Saying Farewell to a Legendary East Coast Venue: After 35 years, Maxwell’s closes its doors

The Bongos’ grand finale at Maxwell’s | Photo by Chris Sikich |

All photos by Chris Sikich |

A rousing cover of Big Star’s “Thank You Friends” was a sincere and apt final song for the occasion last Wednesday in Hoboken, N.J.

On July 31, Maxwell’s closed its doors for good after 35 years of intimate gigs with established and unknown bands of local and international pedigrees. A full house of 200 attendees packed the back room of the restaurant, bar, venue and nexus of alternative musicology for a double-bill curated with an air of history. The first band to ever play the venue, “a,” which had not played its songs since 1978, and The Bongos, a Hoboken band of the past (and the future). As there was a dream for a Hoboken of a time gone by, there is a wealth of evidence for the spirit of Maxwell’s to continue on in bands, other venues and the desires of the public for great music.

“In a lot of ways, Maxwell’s was to Hoboken what J.C. Dobbs on South Street in Philly used to be in the ‘80s and ‘90s and what Johnny Brenda’s is to Philly now — a center of a great local music scene that brought in emerging national bands,” WXPN program director Bruce Warren said. ”I saw one of the earlier Yo La Tengo Hanukkah shows, Freedy Johnston, the Bongos, fIREHOSE; I saw an insane Sonic Youth show there. I was also a fan of Bar/None Records, from Hoboken, which is still thriving, and if one of the bands on the label were playing, I’d go up.”

Scott McCaughey performing with Dennis Diken with Bell Sound in August of 2010 | Photo by Chris Sikich |

Musicians also eagerly reminisced about their Maxwell’s experiences.

“The closing of Maxwell’s is sad, primarily because of all the essential rock ‘n’ roll memories it brings to me,” said Scott McCaughey, who played there with Young Fresh Fellows, The Minus 5 and The Baseball Project.

McCaughey cited performing “The Gorilla” on the bar, singing with Dennis Diken and Bell Sound, “any number of rabble-rousing Fleshtones shows and especially the many ridiculous Young Fresh Fellows nights, going back to our earliest days.”

Linda Pitmon, who plays drums behind McCaughey in The Baseball Project, said Maxwell’s shows were particularly memorable.

“As a performer I’m going to miss that little thrill I’ve always felt walking in to that small, square, unassuming but perfect rock room,” Pitmon said. “Maxwell’s gigs never cease to stand out in my mind. They don’t become subsumed into the blob of generic shows.”

Glenn Morrow, one of the founders of Bar/None Records and member of two bands that played on the last night of Maxwell’s – “a” and The Individuals – will miss Maxwell’s more as a member of the public than as a performer.

“I’m probably sadder as an audience member,” Morrow said. “I live four blocks away! Even more than being on stage, it was such a great place to see music. I saw so many great shows there: The Feelies, the Replacements, the Gun Club, Mission of Burma, Pylon, Husker Du, the dB’s, They Might Be Giants, Sonic Youth, Big Black, The Fleshtones, Ted Leo. The list is endless.” Continue reading →


Wesley Stace (aka John Wesley Harding) releases new track “Stare at the Sun”

johnwesleyhardingRenaissance man Wesley Stace – formerly known by the stage name of John Wesley Harding but more recently going under his birth name – is set to release his latest solo record in September. This week he premiered the single “Stare at the Sun,” co-written by Eleanor Friedberger, via the New York Times website.  Friedberger, previously of the Fiery Furnaces, recently released her own version of the track on her critically acclaimed solo sophomore LP Personal Record. Stace’s own solo-endeavor, Self-Titled, is slated for release on September 17th via Yep Roc Records. While Friedberger’s version rocks out in classic 4/4 time signature, Stace’s take on in the song is much more subdued, peacefully waltzing along in 3. Check it out below via Soundcloud.


The artist formerly known as John Wesley Harding is now “Self-Titled”

Photo by Ebet Roberts
Photo by Ebet Roberts
John Wesley Harding is no more. Well, maybe he is a little. The singer-songwriter we’ve known as John Wesley Harding has finally decided to put an album out under his birth name, Wesley Stace. Actually though, his new album is called Self-Titled, so we’re not so sure that actually counts. Wes/John, who has been living long enough in Philly to finally call him a local musician, has been making the transition to his given name over the last several years as a fantastic fiction writer and is releasing his new album on September 17 on Yep Roc Records. The album features a couple of co-writes with Eleanor Friedberger of the Fiery Furnaces, including “When I Knew,” that you can listen to below.


My Morning Download: “Stare At The Sun” by Eleanor Friedberger (with help from John Wesley Harding)

Photo by Roger Kisby
Photo by Roger Kisby
Eleanor Friedberger will release her second solo album, Personal Record, on June 4th on Merge Records. The twelve song collection was written with musician and novelist John Wesley Harding (AKA Wesley Stace). Eleanor met Wes at a Bob Dylan tribute concert last year where they were both performing and soon after began collaborating together on songs for the album. “Stare At Sun” is a driving guitar fueled three minute instant classic. It’s like a cross between The Wedding Present and The Raspberries with a momentary Thin Lizzy-esque guitar solo. Download it below, lower those car windows, and blast it.


