The Brian Jonestown Massacre

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As I close in on the year anniversary of my declaration that I was going to see 50 shows during my 51st year on this planet, I really need to keep the pace up of one show a week.   Unfortunately, Susan and I did not have a chance to see any music while in Puerto Rico. Fortunately, my friend Michael had an extra ticket to The Brian Jonestown Massacre on Friday night at Union Transfer, which kept me on track.

We got to Union Transfer around 9:15 and missed the opener. One of the things I love about Union Transfer is that they start, and end, their shows on time. I was a little sad that our late arrival meant that we would only get to enjoy 1 ½ hours of music. That was a wrong assumption; since they ended up playing for almost three hours from the time we got there.

It was a packed house and we started upstairs but could not catch a sight line, so we headed to our usual spot. I cannot divulge where it is, because they everyone will know where to stand during a sold out Union Transfer show, but, once again, there was plenty of room really close to the stage.

Full disclosure, I had never heard any songs by these guys. In fact, I thought it was Brian Jones’ band and a bunch of other guys. There is no one named Brian Jones. So I went in not quite knowing what to expect. It turns out they were another shoegaze group (see Ride, 9/19/2016 post) from the 90s and then morphed into a psychedelic rock band incorporating both folk rock and electronica. The band is composed of seven older white guys, fronted by Anton Newcombe, who is a younger Neil Young complete with mutton chops. In fact, there were a couple of guys with mutton chops in the band (but no man buns), which describes the demographic of the crowd as well. And though Anton was the lead of the group, he was off to the left side of the stage and front and center was the tambourine player. Yup, seven guys in a band and the one front and center played the tambourine the whole time. Wait, not true, he also played the maracas at one point, but mainly tambourine. And he never said a word. I started referring to him as Marcel Marceau. Though, as I reflected on the concert, I realized only Anton spoke, so, in retrospect, that was not weird. Though I will stand by having the tambourine player stationed front and center is weird.

I liked the few songs I heard. It was psychedelic but never morphed into long jam sessions, which I have less patience for now than I did when younger. It was not angst ridden, but I would describe it as mellow angry music, or as Michael described it, controlled psychedelic music. I would have liked to hear more of it, which is an odd thing to say for a 3½ hour show. And here is the real takeaway from the show- rants. And, lots of them.

Anton is an angry man, a very, very angry man. He did not hesitate throughout the evening to tell us what was pissing him off. What were some things you may ask? Well, in no particular order of importance, “the man,” Spotify, Hilary Clinton stealing America’s bees and cornering the honey market, Dandy Warhols, vinyl is not real music only live concerts, employing unemployed musicians in Berlin, Radiohead was done after their first album and should just stop playing music, etc. I am not even sure if these were things that had long pissed him off or stuff that just occurred to him during the show. It was those sporadic, ridiculous and, at times, totally pretentious rants that dominated the show. When they actually played, they were great. They had a bright good vibe and I had not trouble finding my music center when listening to them. Sadly, they only played about 60 % of the time (though Michael thought I was being generous with my 40% rant/ 60% music ratio description and they probably played less). It took about 2 ½ hours when Philly became Philly and there was a lot of crowd interaction with the band, mainly through calls of “just play music.” Here’s the thing, though, you can’t play an angry show and not expect the crowd to get angry.   We feed off of the band, so we were just following Anton’s lead. And I say Anton, because he was the only ranting and when he got started, his band members would either just sit down or head off stage.

Michael said this concert was very typical and he has seen them four times, but the ranting part is rarely mentioned in the music review. He also suggested I watch Dig, a documentary about them and their rivalry with the Dandy Warhols. The next day, Michael came over and played me one of their albums. I think my show experience would have been really different if I had listened to their music beforehand, because it is totally in my music wheelhouse. Ironically, after one album side, Michael noted “Wow, they sure put a lot of songs on one album side.” I replied, “Actually, they put more songs on an album side than they play during a 3½ hour show.”

6 shows to go, 31 days left…

The Brian Jonestown Massacre setlist from May 6, 2016.

 

 

 

 

Aurora

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I found myself at another sold out show last week at Johnny Brenda’s to hear the Norwegian-born singer-songwriter Aurora.

