Thursday night of Utica Music and Arts Festival was a wild one from inside the festival camp and as a result, I was fashionably (read: stressfully) late to the start of The End Men’s first show of the 2012 UMAF. Not a smart move in O’Donnels, as an enthusiastic crowd will indeed surge forward (or back, according to your perspective), boxing the band into the end of the long hallway that is the bar’s layout and causing a truly standing room only vibe. This crowd was absolutely nothing short of enthusiastic and well they should be. The End Men, from Brooklyn, haven’t graced a Utica stage since earlier this year at Mardi Gras at The Uptown Theater and we were clamoring hungrily for their gritty, raw, deliciously grungy tunes and gravelly, passionate vocals.
In keeping with the manifesto of the festival, music and art collided in the unobtrusive, wood paneled room, as a crush of local photographers strained in to get up close and personal shots of Liv and Matthew doing what they do best, hooking a crowd like a fish on a line. The crowd was star studded by a few fellow musical types too, Randy Niles, and the crew from Ghost and Goblin. I grabbed a beer and elbowed my way in up close, trapped between Randy, the pool table, and the band.
This band just draws you in, particularly by their total commitment to what they’re doing. They live and breathe this music, the rhythm and the lifestyle of creation and sharing and being as rock as possible. It just is them, inseparable from their beings. Matthew’s guitar is utterly relentless and there are few things in this life I enjoy more than watching Liv thrash the shit out of a set of drums. She goes hard, pounding sticks into skins in swinging arcs of movement that catch the eye as much as the sounds catch the ear. She is equally capable of swinging the eights and finessing around a verse like a jazz drummer as she is to suddenly raise her arms high into the air and pummel with intensity belied by her small frame. She is one of my very favorite drummers, not only to listen to, but also to watch.
Matthew himself is no slouch in the intensity department. His demeanor is amusing, boyish, giving and joyful leaving little doubt that he is living his dream of entertaining people and doing so along side a companion he values and respects. It’s a tongue in groove type lock down with these two and I think it’s safe to say you’ll not only like the music, but you’ll like the two of them personally an awful lot by the time the set’s done.
We’ve had a lovely opportunity to watch this band grow over the course of the past couple of years and I’m continually impressed by their progress. When we first met them as a trio, the music and show-person-ship was totally enjoyable, but what stood out m most was their individual personalities. This is no longer the case, and I submit anyone passing by on a street or cornered by a friend and made to sit and listen would stop short and stick around, only later to be impressed by how freaking nice they are. They’ve locked down deep into their niche, a drum and guitar duo unlike most of the rest on the scene. The first thing setting them apart from the pack is just how talented Liv is on the drums. So multifaceted and intelligent it’s stunning to watch her work. Matthew’s vocal is also unique, hovering somewhere between Waits and Springsteen with the perfect amount of rumble and a cavalier attitude of fun and his approach on guitar is, well, it’s fantastic! A carnival barker over a cacophony of merriment, sound in theory and practice.
They mugged a little for the photogs, most of which have become personal friends of this duo, with Matt telling a joke or two between songs that amuse and coax the listener to relate. A straight paparazzi outright flash mob, photographers literally crawled across the floor, over tables, and undulated themselves into spaces you’d not believe just to catch the perfect shot of this magic. It was a seamless performance and I thought to myself more than once, ‘this is how it’s done.’ I felt gratitude to be able to round out my somewhat frenzied day with a little bit of groundedness.
You bet I love this band, and I can’t get enough. Call your local venues and promoters and suggest you cannot live without more of The End Men in your life. They will recharge your batteries like a jump in a parking lot by the coolest vagabond you ever saw.
Photos by NVP Photography