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Rhye

Quiet storm r&b gets less love than it logically should these days (seriously, when are the hipsters going to start liking Maxwell?) but Los Angeles duo Rhye is fighting the good fight. Their very good debut, Woman, propelled them to stardom, the lush, Sade-lite vocals of Robbin Hannibal melting into Mike Milosh’s lush, organic instrumentals. This is one to take a date to, and then try to make out with said date at

Fri., Feb. 21, 7 p.m., 2014

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FADE IN

What would December be without an epic Yo La Tengo run to warm the cockles of our cold hearts? With Hanukkah overlapping Thanksgiving and Maxwell’s succumbing to late-stage capitalism, Hoboken’s loss is Gowanus’s gain as the trio relocates to the Bell House for four nights (starting December 13) of historically informed eterna-pop; lustrous meditations on life, love, and mortality; and sturdy neoprimitive space jams. YLT presumably won’t be replicating their Hanukkah format, however, so expect nothing more (or less) than a couple of sets of mind- and heart-expanding music — and perhaps some memorable sit-ins — with these middle-aged rockers in their prime. As Ira Kaplan sings late in Fade, their gentle all-things-must-pass take on keeping faith in precarious times, “If we’re not so young, that’s the point of it.”

Dec. 13-16, 9 p.m., 2013

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Yo La Tengo React to Legendary Hoboken Venue Maxwell’s Closing Its Doors

When news broke last week that Maxwell’s—that infamous, beloved rock spot across the river in Hoboken—would be shuttering in late July, industry folks freaked, bands grieved, and music lovers wrung their hands in mourning.

Todd Abramson, one of the owners and the man who’s been booking Maxwell’s for over 25 years, says that a dwindling artistic community in Hoboken, along with an influx of new residents who aren’t particularly compelled to patronize the venue, are two of the primary factors that influenced his decision to close.

“It’s so hard for people to travel to Hoboken—nobody can find parking—and the way that the demographics of the town have changed, the kind of people who would enjoy Maxwell’s have been moving into [New York City],” he says. “People who really aren’t going to be that interested in a place like this are moving in, you know? The artistic community, such as it was, is pretty much gone, and you need to be pretty well-to-do to move into this town nowadays. For the most part, that type of crowd isn’t all that gung ho about seeing the Screaming Females.”

Ira Kaplan of Yo La Tengo echoes Abramson’s sentiment. Maxwell’s departure is a significant one for Kaplan and his band. The Hoboken indie stalwarts have hosted a run of Hanukkah shows at Maxwell’s since 2001, though their relationship with the venue began long before that: Yo La Tengo first played Maxwell’s in 1984, and more or less cut their teeth on its stage.

“When I opened my mouth to sing at that first show, nothing came out,” says Kaplan, reflecting on Yo La Tengo’s Maxwell’s debut. “There was just terror the first time. The Hanukkah shows matched the venue in a perfect way for us. At these shows, we would try anything. I think it led us in any variety of directions, just bringing people onstage to play with us. This sort of ‘anything goes’ aspect of those shows had a big positive impact on the band. The Hanukkah shows were really fun and exciting, and those were my favorite shows at Maxwell’s. Sometimes you have mixed feelings about your home, but Maxwell’s has been our home all along. It [closing] is not good, and I think it’s reflecting something that’s going on with the city.”

Maxwell’s will host a number of banger concerts—including Ted Leo, the Feelies, and . . . And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead—before officially closing up shop on July 31. Kaplan, who swung the venue the day its closure was announced to see New Zealand’s The Bats play to a sold-out crowd, hits shows there as frequently as he’s played them. He says there’s a reason the club has retained its sterling reputation over the years.

“For one thing, looking at our group, I don’t think it’ll surprise you that I’m a fan of things that last a long time,” he says. “The fact that the club exists as it does today is because it was built on this foundation of so many years ago. Maxwell’s has changed a lot over the years, but it did so gradually and organically, so it’s always maintained its connection to what it began as, which is a place that did things in a way that wasn’t ruthless business but building something for the future.”

