Show Review: The War On Drugs at Apogee for KCRW

Getting the version that will last forever

August 10th, 2017
Kyle B. Smith
Category: Lead Story, Review

Now that the gold-tinged sonic dust from Ryan Adams’ Prisoner seems to have settled, Adam Granduciel and The War on Drugs are back, primed to take our collective hand and escort us down similar halls of heartfelt and soaring rock 1980’s nostalgia.

From the handful of tracks off of upcoming LP A Deeper Understanding released to date, it is clear that The War on Drugs’ signature cinematic sunset montages, ringing-for-days guitars, and Granduciel’s irrefutable Dylan Infidels sneer haven’t gone anywhere.

All of this was evident Saturday night at Apogee Studios in Santa Monica, where the Philadelphia band convened to record a performance and interview to be aired on KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic on August 24, the eve of the release of A Deeper Understanding.

If you’ve seen The War On Drugs before without the luxury of being a few feet away from the players, you may have missed the frenetic busyness with which Granduciel builds a series of emotional peaks in his solos, often turning to his whammy bar to ignite the powder keg moments like he did during opener, “Pain.”

Although the songs themselves tend to eventually shoot off in to the stratosphere, the band themselves remain grounded, with little gratuitous rock star flair. The benefit of an understated performance like this is that its efficiency speaks to a sincerity in their creative intent.

Meanwhile, drummer Charlie Hall plays like a man possessed, his pie-eyed gaze more of a thousand yard stare. Hall’s gesticulations and the way in which he leaned in to his drumming during new cut “Holding On” and later on “In Reverse,” led him to being dubbed “a crowd favorite” by host Jason Bentley during the interview portion of the night.

“Strangest Thing,” another new song, benefitted from slow jam sax strains courtesy of Jon Natchez, and an overall lack of urgency despite the gentle tune progressing in to an up tempo jam.

Warren Zevon’s “Accidentally Like a Martyr” made an appearance, an easy-feel cover that frequented Granduciel’s car stereo as he drove around LA during the recording of the new album.

Based on fervent fan reaction alone, the set’s older selections (“Eyes To The Wind,” or “Lost in The Dream”) were immediately distinguishable from the lesser digested new tracks. The right on the screws solo from Granduciel in “An Ocean In Between The Waves” proved to be another indicator of the incubation time some of these songs now possess. The interplay between his harp and Natchez’s saxophone on “Eyes To The Wind” was indie rock cohesion at its finest.

Robbie Bennet’s Wurlitzer in “You Don’t Have To Go,” the last new song played, helped recall the gorgeous but gut wrenching desperation in “Suffering” from 2014 LP, Lost In The Dream.

To hear a portion of the set, sure to include some new tracks, tune in to KCRW on the morning of August 24. The interview is likely to expose Adam Granduciel’s affable ways and good humor, a fascinating audio tour of the new album artwork, discussion about the clubhouse feel the band pursues in the studio, and which member of the band rode his bike all the way from Hollywood to Apogee, instrument slung across his back.

Just in case it doesn’t make the radio edit, fans of The War On Drugs should know that when discussing his band’s efforts to make the best studio work possible, Adam Granduciel believes that, “you have to work really hard to get the version that will last forever.”

For more information:
The War On Drugs
KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic

The War On Drugs at Apogee Studios Setlist

Holding On*
Strangest Thing*
Accidentally Like a Martyr
An Ocean In Between The Waves
In Reverse
Eyes To The Wind
Lost in The Dream
You Don’t Have to Go*
Under The Pressure

*off of new album, A Deeper Understanding

Lead photo by Larry Hirshowitz


Justin Vernon & co. return to the river

July 10th, 2017
Kyle B. Smith
Category: Lead Story, Review

All photos by Kyle B. Smith unless otherwise noted

The third installment of the Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival blossomed up in Wisconsin, once again finding its own special way of putting the heart in heartland.

Posted on the grounds of the festival was a copy of Bring Me a Unicorn: Diaries and Letters of Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Opened to pages 260 and 261, it was screwed in to a makeshift wall at eye level.