Tor Miller opened the evening. Four young guys (sans man buns) whose music was a little poppy, but their dancing was a little new wavey. I guess all opening bands for sold out shows at Johnny Brenda’s need to be four young men. That’s cool, I get it. They played a cover of Bonnie Raitt’s “I can’t make you love me,” which I found to be a curious choice. In any case, they seemed to be having a great time and I loved that they all wore Aurora shirts (by the way, Aurora’s band then wore Tor Miller shirts when it was their turn on stage).

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Aurora then came out with her band soon after. She is this little adorable elf of a girl who has a really great voice. Never underestimate small women, this little one could sing. (Ironically, the crowd there was on the average 6 feet tall.   It was a good thing Susan couldn’t make it- she would not have been able to see a thing.) She cites Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen as her influences and you can totally hear it in her songs. It was by chance that I even had heard of her, but I became totally mesmerized with her voice as she sang David Bowie’s Life of Mars during the credits of an episode of Girls this season. When I realized she was playing Johnny Brenda’s, I ran over to get tickets. It was the perfect concert too, about two hours; I mean she only has one album.

Besides four-guy bands opening for sold out shows, another Johnny Brenda’s aspect seems that the artists are so excited to be there and thankful for the audience. As she looked out at the audience, she said that the night before she had nightmares that no one would show up, and that she “loves us and our cream cheese.” Big crowd pleaser.

Her band was great, but her songs are meant for one to really hear the words. And she is a poet. There was an exceptional tragic song she played with just her guitarist. And she sings with her hands as much as she does with her voice. There was a lot of emotion on

stage that night that was not hokey and she kept thanking us throughout for being so kind and smiling at her.

Johnny Brenda’s is really a great place to showcase new music and everyone should get out there once in a while and support these young kids trying to make it. It is always a feel good show when the artists are as appreciative of the audience as the audience is of the artists.

7 shows to go, 61 days left…

Iggy Pop

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“Hey 50 for 50, you wanna go see Iggy tomorrow night?” As I was wavering whether I could make it back from New York in time, my good friend Amy followed up with “If there was a Mt. Rushmore of rock, Iggy Pop would be on it.” That shut down that dilemma. After automobiles, ferries, trains and buses, I arrived at the Academy of Music with 5 minutes to spare for the Iggy Pop show.

What can one say about Iggy pop. Well, for starters and a professional review, read Jonathan Valania’s excellent review for the Inquirer here. I read it after I wrote this so as not to be intimidated.

“Iggy is rock!” Another quote from my good friend, Amy. It will be no surprise to folks that I had not closely followed his career. I, of course, knew he is, but was never on my radar of someone I needed to see before I, or he, died. That is wrong. Put him on your list. Pay whatever price he is charging, you will not be disappointed. And if you are, come see me, I will refund your money. He was “fill in the blank” before “fill in the blank.” He is the epitome of anti- establishment. He is punk, new wave, rock and roll, beat poet and performance artist. He swaggers, struts, teases, seduces, flirts, cajoles, pushes you away, pulls you back in and then gives you the finger. In a word- magnificent!

When the opening bars of the first song came on, it was like a rocket was taking off, the floors shifted and chandeliers swayed, literally (well not really) shifted and swayed. The thunderous opening bars of “Lust for Life” were mesmerizing and electric. And there was no way anyone could sit in their seats. In fact, this is the first time I have ever been to a show at the Academy of Music where no one, I mean no one, sat the whole time in the orchestra section. They could have resold the seat I was assigned to someone else, because I certainly didn’t need, or use, mine.

When Iggy came out in a black suit, no shirt, he was backed by an unbelievable band adorned in beautiful red dinner jackets (“It’s cool that Iggy got Duran Duran to play back up for him,” Amy commented. Seriously folks, she is gold, you have to see a show with her). Even though he was not wearing a red jacket, nor shirt, he did make sure to wear red underwear to match the rest of the band. The back-up band, which seems an odd description since each and every one of them was an accomplished musician in other big name bands, was on fire all night long. Guitars, bass, six string guitars, drums and back-up vocals all in red vibrant smoking jackets.

