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Tindersticks @ Royal Festival Hall, London (Live Review)

 

Tindersticks

Royal Festival Hall

Words & Pics by Captain Stavros

Is there such a thing as a subtle flair for the dramatic?  I’m imagining something along the lines of sleight of hand by candlelight.  It’s been 30+ years and Tindersticks have lost neither their ability to surprise or put out ‘the soundtrack to my life’ albums.  On this bank holiday weekend, we’re fortunate enough to catch their first performance in the capital in three years largely due in part to the obvious (hint: our equivalent of the blip).

Sitting in the auditorium of the Royal Festival Hall, the stage is presented like a plate in a Michelin Star Restaurant; wide open in front of you with subtle complexity.  Perfectly lit, at least from row J.  The plush comforts one might find in a boutique cinema; tons of leg room, comfortable seating arm rests for days and being able to see over everyone's head all whilst sitting down, unfolds before us.  The stage feels like it’s at chin-level.  We could get used to this.

Stuart A. Staples soon saunters out on stage bathed in pools of midnight blue, that purple haziness, you know the one.  The audience comes alive with a polite clap and subdued affirmations, they’re rewarded in equal measures with hushed lyrics whispered into the mic.  The first tune, ‘Willow’ comes out as thick velvety as the smoke from the fog machine.  The hall was pregnant with anticipation so weighted you could easily hear a pin drop.  I’m not sure if it felt like we were being teased with the slow and unhurried pace of the music or if we were teasing the songs out of them.  In either case, I appreciated the anticipation of wanting to hear more.  The pace was molasses but so was its viscosity.

I leaned over and asked our +1 what she thought of ‘Another Night In’ over our golf claps between songs, ‘what language is he speaking?’ was what I got back.  I assured her both Stuart is and was speaking English.  Were lyrics important when there was so much going on in between the words?  A single wooooooooo hoooooooo stretched out across the auditorium from the crowd eerily juxtaposed against the gently sloshing of maracas.  Tones of Western skies and deserts woven throughout with the help of a hollow bodied Gretsch and Les Paul washed over us.  A lone trumpeter took to the stage halfway through appearing only after a spotlight fell on him.  It’s his time to shine as he unwaveringly holds a note in ‘Sleepy Song’ for what feels like ages, thoroughly impressive as it is evocative.

As the xylophone, keyboards, saxophones, and a half orchestra take the stage the set too starts to feel like it’s stretching out beyond the ages, and yet, it goes on.  The mystery of what and who’s to come next has come and gone along with a variety in the sound, the hand’s been played.  There are now 10+ musicians on stage and we’re at 1 hour and 40 minutes in when I sneak a peek at my phone, to take notes of course.  The audience members leaving in droves.  We thought they had gone to the loo over the past 20 minutes but had had yet to return.  The kid sat next to us was fast asleep.  The set by this point had ballooned to 18 tracks and continued to expand to a final 22 including encore.  30 years of music is no small feat, hell, 30 years of anything is nothing to sneer at.  Unfortunately, trying to cram it all into one night when the human attention span keeps shrinking, I dunno, it’s at a record low currently, 8 seconds.  That’s shorter than a goldfish!  Anyway, what was I talking about?  Oh yeah, aside from the set needing a hearty chop it was a solid time in the ole city.  Reminded us a lot catching Lampchop at the Barbican 10 years or so ago.

 

 

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Ibibio Sound Machine @ The Electric Ballroom

 

Ibibio Sound Machine

The Electric Ballroom 

by Captain Stavros

The air is a bit thicker than usual in Camden as I walk down the high street on a humid April evening.  Ambulances scream past me on my right as a young boy shoves a basketball under his shirt faking contractions.  At least, I hope he's faking.  It's on this evening, before a four-day weekend, that I’m being inducted into the Ibibio Sound Machine factory.

Perhaps, like us until recently, you’ve not even heard of the 10-piece phenomenon that is The Machine.  Fronted by Nigerian singer Eno Williams, Ibibio Sound Machine is a clash of African and electronic elements inspired in equal measure by the golden era of West-African funk & disco and modern post-punk & electro.  You might be thinking to yourself, “gimme a break, we can’t keep up with each and every scorching hot artist popping up that’s your job!”  Fair play, only thing is, London based ISM have been kicking it around the way for the better part of a decade.  With three LPs and an EP under their belt, they’re the best worst kept secret.  Trust me, we’re embarrassed too.  With Electricity out on the May 11, ISM is warming up now before hitting the festival circuit and we were just lucky enough to get a peak.

