club dread.

Finding a club to host our shows was usually easy.  We had initially started doing shows at Under ACME in 1993 and 1994, but when ACME became difficult to reserve, we started doing our shows at Love Sexy in Hoboken.

Eventually, though, I had gotten tired of Love Sexy.  The room was small and people generally didn’t like the place.  Although it was pretty convenient in terms of location, it didn’t have much of a reputation, much of a sound system, much marketing, or much head space above the stage.  It was small and cramped, and generally, the only reason we continued to do our shows there was because it was easy for us to book a show – we just had to call the promoter and ask.

From a live music standpoint, though, Hoboken was having its own problems in early 1996.  Maxwell’s, the great club that had played host to every band of note who toured through the area from 1978 through 1995, had been sold.  The new owner had designs on turning the club into a brew pub with an upscale menu.  The quality of the bands at the club decreased – quickly – once Todd (who I’ve never met) was no longer involved with the venue.

Maxwell’s was legendary.  There were many clubs in New Jersey, and some – like City Gardens in Trenton, or the Stone Pony in Asbury Park – had even become well-known for their music and atmosphere.  But none of them were Maxwell’s.  Maxwell’s played host to the great bands in alternative rock, like the Replacements, Husker Du, the Feelies, Nirvana, Sonic Youth, Sebadoh – virtually every band who made a mark in indie or alternative rock played at Maxwell’s.

But what was way more important than that was the fact that, alongside those bands, Maxwell’s played host to the unknown local bands, slugging it out in the gutters of New York and New Jersey, just trying to make it to the next gig.  If you were in a band, and you had a decent following and a good sound, Maxwell’s would eventually find room for you.  Sure, you probably wouldn’t be opening for Rocket From The Crypt on New Year’s Eve, but you could get a show with three other local bands that had a similar sound, on a Wednesday night.  They’d feed you a good meal, pay you a little money, make your band sound fantastic onstage and give you an evening so that you could say “We’re playing Maxwell’s on Wednesday.”

The stage was small and the room pretty bare, but the soundman was the best in the area.  He could mix a band like the Coctails, with all their diverse instruments, but also mix American Standard – guitar, bass and drums – and both would sound tremendous.  No band at Maxwell’s ever felt like they got a raw deal from the soundman.  Everyone knew him – local bands and out-of-town bands alike – and everyone trusted the job he’d do.

They’d let you leave copies of your zine on the cigarette machine, they’d let you sit at a table for an hour while you hammered out a plan for marketing your next record, and if it was good enough, they’d put your seven-inch in their awesome jukebox (somehow, they had Footstone  in this awesome jukebox, which was a total highlight for me).  You could go and drink black and tans at the bar all night long, and if you stayed at the bar long enough, everyone would eventually come through.  People from the indie film industry, members of well-known bands, label reps, people on TV shows – yeah, they were all there.  But so were regular people like us, who just loved music and wanted to see a show and drink a boh.

Best of all, Maxwell’s was ours.  It was in New Jersey, and it was just as cool and just as important as any club in New York that was still open in 1996, except CBGB.  It helped launch the careers of The Feelies, The Bongos, Yo La Tengo, and more.  Bruce filmed a video there.  Combined with the fabulous Pier Platters record store and Bar/None Records label, it helped ensure that northern New Jersey had a thriving, vibrant music scene for nearly twenty years.

Maxwell’s was the greatest place in the world.  And just like that, it was gone.

Virtually gone, at least.  They put in some big tanks and sweetened up the interior a bit.  The Footstone stickers disappeared from the bathroom walls for a while.  The cigarette machine and the zines disappeared.  And the bands started to look elsewhere.

Which left us with a dilemma.  There were no decent live music venues in Hoboken anymore.  If we wanted to stay in New Jersey – which we did – we would have to go down south.  City Gardens in Trenton was gone by this point, if I recall.  Newark was a war zone, and the Pipeline was the only club there that booked rock music.  Aside from the Fastlane in Asbury Park (which has been described elsewhere in this blog), there were only a few other decent venues for “our music” in the state.

Obviously, there was the Stone Pony, also in Asbury Park.  But that place wasn’t really an independent music club, it was kind of like the Hard Rock Cafe of New Jersey; the place where bands like the Gin Blossoms would come and play, to say “we played the Stone Pony.”

Also down the shore, in Long Branch, was the Brighton Bar.  The Brighton was a cool venue, but was more of a sludge/stoner rock club – bands like Godspeed, Monster Magnet, Daisy Cutter and Glueneck played there.  If any of our bands played there, with the exception of Gapeseed or possibly Footstone, they would have gotten killed.

There was the Melody in New Brunswick, but frankly, it was just too far away for me.  Ralph worked a night job in New Brunswick, so by 1996 Footstone had started playing a bunch of shows in the city and had started developing a following there.  But still, I didn’t know anyone there.  I hardly ever went there.

The mistake that I made was not embracing the club that seemed to be drawing all the bands that were left wandering around the State after City Gardens closed, ACME got overcrowded, and Maxwell’s started having trouble: Brownie’s.  Brownie’s was in the Village, but it was outside our little hangout “circuit” of Maxwell’s, Acme, CBGB, and Continental.  Rarely did we go anywhere but those four clubs.  We’d venture over to Coney Island high occasionally, and if a cool avant garde band was playing, we’d go to the Knitting Factory.  Wetlands, once or twice.

But that was it.

Brownie’s turned into the cool club in the Village in the mid 90s, and we totally let it go by without embracing it.

In 1996, we probably could have done something there.

But instead, we wanted to stay in Jersey – and, specifically, we wanted to stay in Hoboken.  We felt that the impending death of Maxwell’s was going to be bad for local music.  And while we were not much more than nobodys in the local music scene, we did have the capability of bringing a hundred or two people together to listen to some music and drink some beer once in a while.

And with Maxwell’s limping along, I got this crazy idea that I didn’t want to abandon Hoboken.

When we were completely clueless, Hoboken became our home.  Our first show was there.  Tommy Southard smashed a bottle over his own head onstage at that show, and we raised $500 for the local food bank.  One of our singers punched a fan onstage at Boo Boo’s.  Our bands put up posters up and down Washington Street.  I met the Ditch Croaker guys in their apartment in town.  For a while, Rich’s band rehearsed there, and his uncle owned a condo along the river.  We ate pizza and drink two-dollar pitchers at Mario’s, came back from our trips to the Village and grabbed a slice at Enzo’s as we got off the PATH.  We drank beer alongside locals and punks at Louise & Jerry’s.  I drank weiss boh with Footstone at Fabian’s when we were at our lowest point.

I was nobody.  But I didn’t want to leave Hoboken, and Hoboken music, when it was down.

So we went back to Love Sexy.

~ by Al on October 16, 2009.

2 Responses to “club dread.”

  1. Andy Peters was the soundman @ Maxwell’s during this time. He actually remixed Lippy for us when we were convinced the original mixes were no good. Andy has the greatest musical attitude/aptitude of anyone I ever met in the area music scene… a true artist who really gives a shit. Kinda like some guy I know who put out a bunch of records and CDs by bands who could have otherwise easily gone unnoticed.

  2. Andy and I have actually connected on Facebook, and he made some comments on this thread on the Dromedary FB page. I knew he was the soundman at Maxwell’s, but didn’t want to mention him by name because I didn’t want to be a jerk and draw attention to him here on this blog. But yes, I agree. He was the best in the area, and the name/reputation of the band never seemed to matter to him as much as the actual music did.

    And thanks for the props, Bishop.

    I’m sure his mixes were great, but the mixes that we put out were outstanding as well.

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