During the 5th song, our “wiry little 69 year old Californian surfer dude wound as tight as a rubber band with a noticeable limp” friend dives into the crowd from the stage. Now if you know anything about Iggy Pop, and this I did, he was the first stage diver. And the first row dropped him. Who drops Iggy Pop? Good lord, that was scary. He just scampered back up on stage and continued on. By the next song, they were ready for him and caught him. Phew. He did a lot of crowd surfing throughout the show, came into the audience at times and hung and swung from his set. And he shouted at us, a lot. Not many family friendly words, but each chant got us more and more riled up.

What most surprised me about the show was his ballad singing. I thought I knew a ballad when I heard one. And I did, and he played many, but they were fast and loud. It was like some old school speed metal punk happening combined with poetry. And these were the slow songs. Usually, there is some hard rocking going on and then a band slows it down for a song or two. Iggy’s were slower and they weren’t. To my ear, he also sounded a lot like David Bowie when singing songs off of his most recent album, though this is no surprise as they worked a lot together (Bowie was first to record Iggy’s China Girl) and they are definitely kindred spirits. Additionally, he had better moves than Jagger and more eloquent poetry than Morrison. I also appreciated his dancing. He is a wriggler and you can tell that he just does not care at all what others think. He swayed, wriggled and was fluid the whole time. At times, he looked like he was moving to a string section though none were playing.

He played an amazing 22 song set (check out the full set list here) with nary a break. Since I was not familiar with his discography, I had no anticipation and hopes for him playing my favorite song. It is a great way to see a show, since it allows one to fully appreciate each and very song in real time. However, that won’t happen again, because the next time I see him I will want him to play each and every song I heard last week.

He told great stories throughout the show, but my favorite was his intro to the last song. He wanted the house lights on and the spotlight off of him. He yelled at the light guy to do so and followed up with “Do I need to come up there and saw off your (male body part)? This is my f*&)king night at the opera. Because I said so. And it feels like success.” Yea, it f*&(ing does. And with that he launched into “Success.”

8 shows to go, 66 days left…

 

David Wax Museum and Darlingside

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I listen to a lot of WXPN. I like to pretend that it is a way for me to keep up with the music kids are listening to these days. In fact, I am the exact demographic- a radio station for old music heads who have limited time (though more money) and love learning about new music that older people (like myself) like. In any case, I was listening one day and this song “Guesthouse” came on and it felt both incredibly familiar yet new. When I learned it was the David Wax Museum I kept an eye out for them and was delighted to learn they were playing a sold out show at Johnny Brenda’s, an awesome music venue that holds, maybe, 100 people during the summer, i.e. with no coats, less during the winter. There were two openers, but a long day only allowed us to make only the second opener, Darlingside.

Darlingside is a quartet of young men. Not sure what the definition is of a string quartet, but among the four of them there were 12 string instruments (and a tambourine) and two man buns. The man bun count has absolutely no bearing on the definition of string quartet, it is mostly to give you an idea of their age and demographic. They were really great. Had a very sweet and gentle sound, great harmonies, at times a bit too earnest, but incredibly pleasing. And they all played an enormous amount of instruments. Every song, each young man picked up a different one. They were also very appreciative when people sung along with them, which I found quite endearing. They sang about simpler times and it was really sweet, not snarky. There was a lot of banjo playing during their last song, but not bluegrass-picking banjo. Not what I am used to, but loved it all the same.

David Wax Museum was up next and they did not disappoint. From their website, “The roots of David Wax Museum stretch back nearly a decade, and all the way from New England to Mexico. As a student at Harvard, Wax began traveling south of the border to study and immerse himself in the country’s traditional music and culture. Back in Boston, he met fiddler/singer Suz Slezak, whose love of traditional American and Irish folk music fused with Wax’s Mexo-Americana into a singular, energetic blend that captivated audiences and critics alike.” After I heard their song on XPN, I started following them and saw they played something like 17 shows during SXSW this year. They had a lot of people periscoping their shows so it seemed like every time I was on Facebook during SXSW, I was watching some live footage. And they were equally excited and joyful for each show. They were even joyful, if not delirious, walking down the streets of Austin on to their next gig. It is contagious to be in the presence of a band who so enjoys their craft, you can’t help but be caught up along with them on their journey.