Shuffling into the ballroom, I'm held up at security.  Not for a frisk, instead it seems the gleam off the pins on my denim jacket catch the guards' eye which are thoroughly inspected in lieu of my pockets.  Lucky for me.  The peculiar luck doesn’t end there.  At the box office, I'm mistakenly given a photo pass.  I consider flogging it for beer, rather than snapping shots in the pit using my phone.  Making my way past the merch table I see, plugged in, lamps for sale.  I’m both confused and intrigued, but break free and continue to the stage.  I get a good spot and watch opener Porij.  Honourable mention as they played a solid set with the highlight being ‘Divine’.  Eggy on vocals introduces the track, “This next one's called ‘Divine’, and it basically means you're the shit, everybody knows if so, just enjoy it”.  Great energy throughout the set; worth catching a headlining gig.

ISM cuts no corners when it comes to showmanship.  The 10 piece and two backing singers; Eno’s sister and best friend, and other collaborators, fill the stage and welcome the canary-draped Space Goddess on last.  Everyone on stage looks out of this world but Eno takes the cake.  From her intricate hair, Egyptian inspired jewellery and banging pipes, no effort is spared.  Not one element of the stage is static, from the drum set to the keys throughout their performance.  Cymbals are crashing, keys are clacking and the guitars, brass (sax/trumpets) and bongos have all taken a life of their own.  It was next to impossible to catch a shot that wasn’t blurry of Eno, as she wasn’t still between singing, playing the keys, clapping and dancing.  Even her clothes seemed to take a life of their own wildly whipping around in the windless venue.

The audience and myself were captivated throughout.  ISM kept pumping out love and tunes in equal measures and everyone was receptive.  It was a cultural melting pot that oscillated to a frequency everyone was switched on to, a pleasant change from the last few gigs I’d attended.  Eno’s woven into her music and embraced her Nigerian roots (both musically and lyrically) but goes beyond the cosmos with her live show.  It’s an incredibly warm and inclusive vibe full of singing (audience included but don’t ask me how) clapping, snapping and dancing.  Highlight of the set was ‘Protection from Evil’ which I’m confident we all were feeling after being blasted with sonic love in the Ballroom that evening.  The set ended with a nearly 40-minute finale where the band jammed out as they were individually introduced.  I cannot imagine how mind-blowing an untethered open-air performance would be.  There is one way to find out though.

 

 

 

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Jodie Nicholson & Company (Live Review)

 

“Hello (Hello, Hello, Hello) is there anybody in there?”, we thought, rolling up to The Grace.  It’s our first time heading to venue, which looks more of a speakeasy than a performance space at first glance.  It’s also completely empty even though we were late.  Behind the entrance, through a large glass window fitted into the centre of the door, an usher looks back out at me with sad, tired eyes.  He seems reluctant to shuffle out of my way but ultimately concedes.  Once inside, we sat there in a sort of stalemate as the seconds ticked by, just looking at each other, then he reached down for his phone and began thumbing the screen.  For what was longer than comfortable, I watched the grapple between finger and screen while eavesdropping on the conversation between the bartender and the manager.  They were explaining to each other what happened to the £100 float in the till that’s now missing, like conspirators getting their alibis straight.  Finally, a bright light shone into my face and I’m asked what’s in my bag.  This must be the place.

A treacherously steep wooden stairwell opens into a medium/small gig space with a semi-partitioned wall breaking up the bar and stage.  It’s dimly lit, but framed well, and just over half filled with people anticipating Jodie Nicholson’s (@jodienicholsonmusic) first headline tour kicking off in London this evening.  In a few moments, their wait is over.  The chatter at present in the background even while the band forms on stage and even after Jodie starts playing the keys, is more irritating than cicadas in full chorus.  The racket, however, disappears like a thrown switch when Jodie’s voice cradles set opener ‘Midnight’ in a resonant whisper.