Saw white birches on way to Deerfield. They have the same breathtaking whiteness that white dogwood has. I don’t see why I am always asking for private, individual, selfish miracles when every year there are miracles like white dogwood.

Eaux Claires could also be dubbed a Collaboration, and Nature Festival. The gathering was comprised of myriad artful spaces in a natural setting each serving as a backdrop to what evolved in to a contagious form of artistic collaboration. All these elements, miracles like white dogwood.

From poetry slam interwoven with modern dance, to Twin Cities rapper Astronautalis free flowing rhymes backed by an orchestral ensemble, boundaries were defied in the name of a collective experience designed to reimagine what a music festival can be.

Friday headliner Chance the Rapper agreed: “This fest ain’t like no other fests.”

Photo by Kyle B. Smith

Festival co-founder Justin Vernon, a man who was nowhere to be found at Eaux Claires 2016 until debuting Bon Iver’s jaw dropper of a new album 22, A Million on a rainy Friday night, was ubiquitous this year. If not appearing at either his own or as a part of another act’s performance, he could be spotted darting between stages in a golf cart or on foot, in perpetual mad genius dishevelment.

At a kickoff block party Thursday night in “downtown” Eau Claire, Vernon and best pal Phil Cook got The Shouting Matches back together for a right-on-time set of swampy, blues rock. The Shouting Matches’ 2013 LP Grownass Man is painfully overlooked, and quite a counterpoint to the abstract direction Vernon and co. chose for 22, A Million.

The Shouting Matches’ punchy opener “Avery Hill” set an upbeat tone that never let up, and flaunted a tightness that belied the years since a proper live set from the group. In “Heaven Knows,” Cook’s harmonica solo served as a dirty slap in the face. With some locals watching from the roof of a nearby ice cream shop, jagged instrumental “Milkman” ultimately closed out the evening. It was followed by a sincere reminder from Justin: “be good hosts.”

A mere twelve hours later, Vernon opened the festival at noon on a creek side stage about the size of the Troubadour’s. The crowd assembled during an ad hoc soundcheck, providing the early birds their worm: an up-close glimpse behind the curtain, and even a little whimoweh from Wisconsin’s own Wizard of Oz; Vernon warmed up his voice with a bit of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”

“The People’s Mixtape Vol. 1” unfolded as a sprawling jam session. Eaux Claires co-founder Aaron Dessner joined an ad hoc group, including Vernon, Francis and the Lights, and a wild-eyed Matt McCaughan on drums.

Glitchy sketches of songs were played that later reappeared elsewhere during the weekend, as when Dessner and Vernon revived their dormant side project Big Red Machine. “Over My Dead Body,” “More Time,” or “You Are Who You Are” could be a few of the working titles, the latter of which is an emotive and life-affirming battle cry.

Disparate musical moments ruled the weekend. Amidst a dancey banger set, Sylvan Esso slowed things down for “Slack Jaw,” a song of their newest LP, What Now. The colorfully clad Julieta Venegas (the other JV) strapped on an accordion during her bouncy, percussive set, then later rapped a verse in the choppy “Eres Para Mi.”

From the back of the field, it was easy to see how Perfume Genius and the lithe Michael Hadreas stunned the crowd from the get go with the opening bars of “Otherside,” a piece that pops early on with a vertical trajectory that recalls the beginning of The Cure’s similarly-titled “Plainsong.”

Kate Stables and This Is The Kit came from the UK to play a crystal clean set that included songs of their 2017 release, Moonshine Freeze. Unlike Perfume Genius, This Is The Kit saved their explosion for its coda, “Hotter Colder.” Guest collaborator Aaron Dessner tapped into his Eaux Claires 2016 Day of the Dead chops, helping to drive a huge groove that birthed a dance party pretty much out of nowhere.

Wisconsin’s own Collections of Colonies of Bees were a fantastic start to Saturday. Their expansively wide open songs played to a still emptyish field under a massive blue sky. Nearby, friendly locals taught patrons to play kubb, a Nordic lawn game that finds it’s official North American capital in Eau Claire.

