Jim Testa, founder and editor of the fanzine Jersey Beat, called the Jersey Beat 35th anniversary concert that took place Friday night at Maxwell’s Tavern a “family reunion.”
Richard Barone, one of the performers, called it a “surreal but beautiful experience.”
Deena Shoshkes of The Cucumbers summed up Testa’s importance by saying, “There’s no scene if nobody writes about it.”
This was an event with, obviously, a tremendous amount of meaning for participants and attendees, alike. It has several purposes: to celebrate the anniversary, to thank Testa for his support through the years, and to raise money for The Project Matters, which supports young musicians. But on another level, it was an opportunity for musicians who played at Maxwell’s in the ’80s and ’90s (and their fans) to reassemble at their old stomping ground, which closed in 2013 and reopened in 2014 under new management and with a modified name (the “Tavern” was added).
Many of these musicians were setting foot in the club for the first time since the reopening. They’ve stayed away since they feel the new establishment does not live up to the spirit of the old one.
“It’s a real testament to Jersey Beat that we all came back to a place we vowed we’d never come back to,” said Glenn Mercer of The Feelies.
It was striking that, while this show was a reunion of a scene, it also had a tremendous amount of variety. For more than four hours, the music ranged from fun and funky to dark and mysterious, from whimsical to dead-serious, from gentle to roaring. One of the greatest things about the Hoboken scene was that the bands never seemed to feel the pressure to adopt a particular sound or approach; everyone just did what felt right for them, and other members of the scene were willing to accept it, as long as it was good.
Testa (who stopped printing copies of Jersey Beat in 2007 but has kept it going with the jerseybeat.com web site and a podcast) opened the show by performing with Howard Wuelfing and Mick Hale, two of the three other members of his ’80s band, The Love Pushers. Testa also hosted the show, and returned to the stage to add high-spirited backing vocals on Tris McCall’s “Dancing to Architecture.” (Both Testa and McCall have written for NJArts.net.)
The show offered many opportunities to see musicians perform in ways they rarely have, before. Barone and his Bongos partner James Mastro formed a duo to close the show, after midnight, with three songs (“Number With Wings,” “Barbarella” and “The Bulrushes”). Hardcore punk musician Paul Richard (of Adrenalin O.D.), perhaps the last musician in the world you’d expect to do an unplugged set, sat on a chair with an acoustic guitar and performed Adrenalin O.D. songs “Paul’s Not Here,” “Sightseeing” and “The Nice Song.”
Testa accurately described Richard as a “fish out of water,” but also said he started Jersey Beat mainly because he wanted to write about Adrenalin O.D. and The Bongos.
Rare reunions included The Cucumbers, who played “Don’t Drop the Baby,” “My Boyfriend” and a steamy version of the Elvis Presley hit “All Shook Up”; and Gut Bank, who played “Behind Bars,” “Emily” (a song by Sexpod, the group that Gut Bank evolved into) and The Ramones’ “I Just Want to Have Something to Do.” Gut Bank featured singer-guitarist Karyn Kuhl, singer-bassist Alice Genese and drummer Bob Bert; the three played together in the original Gut Bank, in the mid-’80s, though Bert left before they even started doing shows.
Glenn Mercer and Dave Weckerman of The Feelies and John and Toni Baumgartner of Speed the Plough formed a group to play The Feelies’ “The Undertow” and Weckerman’s “Shore Leave.” Speed the Plough also performed on its own, with Shoshkes on backing vocals. Glenn Morrow — who co-fronted, with Barone, the first band ever to play at Maxwell’s, “a” — appeared with his new group, Cry for Help. McCall and members of The Negatones and Cropduster played together in various combinations.
Mod Fun acknowledged Barone’s influence on them by performing his “Flew a Falcon.” Tammy Faye Starlite sang Chuck Berry’s “Carol” and The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” with larger-than-life rock-star attitude. Foggy Otis of the Hudson Dusters strummed a ukulele and sang sweetly, and dedicated his “You Make Me a Better Man” to Testa.
This theme was repeated throughout the evening, as artists talked about how much Testa’s coverage has meant to them — especially when they were just starting out and looking for someone, somewhere, to acknowledge that what they were doing was worth writing about.
Finally, Friday night, they got a chance to return the favor.
“Last night was truly a bucket list event,” Testa wrote on Facebook, yesterday. “I can’t even begin to express my thanks and amazement at what a wonderful night it was. Where do I start? Performing on stage again with two of my best friends after 30 years? … Karyn and Alice playing together again, with Bob Bert on drums no less? I had goosebumps. Dave Weckerman and Glenn Mercer from only the best band in the whole universe coming back to Maxwell’s just to play for my party? Oh my god. Jim Mastro and Richard Barone from the Bongos playing together? Be still my heart.
“It was one thrill after another, where I truly felt surrounded by family every minute of the night.”
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