In the press blurb fired out to critics lacks the accolades bestowed on the emerging artist to distinguish them from the crowd.  Nothing stood out as noteworthy, or even really came across as specific or sincere.  The only compelling feature that hooked us was a link to a cover of Pink Floyd’s ‘Comfortably Numb’, a personal favourite, best click-bait ever.  Theological bylines like ‘Second-Sun at the Old Church’ don’t exactly pop either.  Even if the prog-rock hook isn’t your angle, it doesn’t have to be, you’ll soon come to understand Nicholson’s presence on the keys, strings and mic is delicate yet firm, cradling and bringing her songs with her, as she does with the audience.  The openness in her music is anachronistic to her surroundings; one never really leaves themselves vulnerable in London.  On this evening, however, personal boundaries drop and the warm whisper of her vocals pull the audience in.

What we couldn’t wrap our minds around was just how easily Jodie could pull us in and effortlessly maintain a wonderful stage presence while juggling audience engagement.  Nicholson, seemingly, has no fear. She is relentlessly comfortable, and in her element on stage.  Engaging naturally with her audience is both easy and playful. There are technical difficulties later in the set when unveiling ‘Situation’, which leads to a situation of its own.  Meeting the hiccup with composure, and a levity we’re sure we wouldn’t have been able to muster had the roles been reversed, she jokes, “we’re just going to act like nothing happened”.  Then, just like that, the band powers through, succeeding in their second attempt.  ‘Second Sun’, from the Church Sessions was perhaps our favourite off the album and the evening.  Jodie’s vocals, and non-lyrical vocalisations as a whole, move and bend with the grace of rhythmic gymnastics.  They are truly as mesmerizing as they are unpredictable.  They really hit the mark on this one, with an almost imperceptible, reed-like softness in the vibrations of her voice throughout the track. Her instrument, as the tension in melody and song both rise, hangs and falls in the air like a spreading sheet.  How it doesn’t crack or falter is perhaps a question best left for the minds of mystics and scientists alike.

The second half of the set, which flies by as quickly as the first, starts off with ‘Move’ intended as a mild-boogie.  The audience, over the next few songs, loosens up under Jodie’s gentle encouragement, “now’s your chance!”, and by the time the set is done, we’re hollering for more.  The obligatory on/off stage pageantry ensues and we’re back with ‘Comfortably Numb’ as an encore, to our delight.  Jodie dedicates the song to her Mom, who’s in the audience, and notes her as the inspiration for the cover. Next they play ‘Shelter’ which she explains as a one into a two.  I’m quite sure no one in the audience knows what that means even though it is accompanied by hand gestures that looked more like shadow puppet swans rather than explanations.  It was a fine performance, the music was as beautiful as it was disarming, sincere and unguarded.  If you haven’t been to your first gig of the year yet, what’s the hold up?  Now’s your chance to catch one of the remaining dates as the group make their way North.  Don’t forget though, you can’t have your pudding if you don’t wash your feet.

 

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Chubby and the Gang @ The Scala

 

 

Taking a page out of Dr. Sebastian Von Gerkruldhaar’s playbook, I too went to a punk show. Or did I? We don’t really want to get into what ‘punk’ means because it’s a whole lot of stuff from a beer to an adjective and a genre. It’s just a lot of things. Dumping things into manageable categories is reflexively human, but you can’t fit Chubby and the Gang into any one category and they’re anything but manageable. That, in my opinion, is punk AF. 

 

Usually, we’d like to give a bit of a back story on who we’re covering but we feel in this case Loud and Quiet’s article already did a great job of that. We will say this though, we’re confident that, if in the first few bars of any of Chubby’s songs you’re not instantly hooked like we were, you do not have a pulse and should be considered legally dead. Our staff are St John’s Ambulance First Aid Responder certified so we’re pretty confident in making the former statement as medical fact.  

 

Entering the Scala for the first time in nearly two years, about 40 minutes after doors, we take the familiar path to the stage. The scene feels straight out of Scott Pilgrim with a very battle of the bands vibe and an audience made up largely of what seems to be a cross between a skate park and a Weezer gig. To our surprise, the venue is largely empty, even though a strict vaccine passport policy has been put in place. We guess nobody wanted to take any chances just before the holidays, but you know what they say, no risk-no reward. The vibe, nonetheless, is electric. You know, like before one of those storms that flips the sky inside out and full of psychedelic colours? The last time it felt this way in the Scala, Sports Team tore the place a new arsehole, and a giant papier-mache shark as well.  A perfectly styled Ethan (@johnny.hellride) Stahl lopes out for soundcheck before their set. Like with their music, within the first few strums, I know. I just know. 