Yo La Tengo may squeeze in one last set before the Hoboken institution is closed for good. When asked about their relationship with Maxwell’s, Kaplan plainly states that the imprint the venue has left on the band is substantial.

“You say ‘a place like Maxwell’s,’ and I’m not sure there is one,” he says. “Something I’ll always say about most anything is that if you change the circumstances, the results are going to change, too—so no, I don’t think Yo La Tengo would’ve been the same band without Maxwell’s.”

Yo La Tengo play as The Condo Fucks at Maxwell’s on Saturday, June 15.

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DREIDEL ROCK

Skipping their annual tradition only once since 2001, Yo La Tengo continue their 
enlightening eight-night Hanukkah benefit run this year at Maxwell’s in Hoboken. In the past, each evening has offered a different comedian (Amy Poehler, Sarah Silverman, David Cross), opening act (Alex Chilton, Redd Kross, Sun Ra Arkestra), beneficiary (expect several Sandy-related donations), mixtape (by band and friends), and emotionally rocking YLT set. The secret lineups are a roll of the dice, tickets are tighter than Grover Norquist’s wallet, and you’ll probably be stuck behind what even the trio reckons to be “the world’s tallest audience.” But it’s all worth it to see an adult rock band at the top of their game, playing to friends and family in what only a few weeks ago was one of the world’s wettest towns.

Mondays-Sundays, 9 p.m. Starts: Dec. 8. Continues through Dec. 15, 2012

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Crocodiles Getting Messy

On A humid Wednesday evening in Hoboken, Brandon Welchez and Charles Rowell—the two minds behind the San Diego–based band Crocodiles—crack jokes in the front room of Maxwell’s.

“I grew my armpit hair out and then braided it,” Rowell says, dramatically lifting his hands and pointing to his underarms. Quickly, Welchez chimes in. “We’d wear two knit hats, one on each shoulder,” he says, chuckling. But before Welchez knows it, Rowell takes the baton: “Then we’d draw little faces on each shoulder!” Both smirk. The quips they toss around center on the time they spent in Berlin making their fuzzy power-pop LP Endless Flowers (Frenchkiss Records, US/Souterrain Transmissions, overseas), which came out last month.

Welchez met Rowell when they were 17; both of their “crappy teenage punk bands” were hired to play a gig at a local Mexican restaurant’s anniversary. Welchez remembers seeing Rowell for the first time and immediately feeling so drawn to the way he played guitar—and on a “superficial” level, just “how cool he was.”

“[It] was like watching a 17-year-old Pete Townshend or something,” Welchez says, taking a sip of beer. “I was like, ‘Fuck, I want that guy in my band.'”

And so the two cycled through various punk bands and projects throughout the next decade. Their long-term partnership isn’t too surprising, given the way their brains seem to intertwine.

“When [Welchez] brings a song with no guitar leads planned out, I can hear it instantly,” Rowell says. “If there was a time when we were more selfish or more stubborn, we went through that period a long time ago.”

Eventually, they settled into Crocodiles, and in 2009, they released their debut, the bedroom-recorded, grungy Summer of Hate. And even though Endless Flowers is only the band’s third full-length, their maturity is evident. They’ve grown in membership: Endless Flowers is the first album to be recorded with their five-piece touring band. The group’s sound has similarly evolved from hollowed-out, scratchy guitars and sometimes-inaudible vocals to full-fledged—and at times anthemic—power rock ‘n’ roll.

To start the album, the title track launches behind a furious, fleeting guitar riff, which seamlessly flows into explosive drums. “I’m waiting here; waiting my dear, on a crooked staircase with this melody,” Welchez cries. A few moments pass, and he goes on to lead the refrain, practically begging the listener to sing along: “Our endless flowers will grow.” Later, on the swooping “My Surfing Lucifer,” Welchez uses a blitz of throbbing guitars to abandon all regard for poetics, leading a simple yet catchy chant: “Yeah, yeah, yeah! He’s my Lucifer!”

