Saturday evening my wife Claire and I took the ferry over to Hoboken to see The Feelies play its final sets at Maxwell's, the indie rock venue of myth and legend that will cease to be such at the end of the month. It was a sold-out show and The Feelies played beautifully, as they do. These days the band doesn't have an opener, rather they play two sets of generous length with a break between them. During the break, Claire and I joined the scrum at the foot of the stairwell that leads down to the basement, which is both storeroom for various restaurant supplies and a makeshift dressing/rest area for the bands. I said hello to various band members—I've been both a fan of and friendly with The Feelies since my college friend Bob Nickas introduced me to their music around 1977—and caught up a bit with Barre Duryea, another old friend who worked as a roadie and guitar tech for The Feelies for about a decade, then with Patti Smith for another decade, and now runs the music stage for Conan O'Brien's show.
Dave Weckerman, the band's percussionist, spotted us chatting and came over. "I opened one of my old journals the other day," he began immediately, "and right there on the page I opened to was an entry for April 13, 1980, a Sunday night. It said 'The Feelies played tonight for the first time at Maxwell's, a small rock club in Hoboken, New Jersey.' I also noted the band's tally, which was six hundred and fifty dollars." Dave paused. "A princely sum at the time."
Dave also came upon a clipping of one of the narrow vertical column ads the club would run in papers such as The Village Voice advertising a gig he was involved in. "Mr. Baxter was opening for the Violent Femmes. I think it was the Violent Femmes first New York area show, or something like it. It was a Thursday night. And that week...well, the ad ran like this. Tuesday night, The Replacements. Wednesday night, 'From England,' The Fall. Thursday night, The Violent Femmes and Mr. Baxter. Friday night, The Fleshtones. Saturday night, R.E.M. And The Fall had the black 'Sold Out' bar over their name. And R.E.M. didn't."
"I remember that Violent Femmes show," I told Dave. "And I could never remember why I went, because I wasn't so interested in them that I was going to check them out on a Thursday night, even if John Zorn HAD produced their first album. If Mr. Baxter was opening, that makes sense." Mr. Baxter was a twisted rockabilly duo/occasional trio fronted by Larry Henchey, a very talented singer/guitarist, with Dave on drums. They did a cover of "Dr. Robert" that was very Gang of Four by way of The Cramps, and other good things besides. My band's keyboard player produced an EP by them that never saw official release but which I was one of two rock critics to vote for it in that format's "Best" category in some Pazz and Jop Poll or other.
"Do you know that Peter Hook book, not the one about Joy Division, but about The Hacienda?" Dave went on. "There's this part where he's talking about New Order's first American tour, and he says they first came to a club in the town of Maxwell, New Jersey!"
"That was when they were just a trio," Barre recalled.
"And I couldn't go, and I was fascinated," Dave said. "I was talking to someone who went, and I asked, 'Well who SINGS?' and he's like, 'The guitar player, Barney...' and 'What did they play?' because they didn't have any New Order songs yet. I have a picture of Frank at that show"—Dave indicated a friend standing nearby—"and he's over by their equipment cases that still have 'Joy Division' stenciled on them."
"Their equipment got stolen at that gig."
"Maybe Frank did it."
A little later in the break we hung outside with Steve Fallon, who got the whole thing started. Reminiscing, Steve mentioned Pat Clark, who roomed with him for a while back in the day; I remembered Pat fondly, not only because he was a sweet guy but because he had bestowed a pretty cherry gig on my band at his short-lived joint, the Silver Dollar, in Elizabeth or some place like that. He deemed us "dark psychedelia" on the flyer, which we liked. Opening for us was a duo called Drunk Driving: Peter Missing on guitar and vocals and Bob Bert on drums. Bob's wife, Linda, who like Pat is no longer with us, was the most enthusiastic booster of all the boosters in the audience, dancing around and throwing confetti during both sets. Anyway, Steve was remembering how Pat would bring home burgers from the local White Castle and reheat them in the oven with them still in their cardboard containers, which Steve found problematic.
Most of the other reminiscences are not, as they say, for publication. The second set was also inspired, with a particularly impassioned cover of Patti's "Dancing Barefoot" one of the highlights. (In the first set they covered "Who Loves The Sun" and "Ticket to Ride," warming various particular cockles of hearts.) We actually decided not to stay for the entirety of the show; for some reason, we thought it apt to head back to Brooklyn while the music was still playing.