, I hope your respective runs are nearly as fun or interesting.

14 responses to “The Place That Ran Contrary To (Almost) Every Negative Rock Club Stereotype : A Fond Farewell To Maxwell’s”

  1. milkycerealbaby says:

    nice shout out to Bob Bert.

  2. Joly MacFie says:

    City Gardens a barn? That’s a bit of a stretch.

  3. GC says:

    I guess I owe barns an apology!

  4. Nick says:

    so this leaves what as the best tri-state area venue to watch music?

  5. John says:

    Nice photo.

  6. Julie says:

    While I will miss Maxwells, City Gardens was also a great club and in no way resembled a barn.
    Does this leave The Stone Pony as the best tri-state area venue to watch music?

  7. GC says:


    I’m using barn as a euphemism. Yes, to be 100% accurate it more closely resembled a warehouse. A LOVELY, INVITING WAREHOUSE.

    According to the Stone Pony’s concert calendar, upcoming attractions include Rusted Root, Big Country and the Marshall Tucker Band. I guess 285 Kent has nothing to worry about.

  8. gvl says:

    Stone Pony is nothing more than a once famous name being propped up to support (mostly, but not all) terrible bands and gouge local acts with pay-to-play bullshit. I’ll take Asbury Lanes over that place any day of the week.

  9. Maxwells was nice enough, and sure, compared to many, seemed to actually care about the music they showcased. That really shouldn’t be such a rarity, and in other places/other eras, it hasn’t been. I grant you the food was better than most clubs, but if you sat and had a meal, you wouldn’t have a good spot to see the band.
    Hoboken nightlife has been LAME other than Maxwell’s ever since Maxwell’s started. Or at least since the 80s, when I used to go there. Also, parking has always been horrible. Nice to know there’s been zero change for the better in 25 years.
    City Gardens was a craphole, but it was an easy-access craphole (if you had a car) with great sightlines, on account of it just being a big unadorned warehouse. You want nicer digs? You’re going to pay for it, in money, and beefier security. And definitely not nice guy bartenders like Jon Stewart.;)
    It strikes me that the history of New Jersey club life has been a story of a few mavericks who stepped up and tried to do their best in unfriendly and unfavorable circumstances, and a bunch of whiny crybabies who complain when things aren’t perfect, and then complain when they’re gone. Everyone loved to harass Randy Now, and I can’t recall a single goddam person stepping up and showing him how it could be done better. Anywhere in all of Central Jersey. Not to mention that he brought an extra show to touring bands between New York and Philly 1000s of times, where no show would’ve existed otherwise.
    Stone Pony never seemed like a great place to see a band to me. It’s tiny and poorly set up (or, it was). If Bruce hadn’t started there, it would be a BevMo parking lot by now.
    I would celebrate the fact that Maxwell’s stuck around so long. Impressive run.

  10. GC says:

    I saw some fine shows at City Gardens and in no way am I suggesting the world is better off without it. At the risk of spelling it out, seeing a show at Maxwell’s was very different than seeing a show at City Gardens, The Ritz, The Channel, the Metro, (Chicago or Boston). The smaller capacity was part of it, but not the only part.

  11. Irwin Chusid says:

    Feels like a death in the family.

  12. CLR says:

    City Gardens was an echoey warehouse at best. You did feel at times like you were part of a secret society huddled in there, watching bands that no one else cared about, but that was probably due to being scared shitless while driving through Camden to get there.

    I’m hard pressed to think of the Stone Pony as a great place to see anything. Narrow layout, bad sound, rude & indifferent staff who act like they are doing you a favor instead of treating you as a valued customer. At no point, ever, was the Pony a good place to see music and shouldn’t be mentioned in the same breath as Maxwell’s at its worst. The Fast Lane was better.

    Asbury Lanes at least feels like a place that I want to see a show at, or at least it’s a vibe I can connect to.

    And to correct the biggest misconception about the Pony: Bruce Springsteen did NOT start there.

    I spent years at Maxwell’s and then left for a long time, and the thing that struck me when I came back a decade later was how much it still felt the same, once you were in the back room.

  13. SE says:

    If anything, the parking in Hoboken is better now than ever. Not saying much but it’s true.

  14. Kirk S. says:

    Maxwell’s actually gave the bands a nice meal and beer, that alone exceeded any other venues hospitality towards the performers. In my eyes it had the friendliest vibe of any club I’ve ever played in the states.

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