But Crocodiles don’t simply pump out beach-appropriate tunes: Endless Flowers takes a darker turn halfway through. “Hung Up on a Flower,” a song dealing with heartbreak and loss, rumbles through a deep, brusque, and industrial refrain: “I’ll get by; I’ll just get high,” Welchez mumbles on the track. “Wait around to die.” Moments like this, he notes at Maxwell’s, make music human.

“Things sound bad when they’re too clean, you know?” Welchez says. “Nothing is that clean, so why should music be?”

Crocodiles play the 4Knots Music Festival on Saturday, July 14.

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8 CRAZY NIGHTS

In 2001, interfaith indie-rock lifers Yo La Tengo began celebrating the Festival of Lights with a run of shows across the Hudson at Hoboken’s Maxwell’s. This year, from tonight through December 27, you can eat a kosher dinner while you watch the band join a secret list of performers that will “not be divulged until the last possible moment.” Past guests have included musicians (including Big Star and Sun Ra), comics (David Cross, Todd Barry, etc.), and even food critics (our own Robert Sietsema!) for eight of the year’s most intimate, enjoyable shows. Goys, of course, are more than welcome.

Tue., Dec. 20, 8:30 p.m., 2011

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Holiday Guide: Yo La Tengo Celebrates 10 Years of Hanukkah Miracles

This is not my first holiday season dating a goy—the apple-cheeked daughter of a minister, even. But it is the first winter in our time together that Hanukkah will overlap with Christmas. I fully expect to spend this December 24th and 25th and 26th celebrating Christ’s birth amid snow-lined New England streets, candles flickering warmly in windows, tree branches bowing gently under picturesque wintry weight. Or, more likely, hanging out in the kitchen guzzling nog and braiding good cheer with the natural gravitas of the season, while peering out over the frosted lawn.

That’s what happens, right? I’m only guessing here. These are new traditions and duties to your humble correspondent, whose heart will surely in some part be with his people. And my people, those nights, will be in Hoboken.

Hanukkah, at least among the secular Jews that I grew up around, was always regarded with a bit of suspicion. My family could manage to get a little worked up for Passover and Rosh Hashanah. For Hanukkah, we’d light a menorah, maybe even make potato pancakes, but there was nothing remotely serious about the occasion. I think it’s like that for most Jews, even observant ones. Which is why it’s sort of a Christmas miracle that, in my mid-20s, Hanukkah suddenly became extraordinarily meaningful to my un-bar mitzvahed self.

What happened, in part, was that I discovered the band Yo La Tengo. Starting a decade ago this December, and more years than not since then, the Hoboken-based trio has performed benefit shows on the eight nights of Hanukkah at Maxwell’s, the bar where they got their start in the early 1980s. Unannounced comedians and musical guests, combined with Yo La Tengo’s massive 30-year songbook composed of 17 full-lengths, nearly 1,000 cover tunes, and occasional stupid/brilliant stunts like performing a table reading of a Seinfeld episode, have made being anywhere else on any one of those nights an increasingly unthinkable thought.

“It’s a Saturday mitzvah,” piped up a younger Yo La Tengo relative from the front row of Maxwell’s 200-person-capacity back room one night in 2007, one of two consecutive evenings when former Big Star guitarist Alex Chilton stopped by.

“With or without a menorah,” guitarist/singer Ira Kaplan added. The band’s electric menorah, balanced as usual on an amp next to drummer Georgia Hubley, had a handwritten “out of order” sign affixed to it.

“What does that mean?” the Tennessee-born Chilton asked.

“She said ‘It’s a Saturday mitzvah,’ which is a good thing,” Kaplan explained. “So, with or without a menorah, it’s a good thing.” He paused. “Just kind of beatnik jive talk.”