The band members played a multitude of instruments, including guitars, basses, drums, accordion, fiddle, bone thing and ukulele. They had this peppy sound, but David also sounded like a modern Bob Dylan with American twang to him. You could definitely hear and feel the Mexican influence and they even sounded a bit tejeno at times, but in an American folk way. The main thing I loved about them was their sheer joy of playing there and at Johnny Brenda’s. They were so appreciative of the concert being sold out and could not thank folks enough for supporting them. They were just so damn humble. Even to the point when I went to the merch table, Suz introduced herself to me. Uh, yup, I kind of know who you are- I just watched you rock and roll and rock that accordion out for two hours like nobody’s business. How cute was that?

They called for Darlingside to join them for a song and they all left the stage and played acoustic in the crowd. Sadly, two members of Darlingside did not join in since they were packing the van and needed to leave immediately for their next gig, a festival in Knoxville, TN. That, my friends, is the very glamorous life of an up and coming band.

I have no idea if these two bands will be around for long or “make” it. I do know that they were a pleasure to watch, their joy was infectious and their appreciation of their fans was downright humbling. These are the bands I will always support and cheer on. I always say there are two types of people in this world- folks who can make music and those who cannot. And the responsibility of those who cannot is to support those who can. Therefore, it is my obligation to support bands like David Wax Museum and Darlingside. On Saturday night, it was also my absolute honor.

9 shows to go, 68 days left…

Shorty Long and the Jersey Horns

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I have seen a lot of great shows this past year. This was not one of them.

One of the greatest things about this year is the full on support and encouragement I have received from friends and family. People read my blog, suggest bands, turn me on to new music and basically are cheering me on this odyssey. Therefore, I am always game when a friend wants to be part of this year and suggests a band to go see. When that said friend then organizes other friends to join, that is just a bonus. That was the premise this past Friday. We were going to see a friend’s art opening at a bar and then head over to Sugar House Casino (yup I had forgotten Philly had a casino too) to see the Shorty Long and the Jersey Horns.

My friend Cindy has great taste in music and she turned me on this outstanding brass band, New Sound Brass Band, that reminds me of a young Rebirth Brass Band. We did not see them on Friday night. Instead, we were seeing Shorty Long and the Jersey Horns. So far so good, horns are in the name, I like new Sound Brass Band, I thought I was all set. The casino location was odd, but there was no cover fee and free parking. I started having visions that this would be my new Friday night hangout like the rat pack or something.

The seven of us had an absolutely lovely time at Jerry’s pre show as we did a whole lot of laughing and telling of old stories. Lots of interesting tidbits were revealed and I am somewhat amazed that after 20 years, I still learn new Cindy and Genie stories. Absolutely hysterical.

I am not a fan of casinos. I actually love gambling, but am too cheap to spend any of my own money. I just don’t know why you have to use your own money to win. Harrumph. And there is always a sense of desperation permeating. And there are some odd characters. Really odd, but I am sure people thought that as well when we came in. We enter to “bad to the bone” blaring. As we try and get our bearings, I am asked to move to the side for Shorty’s entrance. On a motorized big wheel, microphone in hand. Shorty is a little person and/or has Spina Bifida. And that was not the strangest part of the evening.

There were about eight members of the band and the horns section was really tight. They definitely practiced together and covered rap, blues, rock and roll and soul and just every song blended into the next. Just as they were getting warmed up, they would then take a break, because you know, the casino wants people gambling not listening to music.

As I was dancing to Donna Summer, Doobie Brothers, Bruno Mars, Rolling Stones and Tina Turner, I realized, once again, that I am true lover of music. We were dancing and having a really great time in this very bizarre place. Regardless of surroundings, when music starts flowing, music starts flowing. And music is also a great unifier. For one night, the seven of us had entered the twilight zone and found a way to connect, bond and have fun.

