I’ve lived in Hoboken since 2000. A few years later, I wanted to move to Manhattan or Brooklyn. Interpol, The Walkmen, The Strokes, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and other exciting new bands were forming there.
Hoboken was filled with bars and conventional cover bands. They were technically proficient, but it wasn’t my bag. I’d constantly trek into the city to catch bands like Mogwai, Badly Drawn Boy, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and The Shins at Irving Plaza, the Bowery Ballroom, and other venues.
But nestled on the corner of Washington and 11th is Maxwell’s—a legendary venue that hosted Nirvana in 1989 (video), The Smashing Pumpkins in 1991 (setlist), and R.E.M. in the early 80s. On top of that, the video for Bruce Springsteen’s Glory Days was filmed there.
Meanwhile, Yo La Tengo, a band highly influenced by the Velvet Underground and residing in Hoboken had created their own mini-festival. A tiny fraction of Coachella or Lollapalooza, they’ve played every night of Hanukkah (skipping a year here and there) with an opener and a comedian since 2001.
A mutual friend told me of the band at the time, and I was fortunate enough to be able to attend many of these shows since 2002. Through the years, I’ve seen the comedians David Cross, Todd Barry, Janeane Garofalo and Sarah Silverman. I’ve witnessed The National (2010), and Real Estate (last week) open up for them. I’ve seen Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes just randomly join them on stage for a Rolling Stones cover.
Maxwell’s is a unique venue. It has a standing room only capacity of 200 people. I’m not good with measurements, but it’s probably the size of a one bedroom (maybe two?) apartment. It’s got a legitimately artsy vibe to it, and that in itself makes it stand out from other Hoboken bars. The jukebox is typically stocked with establishment American 80s underground punk bands like The Replacements amongst more recent releases. Big Day Coming by Jesse Jarnow covers the venue and the band in greater detail.
The back concert room reminds me of a fraternity house after-party basement, without any of the fraternity brothers. There’s a bar to the right, a sound board in the back left, and a stage that’s maybe a foot high.
There is no backstage. In fact, the band’s “green room” is in the basement, where standard restaurant/bar supplies are stored. During showtime, they climb the stairs, pass the jukebox, push through the swinging double doors and have to wade through the crowd to reach the stage.
Yo La Tengo formed in 1984 in Hoboken, but I was introduced to their music in 1999. At the time, many of the New York bands I mentioned earlier had a somewhat aggressive but melodic sound. Conversely, Yo La Tengo dialed it back a bit. Lead vocalist/guitarist Ira Kaplan had his guitar solo freak outs, but there were plenty of songs that were simply peaceful. Nowhere Near (Painful), Our Way to Fall (And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out), and Green Arrow (I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One) are still songs I revisit during a stressful day.
Being a parent of two small children in Hoboken, the inevitable conversation of whether you’re moving to the burbs is not so much a question of “if”, but “when”. Since the storm, seeing the town and the community rally together has convinced me to do what it takes to stay.
But really, why would anyone not want to live in a town where one of their favorite bands live and perform in their favorite venue? Beats the hell out of me.