Midway through their seventeen-song set, Silver Jews’ front man David Berman revealed that Hoboken’s beloved Maxwell’s in New Jersey was the only venue on the tour he had specifically requested to play. And for those familiar with the roots of the Jews, it was a comment that made a lot of sense. It was in Hoboken, after all, that Silver Jews came to be back in 1989 at the founding hands of Berman and subsequent Pavement members Bob Nastanovich and Stephen Malkmus. And while the scene outside of Maxwell’s has changed quite a bit since 1989—from the emerging artist’s renaissance it once was in the late seventies and eighties to the gradual gentrification of and inevitable yuppie takeover us newcomers have now come to acquaint Hoboken with—the scene inside Maxwell’s is still as wonderfully dank, cramped, and intimate one might imagine it was back when it was still Berman’s old stomping grounds.
But change is good. Silver Jews, for instance, have changed, too. I last saw them on the Tanglewood Numbers tour at Webster Hall. It was the first Silver Jews tour ever, and was only two years after Berman’s suicide attempt before he discovered Judaism and got his shit together. That night, he nervously read lyrics from tattered journals with meek posturing and tended to cower more than command the attention of the audience. In fact, I left Webster Hall that night more with a sincere affectation for Berman’s wife, Cassie, who nimbly plucked her bass and sang her country heart out while tending to Berman with all the concern one should have were their significant other so recently extricated from the brink. It was a moving night, but the evening’s poignancy had more to do with the unconditional love on display than it did with Berman’s on-stage capabilities.
Pan to 2008 in a very crowded Maxwell’s: It’s “two Bud’s for five bucks” night, and the venue is so small you can run to the nearest urinal and reclaim your spot in front of the stage in seconds. And if you’re friendly enough to the merch vendor, you might even be doled out a free Silver Jews pin. It’s easy to see why Berman would insist playing here on his current tour in support of The Jews’ latest offering, Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea, a slightly less cohesive bid than 2005’s flawless Tanglewood Numbers, but quintessential Jews nonetheless. Not only is it, like, the coolest damn place that exists to catch a band, it’s also the kind of place that would put the most jittery, dithery, het up and distressed at ease.
In order to get to the stage the band has to walk through the crowd, and Berman is immediately recognizable; tall, raven-haired, and donning a Silver Jews fitted T and spangled sunglasses. The band launch into “Inside the Golden Days of Me and You” from 1996’s The Natural Bridge and it becomes quickly evident that this is going to be an entirely different show than three years ago. With some new players in tow (Pernice Brothers’ Peyton Pinkerton and Lambchop’s Tony Crow), Cassie still on bass and vocals, and a more assured, audience-ready Berman at the helm, the songs snappily roll out at breakneck speed much to the delight of the twenty-something crowd.
With a set list relying heavily on Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea, it was the more unexpected moments that truly shined in an otherwise solid show. Husband and wife duet “Tennessee” echoed the fiery Johnny Cash/June Carter duet “Jackson,” with the Bermans recalling a modern day alt-country parallel to the legendary couple. And the show’s penultimate track, “Random Rules,” the lone song representing 1998’s American Water, lent a somber tone to the night that was made more stirring being followed by the anthemic, already legendary Jews’ staple “Punks in the Beerlight.” Much as he walked onto the stage, Berman sang the final verses of “Beerlight” walking through the audience, exchanging nods and shaking hands on his way out. It was a much different scene than “Beerlight’s” false start three years ago when Berman cut off the band prematurely having forgotten the words despite his lyrics being at his disposal. This time around, it was a much bolder and more memorable closing to a stellar show, one that those of us lucky enough to attend won’t soon forget.
1. Inside the Golden Days of Missing You
2. Traiross Across the Seas
3. What is Not But Could Be If
4. Dallas – The Natural Bridge
5. My Pillow Is the Threshold
6. I’m Getting Back Into Getting Back Into You
7. Aloyisius, Bluegrass Drummer
8. Suffering Jukebox
9. Horseleg Swastikas
11. Slow Education
12. Strange Victory, Strange Defeat
13. San Francisco, BC
15. Black and Brown Blues
16. Random Rules
17. Punks In the Beerlight
Band site: www.silverjews.net