I think I would have been more enthusiastic about Shorty Long and the Jersey Horns, if i had left 10 minutes before I had. As we were about to make our escape, we see Shorty being wheeled through the crowd wearing a bamboo hat shaped like a pagoda (Chinese manual laborer visual reference) and Susan says,” Uh oh, I think something racist is about to happen.” I remark in jest, “Oh, they are probably just going to play Kung Fu Fighting.” And as the opening bars started of, wait for it, King Fu Fighting, we decided it was definitely time to leave. So close.

I am not going to lie; I did not like this show. But, and this is a big but, I had a great time! I learned all sorts of new things. Like Genie dated a rodeo clown and her CB handle was two-step. I learned that Cindy has hotel-owning relatives in Memphis and her handle was Sugaree. I am not planning on organizing any Friday nights at the casino, a la rat pack. Lastly, and most importantly, I love that my friends want to be part of this year with me and I will dance, have fun and enjoy a racist band, just for them. And do it again. This year is about music and the relationships that are forged over it. And when I look back at this year years from now, I can pretty much guarantee that Shorty Long and the Jersey Horns will be one of the most memorable.

10 shows to go, 76 days left…

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Beautiful: The Carole King Musical

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There may be no better soundtrack to my youth than Carole King’s Tapestry album. I heard that album day and night for years through the wall that separated me from my two older sisters’ room. Say Carole King and my mom will immediately start singing “I feel the earth move under my feet,” almost Pavlov-like before even knowing why Carole King was mentioned. It was only fitting then that my mom, sister, Toby, and I attended Beautiful: the Carole King Musical together. As the lights dimmed and the opening bars of “I feel the earth move” wafted throughout the great Academy of Music, I knew we were in for a treat.

The story recounts Carole King’s early years and how she came into being, well, Carole King. It covers the history of the Brill Building and the period when singer and songwriter teams were churning out hit after hit for groups of the day. It was all about being part of a hit songwriting team with her husband Gerry Goffin, to her relationship with fellow writers and best friends Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, to becoming one of the most successful solo acts in popular music history. Interestingly enough, most of the teams were Jewish writing for African American groups. And while the racial tension of this arrangement was not fully explored, there was a scene when The Shirelles were criticizing “Will you still love me tomorrow,” as being too country western, i.e. too white. It would be interesting to see the Brill Building story told from the viewpoint of the singers. In any case, the story was interspersed with her greatest hits and how they came to be.

Initially, I was surprised at the seniority of the audience, ie I thought I was the demographic but actually was skewing the group younger. Throughout the show, it started to make sense that the early years of Carole King’s career were all about the hits of the 50s and 60s. And, in fact, when I was listening to these songs for the first time, it was actually their second reincarnation. I never heard the Shirelle’s version of “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” and only know James Taylor’s “Up on a Roof,” not The Drifters’ version. What happened is Carole King created the singer songwriter genre that dominated the 70s, produced some of my most adored artists and is probably my favorite genre of music.

The show was just wonderful. And part of it was because I got to hear the soundtrack of my youth with the people of my youth, my mom and sister, next to me. When she started singing “You’ve Got a Friend,” there seemed to be a collective sense of memory reverberating throughout the Academy. I wonder what other audience members were thinking during that song. I would guess the same things as I- the first time I heard that song, how it made me feel, the friends I shared the song with, simpler times that seemed so complicated at the time.

The show ended with Carole King’s triumphant Carnegie Hall solo concert the year she won all the Grammys for Tapestry. When she came out on stage it really felt like a Carole King concert and not just a Broadway show. She really brought us along her journey and we all rejoiced in her triumphant solo performance. Most importantly, after the cast members took their bows, she grabbed the mike and insisted it was our turn. We ended the evening singing and dancing to a song I had danced and sung to a million times before. And I felt the Academy move under my feet…

11 shows to go, 78 days left…

Post script: When writing about Carole King, I feel like I can’t not include this spectacular link to Aretha Franklin’s tribute at the recent Kennedy Center Honors event. There is just so much going on here. From Aretha strolling on stage with pocketbook in hand (I guess you can’t trust the security at the Kennedy Center’s green room) to her shrugging off her fabulous fur during the performance, to our President and First Lady totally grooving to the audience singing along and not sure whether to watch Aretha or Carole during it to Carole King’s sheer joy, humility and emotion at the performance. There is just so much to love about this clip.  Aretha Sings Carole

Andra Day

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Last summer, I went to see Lenny Kravitz at the Mann and was blown away by his opener, Andra Day. I was excited to see that she was touring on her own and playing the Ardmore Music Hall. After buying a ticket on Stub Hub (apparently I was more excited about it than prepared and almost missed the sold out show), catching the first half of ‘Nova basketball, a little bite and some tasty beers at Tired Hands Fermenteria, I was ready to rock and roll.