Photo by David Szymansk

As for the avant-garde af element, Astronautalis’ improvisational rhyming enriched the s-t-a-r-g-a-z-e Mixtape Vol. 2 set, which also saw Romain Bly singing in to his French horn, and another participant tearing newspaper pages in front of her microphone.

The Oxbeau stage, a basic wooden platform and roof set off a path, hosted Mountain Man, a group of three women (including Sylvan Esso’s Amelia Meath) whose acapella harmonies sound as if they had been born in the woods. A rapt audience filled trails in front of the stage, and climbed trees for an elevated vantage point. All of this a few steps away from a box of amplified chirping crickets (no, really).

Photo by Scott Kunkel

While Jenny Lewis teamed up with Phil Cook and others to form a “Hawaiian psychedelic swing band from Mars,” in actuality, there was no better example of the cross-pollination of musicians than during “Bon Iver Presents John Prine and the American Songbook” set Friday evening. The performance, which included somewhere around 30 contributors, paid homage to John Prine, the mailman poet who has written songs that are found at the crossroads of humor and heart.

Host Justin Vernon started by himself, tackling “Sabu Visited the Twin Cities Alone.” Later, the ethereal layers that help define Bon Iver’s indefinable sound emerged ever so subtly during “Unwed Fathers.” Amanda Blank and Spank Rock led a spirited take on “In Spite of Ourselves,” an unmistakably John Prine tune.

The music paused so that local poet and author Michael Perry could recite an endearing letter to his friend, Justin Vernon. Perry’s annual reading as “festival narrator” has become a centerpiece moment of the wholesome, barn-raiser of a weekend.

Perry waxed about their shared love of John Prine’s music, how Justin explored Prine’s catalogue on “tiny foam headphones” in his father’s minivan, being careful to make sure that the Discman was held in a way so the songs wouldn’t skip.

“We’ve talked about this, you and me, how we like heroes who run close to the ground,” Perry intimated, and then went on to poignantly reference John Prine’s oeuvre: “I like songs written in the key of empathy.”

Photo by Graham Tolbert

The narrator stayed on to sing, “It’s a Big Old Goofy World.” Soon thereafter, the man of the hour, John Prine, ever the gentleman and dressed to the nines, came to the stage just about the time it started to rain cats and dogs.

Mr. Prine, now backed by Bon Iver(!), began with the impeccably titled “Storm Windows.” Later, the musicians battled the elements during “Hello in There” and “Paradise.” All the artists came out for the family-style sing-along finale.

Set in Wisconsin, “Lake Marie” was an a propos but bittersweet farewell. Now 71, John Prine’s dapper suit and gracious mannerisms spoke to the presence of a man from another time. His departure from the stage during the outro of “Lake Marie” conjured an acute awareness of the inevitability of the passage of time; his waves reached beyond the outer edges of the festival field.

Photo by Graham Tolbert

This year, the network of footpaths, microstages and art installations tucked away in wooded areas at the eastern end of the grounds were significantly expanded. The quiet space sits under a veritable canopy, and is blindingly lush to those attendees who ventured from the arid west.

But Eaux Claires’ naturalism was not confined to the forest. In a “is this really happening??” moment, a thunderstorm encroached during the Prine set as The Staves emerged to perform his larger than life crusher, “Angel from Montgomery.”

The lyrics, “If dreams were lightning, and thunder were desire, this old house would’ve burned down a long time ago,” had just bowled everyone over when actual lightning struck in the sky above the stage.

The surreal event was serendipitously reprised the next evening, as Paul Simon, backed by six-piece orchestral group yMusic, closed out their performance with a masterfully restrained version of “The Sound of Silence.”

After a vicious deluge delayed and nearly canceled the set, gun mental gray clouds hung low over the scene, creating a damp, austere light that illuminated a collective moment of solemnity. Another miracle like white dogwood.