Download Pieces of the Past, a free EP from John Wesley Harding

WesleyStaceColorBritain-born, Philadelphia-based singer-songwriter John Wesley Harding is working on his next solo release – a followup to 2011’s The Sound of His Own Voice. While that keeps him busy (along with his monthly Cabinet of Wonders shows in New York), Wes released an EP of back-catalogue tunes as a free download from Titled Pieces of the Past, the set includes live favorite “There’s a Starbucks Where the Starbucks Used to Be” from Voice, a radio version of “When The Beatles Hit America” dating back to 1995, an acoustic demo of the title song and more. Listen and download the EP below. Continue reading →


Photo Recap: Black Prairie with John Wesley Harding at MilkBoy

Last night, Portland bluegrass group Black Prairie – which features members of The Decembersists, The Woolwines and Dolorean – performed at MilkBoy Philly. Witty troubadour John Wesley Harding opened the show with a short solo set, then collaborated with Black Prairie on several songs during their set. Check out a photo recap of the evening in the gallery above.


Tonight’s Concert Picks: Lantern at Johnny Brenda’s, Black Prairie at MilkBoy, Blonde Redhead at Union Transfer, XPN Welcomes David Johansen of New York Dolls to World Cafe Live, XPN Welcomes Rhett Miller to The Abbey Bar

Local rock ‘n’ roll trio Lantern headline Johnny Brenda’s tonight.  Self-described as “proto-biker-punk-blues,” the one thing that will strike any listener upon diving into 2012’s Dream Mine EP (Bathetic) for the first time is the sheer amount of blown-out fuzz and noise that distorts the classically punk vocals of front-man Zachary Devereux Fairbrother.  Citing influences as surprising as early folk and blues and as obvious as early rock ‘n’ roll and ’60s-’70s punk, Lantern’s music is a combustion of nitty gritty Americana.  Tickets and information for tonight’s 21+ show with Dong Johnson and Amanda X can be found here.  Below, watch the video for “Train Song.”

Continue reading →


Interview: John Wesley Harding opens up his Cabinet of Wonders (performing at the 215 Festival tonight)

Wesley Stace has always had a witty way with words. That’s both in his career as a songwriter, which stretches back to the 1980s (you might know him better by his stage name, John Wesley Harding), and more recently as a novelist. A couple years back, he launched the Cabinet of Wonders, an occasionally traveling roadshow and regular monthly showcase in New York that brings together musicians, authors and comedians in a very irreverent, lively variety-show format. The Cabinet made a Philadelphia appearance this summer at the XPoNential Music Festival – you might recall Rhett Miller absolutely nailing David Bowie’s “Five Years” during their set, or Eugene Mirman’s madcap comedy – and returns tonight for a 215 Festival performance at Underground Arts. We caught up with the England-born Philadelphia transplant by phone yesterday to get some background on the showcase and see what’s in store for tonight.

The Key: How long have you been putting on the Cabinet of Wonders, and how did it start?

John Wesley Harding: We’ve been doing it a few years now. It came about because I had a new album out two albums ago, and I wanted to do an album release party. An my publicist said “Well, you write novels now. Why don’t you bring the two things together?” After the first one, we saw it was such a fun show, we kept doing it. We took the cabinet on tour, we moved around to different venues in New York, and then NPR picked us up.

TK: How often to you hold cabinet events? What’s the next one?

JWH: Apart form extraordinary cabinet meetings like the one at this weekend, or the one at XPN’s festival over the summer, we just have our once-a-month performance in New York.

TK: It was great to watch people’s reaction at the XPN festival who might not have been familiar with the Cabinet. It was a mix of surprise, delight and total confusion. Is that a reaction you encounter often, or do people attend Cabinet performances knowing what to expect?

JWH: I think people generally come in knowing. At a festival, crowds are most used to seeing music act followed by more music. And with the Cabinet at the XPN festival, I tried to make a miniature version of what I do every month – almost a festival within the festival. Continue reading →


Celebrate Hideaway Music’s ten-year anniversary with John Wesley Harding (instore appearance on 11/3)

A favorite off-the-beaten-path destination of Philly audiophiles, Hideaway Music in Chestnut Hill celebrates its ten-year anniversary on Saturday, November 3 with an appearance by folk / rock singer-songwriter John Wesley Harding. The instore performance begins at 1 p.m., admission is free, and for those who grumble about making the trip out to Northwest Philly, here’s a transit tip – SEPTA’s Chestnut Hill West line drops you off practically at Hideaway’s front door. It’s really easy, y’all. Below, watch Wes’ recent video for “Making Love to Bob Dylan.”