July 31, 2013 by billysparrow
To the best of my recollection, I first stepped foot in Maxwell’s on Friday, June 9, 1995, to see Welsh singer-songwriter Katell Keineg. I originally thought my first show there was Mike Watt, but the Internet has ripped that coolness away from me, putting the Keineg show about two months before the Watt gig. But I do remember standing at the corner of 11th and Washington, looking to my left, seeing a guy in a flannel on the phone, and realizing that was Mike Watt. And there’s nothing on the Internet that can discredit that memory. Or the fact that I had Mike Watt sign this Village Voice ad.
I first heard of Maxwell’s because my sister lived in an apartment on Willow Ave. in Hoboken with her friend Emily and told me I should go there because you didn’t need to be 21 to get in, and also check out Pier Platters (RIP). So on my summer break after my first year in college I decided to do just that, starting with the aforementioned Keineg show (she had opened a show for Natalie Merchant at my college on my birthday the year before). I think I might have gone to that show by myself, because I seem to remember discovering the giant pizza slices at Benny Tudino’s on my way home and thinking that I liked this place where my sister lived now.
Many Benny’s slices and even more Maxwell’s shows later, it’s time to bid farewell to Maxwell’s (and, judging by my stomach’s reactions the last few times I went to Benny’s, it might be time for me and Benny’s to amicably part ways). I am, of course, sad about that. But it would be even sadder if I hadn’t had the chance to see so many shows, eat a sizable number of pierogies, and spend lots of time with so many people I love at Maxwell’s.
It is probably easier to name the bands I’ve liked that I haven’t seen at Maxwell’s (Bob Dylan and Huey Lewis are noticeable names on that list), but here’s an incomplete (though fairly thorough) list of who I saw at Maxwell’s (some multiple times, and some I enjoyed more than others): Katell Keineg, Mike Watt, Marah, NRBQ, Pete Droge, Old 97’s, Waco Brothers, maybe pete, Hudson Falcons, The Sunday Blues, The Sadies, Sally Timms, Laura Cantrell, Split Lip Rayfield, The V-Roys, Los Straitjackets, Andrew Bird’s Bowl of Fire, Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers, Roy Head, Ray Sharpe, Tammy Lynn, Tommy McLain, Bobby Patterson, Will Hoge, Superdrag, Supersuckers, Ian Hunter, The Felice Brothers, Phil Cody, Will Kimbrough, Matthew Ryan, Kristen Barry, Bobby Bare Jr., Tom Heinl, Amy LaVere, John Paul Keith and the 145s, The Silly Pillows, Rhett Miller, La Dolce Vita, The Skels, The Baseball Project, The Dirtbombs, Kieran McGee, Rhett Miller, Dan Bern, Todd Snider, Nick Lowe, Todd Thibaud, Richard Thompson, Scott Miller and the Commonwealth, Bill Kirchen, Robbie Fulks, Drive By Truckers, Blue Mountain, Those Darlins, Wussy, Alejandro Escovedo, The Greencards, The Bottle Rockets, Jill Sobule, John Wesley Harding, Fastball, Dawes, Robert Ellis, The Detroit Cobras, The Gourds, Rebirth Brass Band, The Morells, Jon Langford, Wanda Jackson, Tift Merritt, and probably a bunch more I’m forgetting.
So what I’m saying is, I liked it there.
Though I wasn’t at any of the legendary shows for which Maxwell’s is famous (The Replacements, Nirvana, R.E.M., etc.), my memories are making me feel pretty confident that I got my money’s worth out of the place. I remember having a great time every time Jon Langford was on the Maxwell’s stage, though, based on comments he made from the stage at his last show, Mr. Langford does not share these memories, particularly of the Waco Brothers shows (this should not come as much surprise to anyone who has attended a Waco Brothers show). I remember a few great two-set NRBQ nights, and was glad to see the new incarnation of the band take the stage last year. I remember getting my ears blown off at a Drive By Truckers show. I remember some really great Old 97’s shows. And, in addition to some equally as great Marah shows, I remember the night they played when the air conditioning wasn’t working and my friend Amanda and I decided we couldn’t physically make it through the show.
I can recall a few other awkward moments at Maxwell’s. There was telling Pete Droge that I hated the band that had opened up for him when I saw him at Cornell and him telling me (pleasantly enough) that he loved them and they were friends. There was talking to the V-Roys after they told me to come down to the basement/dressing room so they could sign my CD and badmouthing the chatty crowd to them, bemoaning that they didn’t care about music and just came there to gawk at a band in wrestling masks (Los Straitjackets, whom I actually liked a great deal at the time, and still do), not making the connection that the other guys in the basement were probably members of said band, at least not until one guy sort of gave me a look. There was telling Kristen Barry that I liked her show so much better than her CD, which, after I said it, I realized was not actually a compliment (she kindly agreed, though).
But, hey, those weren’t the fault of Maxwell’s. I just used to say dumb things a lot of the time. I like to think I’ve learned from these mistakes. Thanks, Maxwell’s, for giving me a place to make them.
I’m not sure which band I’ve seen the most at Maxwell’s. I think Bobby Bare Jr.’s probably up near the top. NRBQ’s certainly there, too, along with the Old 97’s, Marah, and various musical permutations featuring Jon Langford. And those five bands/people are definitely in my personal Top 10. I suppose they would be whether or not I’d ever had the chance to see them at Maxwell’s, but, hey, it didn’t hurt their ranking either.
I often went to Maxwell’s to see bands I liked, but I also went to see bands I didn’t know much about, or maybe knew only a song or two. For instance, when the Ponderosa Stomp came to Maxwell’s, I didn’t know much about any of the acts on the bill, but I knew Roy Head did “Treat Her Right” and that was enough for me to give it a shot. It wound up being a great night of music, and I am eternally grateful to have been up close and personal when Roy Head took the stage. I saw him outdoors at Lincoln Center a while later and while it was just fine, it was nothing like being up against the wall at Maxwell’s, with Roy Head whipping his mike around. That’s the sort of thing you can only get at places like Maxwell’s. And I suppose that “can” will soon switch to “could.” Oh, time, why must you march on?
I went to Maxwell’s to see bands I liked, I went to Maxwell’s to see bands I thought I might like, and, a few times, I went to Maxwell’s to see bands I liked that featured people I knew and liked. Those were good nights, as were the nights when I brought friends along to get the Maxwell’s experience (or, in the case, of the aforementioned Amanda, the suffocating Maxwell’s experience). I don’t expect the place meant as much to them as it does to me, but I like to think I did my part for their cultural edification by bringing them along to Maxwell’s.
And, speaking of culture, I bought my one and only art piece off the walls of Maxwell’s: Jon Langford’s “Little Hank,” which normally has a place of prominence in my apartment but which I brought down to Maxwell’s for the last show I saw there. I figured it would be a nice memento to have a picture of me, Little Hank, and the artist himself.
So, it all ends tonight, with a block party outside of the club and a show inside headlined by “a,” the first band to play Maxwell’s. It’ll be tough to see it go, to walk past there and not see a schedule of upcoming shows on the front door. But there are memories–great memories–to bring me comfort, along with the persistent ringing in my ears earned by spending too many nights too close to the speakers. And that will have to do.
Thanks, Maxwell’s. You rocked.