When the news broke yesterday that Maxwell’s–that infamous, beloved rock spot across the river in Hoboken–would be shuttering in late July, industry folks freaked, bands grieved and music lovers wrung their hands in mourning.
Todd Abramson, one of the owners and the man who’s been booking Maxwell’s for over 25 years, says that a dwindling artistic community in Hoboken, along with an influx of new residents who aren’t particularly compelled to patronize the venue (or any venue at all), are two of the primary factors that influenced his decision to close. “It’s so hard for people to travel to Hoboken–nobody can find parking–and the way that the demographics of the town have changed, the kind of people who would enjoy Maxwell’s have been moving into [New York City],” he says. “People who really aren’t going to be that interested in a place like this are moving in, you know? The artistic community, such as it was, is pretty much gone, and you need to be pretty well-to-do to move into this town nowadays. For the most part, that type of crowd isn’t all that gung ho about seeing the Screaming Females.”
Ira Kaplan of Yo La Tengo echoes Abramson’s sentiment (“It’s not good, and I think it’s reflecting something that’s going on with the city”), and Maxwell’s departure is a significant one for Kaplan and his band. The Hoboken indie stalwarts have hosted a run of Hanukkah shows at Maxwell’s since 2001, though their relationship with the venue began long before that: Yo La Tengo first played Maxwell’s in 1984, and more or less cut their teeth on its stage.
“When I opened my mouth to sing at that first show, nothing came out,” says Kaplan, reflecting on his first show with Yo La Tengo at Maxwell’s. “There was just terror the first time. The Hanukkah shows matched the venue in a perfect way for us. At these shows, we would try anything. I think it lead us in any variety of directions, just bringing people onstage to play with us. This sort of ‘anything goes’ aspect of those shows had a big positive impact on the band. I have to say, the Hanukkah shows were really fun and exciting, and those were my favorite shows at Maxwell’s–and sometimes you have mixed feelings about your home–but Maxwell’s has been our home all along.”
Maxwell’s will host a number of banger concerts–including Ted Leo, The Feelies and … And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of The Dead–before officially closing up shop on July 31. Kaplan, who swung through last night to see New Zealand’s The Bats play to a sold-out crowd, hits shows there as frequently as he’s played them. He says there’s a reason the club has retained its sterling reputation over the years.
“For one thing, looking at our group, I don’t think it’ll surprise you that I’m a fan of things that last a long time,” he says. “The fact that the club exists as it does today is because it was built on this foundation of so many years ago. Maxwell’s has changed a lot over the years, but it did so gradually and organically, so it’s always maintained its connection to what it began as, which is a place that did things in a way that wasn’t ruthless business but building something for the future.”
The last show at Maxwell’s will be headlined by a–the first band to ever play the spot, whose members have gone on to perform in The Individuals and The Bongos–but Yo La Tengo may squeeze in one last set before the Hoboken institution is closed for good. When asked about their relationship with Maxwell’s and if they would’ve come up in the same way had they never started at a place like it, Kaplan plainly states that the imprint the venue has left on the band is substantial.
“You say “A place like Maxwell’s” and I’m not sure there is one. Something I’ll always say about most anything is that if you change the circumstances, the results are going to change, too–so no, I don’t think Yo La Tengo would’ve been the same band without Maxwell’s.”