It earned a laugh, as it should have, but the joy of that interaction—Yo La Tengo and Alex Chilton together at Maxwell’s singing Big Star’s “Jesus Christ” over the holidays—was kind of beatnik jive talk. Since Kaplan’s days as a barely legal on-the-scene columnist for the SoHo Weekly News and later co-booking the influential Music For Dozens series at Folk City, both long before Yo La Tengo’s 1984 founding, the band members have existed somewhere near the center of the still-cozy community of first-generation obsessives dumped under the “indie rock” umbrella. Yo La Tengo’s fans and friends have long been music journalists and DJs, label magnates and promoters, and, yes, musicians. But mostly they’re fans, connected by secret knowledge of the underground, the right records to listen to, the best tiny show one can find on a given night, and probably the best nearby restaurant.

Lately, it is a secret knowledge that has become open to all who know the right things to Google. Even if one missed The Feelies at CBGB in 1977 (I, for one, was still a year away from being born), with just 24 keystrokes—”feelies live mediafire”—some semblance of that experience can now be yours. Not that one needs to know that Kaplan and Hubley met at a Feelies show if Glenn Mercer or Bill Million show up to play (as they did last year), nor that the Maxwell’s holiday-show tradition began with The Feelies, nor the two bands’ long, tangled histories with each other and their home venue. But it makes it for a richer experience.

Yo La Tengo’s live show has long been something worth seeing, an ever-changing array of kaleidoscopic moods and setlists. Nowhere is this more true than at Maxwell’s, where Kaplan’s extended free-squonk guitar solos are blissfully loud, and the crowd usually gets quiet enough to appreciate the whispering harmonies, quiet Hubley-sung ballads, and unpredictable soulful turns perfected on their quartet of albums from 1997’s I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One through 2003’s Summer Sun.

But then, with its un–New York coatrack, cold-weather-perfect comfort food (chicken potpie!), and no-bullshit setup, there’s really no better place in the New York area to see anyone than Maxwell’s. If you can’t identify the surprise opening act dining with Yo La Tengo a few tables over before the show, you might wander toward the stage to see who has been posted as the evening’s guests—bands just as likely to be local friends as top-billed talent like (last year alone) Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, soul legend Syl Johnson, and the reunited Mission of Burma, most of whom joined in for their host’s sets as well.

For that matter, a sit-in with Yo La Tengo rarely becomes a rehash of a guest’s most notable numbers. When David Byrne materialized in 2002, there was nary a “Psycho Killer” or “Once In A Lifetime” in sight. Instead they dusted off “Pulled Up,” not heard since the early Talking Heads days, a cover of fellow CBGBite Richard Hell’s “Love Comes In Spurts” (as one of the band’s now-traditional “seasonal” numbers paying tribute to great Jewish songwriters), and YLT’s own “Tears Are In Your Eyes,” with Byrne contributing a stunning and unexpected harmony vocal.

And then there are the comedians, fresh laughter being a far more literal and legitimate winter warm-up than a wait through even the most surprising or welcome support act. And the $10 mix discs (proceeds to charity, of course) that have been contributed over the years by everybody from novelist Jonathan Lethem to Japanese psychedelic mainstay Yamataka Eye of The Boredoms.

All of this is part of it, the reason why I—and at least a few dozen other people I might name—will find a way to get to at least half of the performances during this year’s sold-out installment, which begins December 20. (Sold-out or not, there are usually face-value tickets floating around on Craigslist or even at Maxwell’s itself.)

Really, it’s that these are my people, and this is our place to be, where rock still burns in an eight-days-a-week continuum between the Velvet Underground at Max’s Kansas City and whatever post-punk noise is burbling up in the deepest warehouses of Brooklyn, Tokyo, London, and everywhere in between. In Hoboken, over Hanukkah, it is more than the ersatz community one buys into at Death Star loading bays masquerading as indie-rock mega-venues like Terminal 5. At Maxwell’s, there are no ticket scanners, thuggish security guards, roadie teams, VIP balconies, Facebook promotions, or sense of endless rules, but some remnant of rock music at the natural, human scale it was always meant to exist in.

