Every true fan of live music has their own Maxwell’s. It could be in a South Dakota bowling alley, or an Ohio basement, or in rural Idaho, which is a thing I’m told exists — it’s where you feel most at home listening to music outside of your actual home, the place where you don’t mind, and even enjoy, jumping up and down with sweaty strangers, the place where you got to second base with Cindy Williams while a sh*tty punk band ironically named after a Twilight Zone episode played in the background, the place where you unabashedly sing along as loudly as possible. But mostly, it’s the place where even though you know it’s a public venue, it feels like yours.
My Maxwell’s happens to be the actual Maxwell’s, in Hoboken, New Jersey. If you cringed after reading the location, so did they: last month, co-owner Todd Abramson told the Star-Ledger that after 35 years on the southeast corner of Washington and 11th, the storied venue, the third best club in the country according to Rolling Stone, with a capacity of 200, would be closing on July 31st. “We were offered a renewal with rates that weren’t necessarily onerous,” he said, “But after much thought, given the changing nature of Hoboken…we decided it was time.”
Basically, the Jersey bros came in, the Maxwell’s went out. This is a damn shame for about a million reasons, not in the least of which is: THE HISTORY. Over the years, Maxwell’s has seen the likes of Nirvana, My Bloody Valentine, R.E.M., Soundgarden, Sleater-Kinney, Sonic Youth, Pavement, Yo La Tengo, and Bruce Springsteen (who filmed the “Glory Days” video there) walk down their hallowed…well, once you’re past the bar, the place doesn’t so much have halls as it looks a life-size diorama thrown together at the last second, with no frills and even less interest in distracting from the music. (Taking out a phone feels like an intrusion.) It’s as perfectly plain as possible, and the sound is loud and majestic. The stage is raised so that the audience’s heads are level to the performer’s chests, and there’s no backstage; bands have to walk through the crowd to get to their instruments and back out the same way after the set, where they’ll usually hang around for few minutes, shaking hands and shooting the sh*t. It’s the stereotype of a “dirty” music venue in a crappy movie, but that’s only because it’s the real thing.
The thing about one of your favorite institutions leaving is that everything ends up feeling historic. Think about when a TV show is in its final season: you pay that much more attention to everything because you know you can’t take it for granted; soon it will be gone, and you’ll never see a new Walter White stare down again. On Tuesday night, New Jersey’s own Titus Andronicus played the final show of their three-night residency at Maxwell’s. It felt like I was seeing something special, not only because they played their first album The Airing of Grievances front to back, but because without Maxwell’s, there might not be a Titus. Frontman Patrick Stickles said as much: it was a teenage goal of his to play there, and when he and his first band Library of Congress did just that, in 2004, it was a “we’ve made it” moment, the kind that Behind the Music would exploit and dramatize through stern narration.
He was careful not to romanticize, though. For nearly three hours, Titus played one punk epic after one another, from not only Airing, but also The Monitor (the first three songs of the set, which Stickles knowingly referred to as the band’s greatest hits), last year’s looser Local Business, and three cuts from their forthcoming album, which should be ready in approximately 16 months and may include up to 30 songs. Then, rather than pointlessly exit the stage only to come back three minutes later for an encore, Titus instead closed out their run at Maxwell’s the only way they could have: with a punishing cover of “Glory Days.” The song’s too-often missed message isn’t that you should recall the past; it’s that you should be focused on the future. That was Stickles’s lesson, too, as it relates to Maxwell’s: although it will soon be gone, at least in its current incarnation, that doesn’t mean it’s the end of an era; it could be the beginning of a new one (albeit probably not in the increasingly condo-laced Hoboken). Who’s to say you can’t start your Maxwell’s? Or that you don’t have one already, in your town’s bowling alley, basement, or Idaho? It was a special place to many, but it’s reassuring knowing there are hundreds more just like it. Just keep the bros out.