 

As the hair on the back of my neck transitions into plank position, I realize my mind’s been wandering again, big surprise. Around this time of the year, some of us are spending a lot of time in church, although I wouldn’t go so far as calling this crowd ‘Punks for Christ’, I would say we are in a place of worship. The pews, the barricades in front of me. I pull my hands from them and in lieu of aromatic incense burning from a thurible, the acrid smell of corrosion, clearly visible in the dark and through the black paint, rises off them. In place of carols and holy water, we’re all about to be baptised by song and fire. Unceremoniously, Chubby Charles Manning Walker and the Gang spill out from backstage. I don’t think a second goes by from here until the end the of the 14-track set where the band doesn’t relentlessly rain hot fire down upon us all.

 

I’m going to stop here for a second. Everyone has told me ‘I need to see them’. They are promoters, the internet, unsupervised children seemingly underage by the side of A-roads drinking Stella with their friends, even the band themselves. Chubby and the Gang rule, O.K.? Everyone. I don’t like getting polluted with all that, if I’m being honest, I want to be pure going into the show. I want to be that white sheet with a hole in it keeping the noise out while I peep through; everyone's noise about what I should and shouldn’t do sullies my soul and frankly ruins my good time. I don’t much care for it. That said, heed my words, ‘You Need To See Them!’. The band is less of a flesh and blood organism than a collection of finely tuned mechanisms, more machine than persons, pumping like a piston kicking in your ear drums (kids, wear earplugs tinnitus is a thing). They have been on the road five weeks, going on 500. They are honed and tuned, a shaky needle on a gauge that’s about to explode. They are, by all accounts, a controlled demolition circumnavigating the globe. Go, right now I mean it, go look at their tour dates, seemingly never ending! Halfway through their set Chubby, a man who runs his finger across his throat so many times throughout the gig and is seemingly unafraid to meet his maker, he leaves permanent red line scorched across it. Minutes later, he makes us all far too aware of our own mortality. Straddling the fine line between this life and the beyond, “I’ve been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, we’ve been touring for five weeks, the GP told me I need to slow down, take it easy”.

 

"People don't really like hearing you admit mistakes. Although I'd never wanted to dump on the musicians that were involved in that."- Joe Strummer.

 

It’s hard to catch the essence of what a punk show, or punk for that matter, even is. To me, it’s simultaneously a siren’s call and a lighthouse by the jagged cliffs of life. I wish I could’ve heard more of the lyrics because the vocals were either turned way down or drummed out but the music was crisp, fast, energetic and as incredibly appealing as it was harmonious.

 

"For me the music is a vehicle for my lyrics." - Joe Strummer.

 

Yea I know, two Strummer quotes in a row, grin and bear it, my dudes. Everyones look and rhythm on stage were on point. The performance was hard hitting, solid and pulsating. The group, a swirling ball of gas born of a culmination of beliefs and ideas, came together through a counterculture narrative, the fair practices as a fundamental truth, labour unions, unjust crimes against humanity and social justice, 'Grenfell'. To me, personally, this is why I was hoping to hear more of those banging vocals. Niggling details like these were quickly washed away by thrilling and sweeping guitar solos when ‘Pressure’ was played or the harmonica whipped out on Uxbridge Road which was the finale in the set. Although, I wish it were ‘Take me Home to London’. Again, just a personal preference.

 

The band, their struggles, their wins, their bright spotlight on a voice which normally doesn’t have a soapbox of its own to stand on and their seemingly endless metamorphosis throughout their individual careers and as a unit is a living testament to these words.

 

You only live once? False. You live everyday. You only die once” – Dwight Schrute.

 

With that, I leave you with my last live review for the year, and what a note to go out on (Chubby’s not mine). So, from us and ours to you and yours we say, Oi to the world, Oi to one and all.