“Family” is a hard metaphor to invoke, and I certainly hope not to use it if forced to explain over Christmas dinner. Despite the fact that this year’s Hanukkah shows will likely include one of the regular guest appearances by Ira Kaplan’s mother or perhaps even a niece or nephew (as in the killer opening set by The Pubes in ’04), Hanukkah at Maxwell’s is probably closer to utopia rendered as everyday life. For eight days, it is what local live music could feel like everywhere, notwithstanding how exhausting it surely is for Yo La Tengo. Not only that, but everyday life blown into magical detail.

When Alex Chilton died suddenly of a heart attack last spring, it was hard to imagine that most who had caught his extended encores with Yo La Tengo at Maxwell’s didn’t think back on the Hanukkah mitzvah. It is also doubtful that anyone present at Maxwell’s didn’t know, at that exact moment, exactly how special Chilton’s appearance was, and feel the warm, amazed kind of glow that people often try to channel by invoking the far-off innocence of Christmas morning.

There probably won’t be much beatnik jive talk over dinner this year, Christmas morning itself, or even Boxing Day. But that’s OK, and that’s what family is for. I have my faith, and, even if I don’t get to celebrate all of Hanukkah this year, that (plus bootleg recordings) will last through all the other times.

For various reasons, Yo La Tengo doesn’t play Hanukkah every year, either. Sometimes, they’ve got albums to promote. Who’s to say this won’t be the final one? But if they stick to their two-years-on/one-year-off schedule, their next holiday gathering will be in 2013, where Hanukkah’s second night also happens to be Thanksgiving. That’ll be a whole other conversation.

Jesse Jarnow’s Big Day Coming:Yo La Tengo and the Rise of Indie Rock (Gotham Books) will be published in 2012.

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Phantogram

The male-female duo Phantogram follow a long line of female-fronted electronic pop acts whose stage presence is just as transcendent as the music they create. In this one, lead singer and keyboardist Sara Barthel plays off guitarist Josh Carter’s stoic vibes psych-drenched song after psych-drenched song, their dream-like beats sounding as if they’ve been bouncing off the brick walls of a New York City alleyway and out into the urban soundscape. If you can make the trek to Jersey, see them in action at tonight at Maxwell’s.

Fri., Nov. 18, 7:30 p.m., 2011

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‘Basic NYC Presents Carl Craig’

The jazz-influenced, Subotnick-indebted ’90s classics Carl Craig created under his Paperclip People, 69, Psyche and Innerzone Orchestra guises made him a legend, and he’s still churning out some of the most nuanced, emotive dance music around. Fellow Detroiter Amp Fiddler has worked with George Clinton, Maxwell, Raphael Saddiq, and Sly & Robbie, and his own r&b stands up to anyone’s. With London favorites Layo & Bushwacka, residents Sleepy & Boo, and Gennaro Le Fosse, Prawns & Bajaj, Illich Mujica, Mike Murphy and Paul Nahm.

Sat., Nov. 20, 9 p.m., 2010

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The Gories+Jimmy Ohio

They probably just got tired of reading about how awesome they were. After a round of reunion shows in 2009, Detroit garage-punk core samplers the Gories are back for more, with two shows at Maxwell’s, a Bowery gig on July 30, and outdoors at Lincoln Center the following afternoon. Mick Collins (Dirtbombs), Danny Kroha (Demolition Doll Rods), and drummer Peg O’Neill are certain to bring the no-bass-havin’, slutty guitar strut that defined their sound and that of an entire mini epoch of late ’80s garage rock revivalism. And since it’s a style that remains excitably rangy, grumbling, and vital—see The Oh Sees, who the Gories will tour with later this summer—the reunited Gories might as well just stay in the smudged spotlight this time.

Thu., July 29, 9 p.m., 2010