Friday, July 31, 2020

End Construction at Club Passim Online, 7-30-20 Concert Review

Music is what is getting me through this crazy and unsettling time, especially the music of the four guys who make up End Construction (Brian Doser, Jim Infantino, Ellis Paul and Jon Svetkey), all of whom have been performing online shows from their respective homes during the pandemic. Last night the four came together – through the wonders of technology – to play a reunion show to celebrate the group’s thirtieth anniversary (though actually it’s been thirty-one years at this point). An End Construction reunion is certainly cause for celebration, even if we can’t be there in person, and even if the musicians themselves aren’t all in the same room. None of the energy, joy, laughter and camaraderie that you’d expect from one of their concerts was lacking from this online performance. The show was shown on the Club Passim Facebook and YouTube pages, and was hosted by Matt Smith.

Because of the weird time delays and whatnot, the musicians couldn’t actually play together, as they would normally do. But the show began with a video that the four musicians had created in which they do perform together, though still from their separate homes. The song chosen was Jon Svetkey’s “Reeling Down A Road,” the title track from The Loomers’ 2010 release. A perfect choice, really, as the song is all about the early days when these guys played together, and its lyrics contain references to several of the songs they performed back at that time. They just had to update the first line from “Was it twenty years ago” to “Was it thirty years ago.”  It was a cool way to introduce the show, set the right tone, and get us all excited. And the photograph that Jon mentions in this song is one he actually later showed the online audience.

Jon Svetkey said, “I drew the short straw and I get to play first,” and got the show going with a relatively new song (well, new, in the grand scheme of things), “Matchbox Car,” a sweet song that I love more each time I hear it. “Grandpa says, this little black car looks exactly like the Packard I was driving when I married your grandma.” Brian Doser followed that with “Waiting For The Moon,” a beautiful song that he wrote in Kerrville, Texas. “I find that I write best when I’m alone somewhere,” he said in the song’s introduction, then mentioned that he now has four children and is never alone anymore. I love the line “She gives all my troubles a name.” It was Jim Infantino’s turn next, and he chose “Hate Street,” an excellent choice for these troubled days, and a good reminder to not allow hate to determine our path. “I can’t go the way I used to/I’ve got to find a kinder way.” “It’s good to hear you guys singing,” Ellis Paul said afterward. “It feels like I’m in a time machine of sorts.” That led to them talking a bit about their history, about how they all met, mentioning WERS, the Nameless and the Old Vienna. The Old Vienna is where I first saw these guys play back in 1989, both as a group and individually. It was a great venue. Ellis then played “Rose Tattoo,” a wonderful song in which he sings, “If I ever lost you/I’d be lost too.” I think we all know that feeling. And we certainly all need to hear someone sing to us, “Hey, I’ve got your back.”

Up until this point, when one of them was singing, the others weren’t visible. But at Jim’s request, Matt Smith changed the screen so we could see all four at the same time, to make the experience more in line with how the shows were. An excellent decision, for – at least from my perspective – this is when the concert started to feel right. And in that spirit, Jon said, “I figure I’ll go back in time right now, into the time machine, and play one from the Old Vienna days.” The song he chose was “Dead End Streets,” a song I always love hearing. When he plays this one in person, there is a moment when the entire crowd stomps their feet three times, and it was kind of fun to imagine that all across the country people were stomping their feet in their homes. After that song, when each of the musicians was in his own quadrant of the screen, Ellis joked that it was like The Brady Bunch, and they all pretended to look at each other like in that program’s credit sequence. And that sort of goofing around was always a part of their concerts, and so helped make this online experience closer to what we all remember. Brian then said he was going to reach back pretty far for his next song. At first he teased that he’d play “Early Sunday Morning,” which was my favorite of his from the very early days, and then “Beacon Hill.” But what he chose was just as much a surprise, and just as welcome – “The Ballad Of Joe And Naz.” I hadn’t heard this song in a long time, and it was a treat to see him play it. Jim talked a bit about how they each inspired the others to write, and that he also got the same sort of inspiration from David Wilcox, which led to the writing of “Can’t Fall Down.” This is a song Jim has been playing sometimes on his “Solo In Isolation” Saturday concerts, and it is one I am always excited to hear. Ellis followed that with “Hurricane Angel,” an excellent song about Hurricane Katrina, one he played on keyboard. Before starting it, he mentioned that he missed those early days of End Construction. “That was honestly the best period of my life as an artist, that first three or four years.”

Jon began the show’s final round with a new song, “Some Kind Of Kindness.” “This is kind of where my head is at these days,” he said during the introduction. It was fantastic to hear a new song, and this song is likely in line with where a lot of people are these days. “I need some kind of kindness/It’s easy to find/It’s not complicated/It comes in all sizes/It’s a hand to hold onto/When you’re falling over/It’s a pat on the back/It’s a squeeze of a shoulder.” At the end he sings, “I need kindness, especially now.” Indeed. Brian then surprised me by playing a snippet of a new song and dedicating it my brother and me, knowing that both of us are always happy to hear something new. The song, titled “Fireflies,” includes these lines: “Fireflies, fireflies/I’m still only ten in my backyard when I close my eyes.” Wonderful. Brian then played a classic, “I’m Sorry (That I’m Not Sorry),” a staple of the End Construction shows back in the day. In the verse about his parents, the line “as I kicked them down the stairs” became “as I escorted them kindly down the stairs.” He also mentioned that the cop verse is a true story, it took place in Winthrop, Massachusetts. It was odd not hearing Jon’s touches during this song, though we could see him playing them in his quadrant. And then, just to prove why it can’t be done, Brian has the other guys unmute their microphones and sing along on the chorus at the end. It was perfect. It started to rain at Jim’s place, and it was audible to all who were watching the show. Jim then played “Red Motorcycle,” though in the introduction he said it was called “Googly Eyeballs.” Has he renamed it? Anyway, it’s a sweet and delightful song, and the lines that stand out most for me are “Oh you ran up and kissed me/Oh you couldn’t resist me/Oh you said that you missed me.” The rain was really coming down at that point. Ellis then concluded the show with “You’ll Never Be This Young Again,” a song from his latest release, The Storyteller’s Suitcase. First he told the others, “There’s a little of your DNA in everything I do.” It’s a song about not giving up on dreams, no matter what your age is, and is a song that has been in my head a lot in recent days and weeks and months.

The show began with a pre-recorded performance of “Reeling Down A Road,” and it concluded with a pre-recorded performance of Jim’s “Everybody Gets The Blues,” a song they’d often play at the end of their shows back in the day. This version featured Ellis on keys. I don’t recall him playing keyboard on this one before, though my memory isn’t always perfect. It was a wonderful and gentle rendition, a perfect way of wrapping up the show. It concluded at 9:45 p.m. eastern time. Though, actually, that wasn’t really the end of the night, for they set up a Zoom call afterward to talk about old times and tell anecdotes and catch up on what’s happening in their lives. It was a lot of fun, and went on for more than two hours. What a fantastic night.

Set List
  1. Matchbox Car
  2. Waiting For The Moon
  3. Hate Street
  4. Rose Tattoo
  5. Dead End Streets
  6. The Ballad Of Joe And Naz
  7. Can’t Come Down
  8. Hurricane Angel
  9. Some Kind Of Kindness
  10. Fireflies
  11. I’m Sorry (That I’m Not Sorry)
  12. Red Motorcycle
  13. You’ll Never Be This Young Again

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