 

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Molchat Doma @ Kentish Town Forum

 

 

Don’t even bother, I already know what you’re going to ask, comrade, ‘Captain, how does one even weaponize walking?’. Simple, walk downhill in the wrong direction, twice the distance to your planned destination. Subconsciously, I was probably punishing myself on purpose, putting myself in a cold war era mindframe. Trudging around Kentish Town’s blustery streets towards the breadline outside The Forum to indulge in the people’s band, Molchat Doma on this frigid evening.

 

In case you’ve been living under a slab of concrete, burning goat fur to keep yourself warm and haven’t heard of this dark wave gothic trio from Belarus, probably the only good news coming out of there at the moment to be sure, they’ve been consistently depressing audiences globally circa 2017. Now with three albums under their belts, the latest being Monument, an absolutely beast with superb mixing and production values. A varied and lengthy setlist was to be expected. Spoiler; we would not be let down. There was just, one, teensy red-flag. Two words, ‘venue-upgrade’ hung in the smog filled ether. We know what you’re probably thinking, ‘Hey that’s great, now I can go too, I saw a flyer about this in my res at St Martins!’. Look, it’s a given I’m going to feel low listening to Egor’s incoherent lyrics and melancholy tones, that’s what we’ve signed up for. What awaited us was something completely different.

 

20 minutes after doors, we arrive to be met with an already full pit area, this does not bode well. Standing in a small cubby, by the bar, my friend and I at least have a decent vantage point. Personally, we don’t enjoy gigs to their fullest unless we’re pressed against the barricades by the stage. Minutes before the support act, ‘Sam’, a random drunkard imposes himself upon us, without any clear means of escape we resign ourselves to our fate. Sam cannot fathom why we’re not buying cassette tapes to flip online after the show at a profit (they’re crystal blue man). Furthermore Sam, whilst spilling his pint all over our shoes, tells us he’d normally be chugging a bottle of Hennessey were it not for the fact that he had to look out for his friends that night (they were off their faces on a combination of mood-altering substances). That, and Sam is on probation at his work, which comprises of sensitive cancer research studies at an unnamed laboratory facility, for ruining two multiple year studies (leukaemia/lymphoma) causing a cascade effect, knocking back progress by ‘who knows how long’ he confesses with a shrug (the long and short of it was he was fucked at work). I excuse myself, disgusted from the unsolicited conversation and to grab a pint, £7 for a pint of San Miguel, I nearly consider wringing out my beer-soaked Vans instead. ‘Venue Upgrade’, to be sure.

 

Oh, faithful readers, not even the aforementioned were enough to detract from what we were about to behold. You don’t have to read this review (no seriously, have you heard about reddit?) to know that you’re not at this gig to listen to lyrics. As they’re all in Russian, you just let them wash over you; the meanings come across. You’re not here to see anyone on stage dancing, it’s as empty and bleak as the shelves at a Tesco. You’re not even here to see any kind of emotion What.So.Ever. That was, until Monument. When Egor ‘The Scarecrow’ Shkutko sang ‘Ne Smeshno’ he began pacing back and forth on stage like a caged tiger. He hurled the lyrics ‘Neeeeeeeeeya’ into the microphone, and at the audience as a whole, the way David threw stones at Goliath. To make an impact.

 

‘Обречен / Obrechen’, another new one, was as beautifully melodic as it was a morose ballad without sucking the air out of the room. ‘Utonut’, for us, brought the house down. This song encompassed all the best elements that drew us to this group but opened up a future of possibilities, mainly that you could dance to it, look out Ian Curtis! Pavel Kozlov (bass guitar/synthesizer/happiest member of the group) strode over to Roman Komogortsev (guitar/synthesizer/drum machine/squinter) at one point to jam with his fellow bandmate on this tune. The optics on this was like a stripped-down version of the antics you’d get from a hair metal band’s stadium tour. Think more sepia with clunky frame rates than Twisted Sister.

 

Joking aside, the boys played a solid set, at or just over, an hour and a half! We couldn’t stick around for the encore, the tube would’ve been a mess and quite frankly we got sick of the yobs chucking their half empty pints through the air, but we did not leave unsatisfied. Speaking of which, the guy next to me must’ve been totally blissed out as he must’ve forgotten where he was. Turning to us he gave a crooked smile lighting up a Marlboro in the venue. What a drag. 

