A foretaste of New Jersey rock without Maxwell’s: Speed the Plough, East of Venus play Mexicali Live

Speed the Plough performs at Mexicali Live in Teaneck, N.J. on July 18, 2013. (Photo © 2013, Steven P. Marsh)

Speed the Plough performs at Mexicali Live in Teaneck, N.J. on July 18, 2013. (Photo © 2013, Steven P. Marsh)

We know what it’s going to be like without Maxwell’s. We learned it pretty clearly at Mexcali Live in Teaneck, N.J., on Thursday, July 18.

Speed the Plough, a very Maxwell’s-identified band, ripped through an excellent headlining set after warmups by Lianne Smith and East of Venus.

Toni (Paruta) Baumgartner and Cindi Merklee of Speed the Plough.  (Photo © 2013, Steven P. Marsh)

Toni (Paruta) Baumgartner and Cindi Merklee of Speed the Plough. (Photo © 2013, Steven P. Marsh)

Nobody in the audience crowded the edge of the stage, which is tradition at Maxwell’s. Not there’s anything wrong with that. It just seemed a little alien. But you had the distinct feeling that if you tried to stand in front of the stage, you’d be shouted away by the audience or escorted away by management. So it seemed better to keep a bit of distance.

Only one person in the crowd stood near the front of a rather cavernous room filled with tables, chairs and stools — and he was far, far from his usual front-and-center spot.

Never mind that the sound at Mexicali is crisp and the raised stage provides sight lines that are, to say the least, more audience-friendly than Maxwell’s.

Speed the Plough.  (Photo © 2013, Steven P. Marsh)

Speed the Plough. (Photo © 2013, Steven P. Marsh)

I won’t commit sacrilege here. Maxwell’s is the greatest small rock club in New Jersey, and one of the best in the nation. But it does have a drawback or two.

But after July 31, Maxwell’s will be no more. And we’ll be left seeing Speed the Plough, East of Venus, The Feelies and other bands associated with the Hoboken scene in places like Mexcicali. I left off Yo La Tengo, which also has a massive identification with Maxwell’s, because that trio tends to play larger venues on a regular basis.

Ed Seifert, John Demeski and Toni (Paruta) Baumgartner of Speed the Plough. (Photo © 2013, Steven P. Marsh)

Ed Seifert, John Demeski and Toni (Paruta) Baumgartner of Speed the Plough. (Photo © 2013, Steven P. Marsh)

The crowd at Mexicali was thinner than most Maxwell’s audiences, and, aside from band members’ relatives, there were fewer familiar faces in the crowd. It felt a lot like seeing a hometown favorite far out of town. (I’ve seen a far larger percentage of familiar faces at “Hoboken” shows at The Bell House in Brooklyn.)

But that’s the post-Maxwells’ future.

It’s not pretty, but I can live with it. Better that than to have great bands like STP go back into hibernation or play in the corner of a tavern or something.

Speaking of Speed the Plough, the Mexicali show was the first with a new band lineup, with John Demeski replacing his dad, Stan, on the drum kit and Cindi Merklee taking over bass from Dan Francia, son of STP founding member Marc Francia, who’s also not a part of the current lineup.

It was a strong, hourlong set of the band’s latest version of chamber pop, with the ever charming John Baumgartner and wife Toni (Paruta) Baumgartner sharing lead vocals. Guitarists Ed Seifert and John and Toni’s son, Mike Baumgartner round out the band.

Although Stan Demeski is no longer a member of STP, he was there with other family members, first to play drums with East of Venus, and then to proudly witness son John’s debut with STP.

From left, John Baumgartner sits in on keyboards with East of Venus' Glenn Mercer, Stan Demeski, Rob Norris and Michael Carlucci.  (Photo © 2013, Steven P. Marsh)

From left, John Baumgartner sits in on keyboards with East of Venus’ Glenn Mercer, Stan Demeski, Rob Norris and Michael Carlucci. (Photo © 2013, Steven P. Marsh)

East of Venus did a great set as well, stepping outside its own repertoire for at least one number by Winter Hours, East of Venus guitarist Michael Carlucci‘s former band, and a strong cover of The Moody BluesThe Story In Your Eyes.

East of Venus is something of an all-star Hoboken scene band, comprising the elder Demeski and Glenn Mercer from The Feelies and Rob Norris from The Bongos. John Baumgartner sat in on a few tuens.

Traffic woes deprived me of the opportunity to hear Smith, who went first.

Speed the Plough plays Maxwell’s for the final time on Wednesday, July 24. Click here for details on that sold-out show.

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4 responses to “A foretaste of New Jersey rock without Maxwell’s: Speed the Plough, East of Venus play Mexicali Live

  1. While I’m of the opinion that we probably shouldn’t be looking for another Maxwell’s, I’m definitely of the opinion that Mexicali won’t be it. Great stage, nice room, good sound (when the soundperson feels like cooperating), sure.
    But the atmosphere is anything but musician-friendly. I suppose it might be different if you’re a touring national band, or a jam band, or a Ronnie James Dio tribute band.
    Too bad.

    • Thanks for an insider’s perspective, John.

      I agree, we probably shouldn’t look for another Maxwell’s. But something will come to the fore eventually. But I’m guessing that it’ll spring from the imaginations of “the kids” rather than from yours or mine.

      As long as bands like Speed the Plough, The Feelies, The Trypes and the like have someplace to play, I’ll keep going to hear them.

  2. when the meat puppets play mexicali the place feels awesome

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