I missed the first opener, Saleka Night, a little bitty thing that sang one heartfelt and stirring song with Ms. Day’s band and also M. Night’s daughter, but caught a couple of songs of the second opening act, Conrad Sewell. People seemed to enjoy this likeable Aussie boy band hair singer. He was fine, but I was really there for Andra Day.

From the first moment on stage, she did not disappoint. First, she is absolutely stunning in a retro way. She came out on stage in a paisley silk pajama set and fur stole and was absolutely radiant. She was more beautiful than I remember and with a much better voice. I re read my June post where I had described her as a sultrier Amy Winehouse, but she is so much more. She is jazzy, funky with touches of Nina Simone and Billie Holidays’ tragedy. She started out the evening by saying, “tonight we will be having a conversation and it will be done through music.” Ah, she is speaking directly to me. Being able to articulate what music can do for one’s soul, psyche and relationship all wrapped up in one. I do indeed have many conversations through music by sharing favorite songs and bands with friends when the music resonated with me. Sometimes I am not even sure why music moves me or why I need to share that certain music with a certain friend. I just know that music moves me. So, I was more than ready to have this conversation with Ms. Day (for some reason, I only refer to her as Ms. Day, not Andra).

Her voice is just mesmerizing. She was singing through a 1940s look alike microphone and she sang, which really does not adequately explain what she was doing up there, the first song sitting down with so much emotion that I was almost weepy. I could not take my eyes off of her and she was so mesmerizing that I forgot to check out her band. Holy hell, they were good when the Ms. Day spell was finally broken during the second song. There was so much energy among all of them and they clearly adored each other. When band members spoke, they told us she was as genuine as she seemed. Conversely, she was constantly telling us how good her band was and how lucky she was to tour with them. There was immense chemistry between her and Charles, her keyboardist, and their songs together were some of my favorites. She even left the stage for a song so Charles could play one of his originals. It sounded a lot like a George Benson tune. The name George Benson has, literally, not passed my lips for 25 years and I cannot not name a tune he sings/sang, however, that evening, that was what popped into my head immediately. She sang a Nina Simone song, she took off her make-up during a Kendrick Lamar song (No Makeup (her vice)) and swayed and grooved with that awesome band. At one point, her earpiece went out and she stopped the band to start over and explained “we can’t give you mediocrity now, can we.” Right on- that is the way to deal with an equipment failure! Though, truth be told, her mediocrity is better than most people’s best.

The show went way too quickly and she is a wonderful storyteller and performer. She is as political as she is playful. She is classy, and while stunning, I think she should only be photographed in black and white to really highlight her classic retro jazz singer persona. The Ardmore Music Hall is the perfect venue for her; you need a small, smoky (metaphorical) club for her intimate type of show. And the conversation continued. As she wrapped up, she told us that she and her band members are all huge Queen fans. What? Boy, I did not see coming at all. Nothing in her set would have prepared me for that. Now, stay with me here as I try to recount the many and diverse musical influences and styles I have now heard. During the June show I thought she sounded like Amy Winehouse and played both Bob Marley and Eminem covers. This evening, she was channeling Nina Simone, performing spoken word in honor of Phife Dawg, doo wopped a bit, her keyboardist sounded like George Benson and their favorite band was Queen! Did I get them all? Probably not. Good lord, who else incorporates that many different styles with ease and aplomb? I can’t recall another show quite like this one. As they sang, “I want it all,” it was something like I never heard (and for those keeping track at home, this is the second Queen cover I have heard in six days). She left the stage after shaking as many hands as were thrust at her. A little dazed, I left the show thinking this was the best conversation I have had in a very long time.

12 shows to go, 84 days left…

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