 

 

 

 

 

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I Went To A Punk Show

 

 

By Dr. Sebastian Von Gekruldhaar

 

As I lay in bed, head on pillow and staring at the ceiling, in between my high-pitched humming ears circles a quote I just can't shake. It was from an American musician named Kurt Cobain, who unfortunately passed away at age 27. His reply to an interviewer of "what is punk?", he simply stated "punk is musical freedom. It's saying, doing and playing what you want." I've wrestled with that idea for a while tonight, in relation to how the punk music I recently experienced fell into that broad definition Mr. Cobain quipped for us.

 

So tonight, November 7th, 2021, I went to a punk show to investigate on the behest of a close friend.
My first unusual observation was the sight of shaved heads. I know this aesthetic has been heralded for decades within the punk community, regardless of country, but I can't help but wonder if this is by choice or by some coincidental, genetic grouping. Perhaps some do it to show off their fancy tattoos, emblazoned millimeters away from their cerebellum, the section of brain that regulates balance and posture. I hope this won't hinder their balance and freedom of movement. I think that would be very "unpunk".

 

"Barkeep!" I shouted to the bearded and pierced alcohol server behind the old oak. "One glass of your finest rosé, my good man!" I didn't understand what his initial facial response meant, but at least his follow up was more forgiving. A sale is a sale, n'est pas?

 

Post-sale, I felt it was necessary to wander the crowd and assess the environment and patrons.
The ratio of men to women was about ten to one. Lots and lots of men! Is punk rock music inherently more masculine and as such, deters female involvement? I was certain it be more obvious once the band performed. These fans of punk, these outsiders and non-conformers, absolutely had their own sense of style. It signals to others that they are their own group and refuse to fall into society's norms. In fact, they have their own norms and aesthetic which inexplicably makes this a unique sociological study. Shaved heads, tattoos, bomber jackets and fresh polo shirts. A significant number preferred the top button of their polo buttoned, which personally, I would find uncomfortable, but not these gents. These male patrons gave off a hard-knock, ruffian disposition, which gave me pause while closely viewing their dungarees. The like of which, I have not seen since my elementary school years, when denim hand-me-downs needed to be rolled up as a necessary tripping avoidance.

 

I kept a steady pace meandering through the crowd with a stiff grip on my drink and leather-bound notebook. As the band was entering the stage, The Reckless Upstarts, members of the crowd took notice and shifted to the front with their lagers in hand. A couple of these men had their arms around each other's necks which signaled a close bond, a brotherhood even. But to enter a public house each covered in the same aesthetics, this concert must have acted as a ritual of sorts.

 

The band begins. The song stops after about two minutes. Then again. And again. And again. It's so gosh darn loud and between ruptures of applause and hollers, all of these songs begin to sound the same. But the crowd, and especially this brotherhood of patrons, are overwhelmingly ecstatic.

 

By the eighth song, the singer announces "Okay, fuckers, I think you all know this one." And like a rocket, the drummer pummels our collective eardrums with a boom-cha-boom-cha-boom-cha-boom-cha. The men are riled up even more than before. Shouts of "Oi! Oi! Oi!" cast across the bar's ceiling over a couple dozen raised pints. I guess these patrons really did know this one and it clearly wasn't lost on the back-of-the-head tattooed fan flailing around, completely void of self-awareness and his body's rolling around and off of the fans standing close to the stage.  A leather coat-clad pregnant woman with black-rimmed glasses paid no mind either. She was indeed (I'm told this is what these people do), "moshing" in "the pit", during which she entered my personal space, causing half of my rosé to spill upon my leathered notebook. I really should have found a table. The song ends with a raucous applause and patrons edging themselves onto the stage to the indifferent reactions of the musicians.

 

From what I could tell, the music is definitely powerful. So powerful, and loud, and moving, that it is able to unite these ruffians, these outcasts. A brotherhood of outsiders. Lyrically, what I could make out through the noise mirrored just that, along with standing with the proletariat, contempt for corporations and Nazis, while paying homage to the struggling working-class parents to whom these musicians came from. Topics of which are all understandable coming from a working-class town, and to hear it reflect it in music is a bonafide proper, artistic representation within the geographical area and our local zeitgeist...  But does it have to be so darn loud?

 

Dr. Sebastian Von Gekruldhaar

 

 

 

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