Photo by Scott Kunkel

Photo by Graham Tolbert

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds @ The Ace Hotel

A religious experience with the gothic rock legend

June 30th, 2017
David Fisch
Category: Lead Story, Review

I tried my damnedest to witness Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds when I headed to Texas for South by Southwest, back when the band had just released Push The Sky Away. Being the festival virgin I was and having the naiveté to show up to a concert on time, I was turned away at the door as Stubb’s was up to capacity for the evening. I wasn’t necessarily disappointed (SXSW had so much other music happening), but a little part of me really wanted to see the rock music legend in his intense glory. I wanted to be surrounded by people in a place so unfamiliar to me, to unleash myself into the hoards of attendees and be the freak I wanted to be with the gothic punk man and his bad seeds ready to treat me to a night of emotional fury.

Four years later, I see them at The Act Hotel downtown, and I’m immensely happy I waited. Their latest album, last year’s Skeleton Tree, is one of Nick Cave’s most lyrically heart-wrenching records to date in a songbook of so many heart-wrenching moments, and that this show featured such songs of overwhelming gravity gave me chills, in a way that existential realization might make you “see the light,” in fear and accepting of it. Fate had it for me to see him this very night instead of before this moment.

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Show Review: Gallant @ The Greek Theatre

His signature falsetto wows the crowd

June 2nd, 2017
Zein Khleif
Category: Review
LA Weekly

Looking for a new favorite artist? Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered! On May 29th I had the pleasure of watching Gallant open for John Legend at the Greek Theatre. To call Gallant an enthralling performer would be an understatement.
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Review: Frank Iero and the Patience – Parachutes

My Chemical Romance is dead long live the Patience

May 31st, 2017
Lex Voight
Category: Lead Story, Review

Its been almost five years since the demise of one of emo’s brightest and most enjoyable acts, My Chemical Romance, and its a specter that still haunts the collective scene as much as it does the band’s individual musicians. Examining the My Chem crew’s collective oeuvre, however, is getting more and more interesting with each passing release. The vast majority of that oeuvre, however, is due to the ever-expanding, ever-experimenting, continuously inspired Frank Iero.
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Show Review: Billy Joel @ Dodger Stadium

Legend brought hits, guest stars and LA stories

May 15th, 2017
Mary Bonney
Category: News, Review

Last Saturday evening, legendary singer, songwriter, pianist and bicoastal hero Billy Joel brought his memorable discography and unrivaled stage presence to a packed Dodger Stadium. The nearly three-hour set spanned the performer’s four plus decade career and, while Joel may be pushing seventy, his performance was filled with an energy and enthusiasm that brought tens of thousands of fans to their feet. Bros singing “Uptown Girl”. Older couples wearing “I love BJ” shirts. Young hipsters. Dads with daughters. They all flocked to downtown Los Angeles to see the man himself tickle the ivories and lull them into a sweet, piano-filled reverie.

All photos by John Bernstein

Flanked by his longtime backing band, Joel began with a simple, “1, 2, 3, 4!” and the high-energy “Moving Out” and “My Life”. A camera was suspended above Joel so fans could see his piano prowess up close on long, narrow screens hung in the same arrangement as the instrument’s keys.

Joel seemed to be in equal awe of the gravitas of his surroundings as the audience as he mused that his first performances in Los Angeles were at the intimate Troubadour. He admitted to seeing Elton John perform at the stadium and riffed a bit of “Your Song” before the ballad “Vienna” (voted on by audience applause as Joel “couldn’t possibly do all his songs” that evening).

Every member of Joel’s pitch-perfect, expert-filled band had a time to shine, whether it was trumpet player Carl Fischer in  “Zanzibar” or keyboardist Dave Rosenthal in “The Entertainer”, a song Joel explained was written while living on Mulholland Drive when he was “wrong and cynical” that reminded him “what an asshole I used to be”. Later, he explained the factually inaccuracies of “The Ballad of Billy the Kid”, also written during his time in Los Angeles in response to his desire to “write a movie soundtrack when no one was asking me to write them.”

The audience voted for “For The Longest Time”, to which Joel responded “Duh!” It was an impressive feat to tackle one of the most well-known a’cappella songs in pop rock history in a stadium, but the five-person backing vocal group led by Joel blew fans away.

Joel enlisted the help of surprise guest stars, beginning with P!nk joining him onstage for a jazzy rendition of the classic “New York State of Mind” followed by a performance of her song “Try”. Axl Rose also came to electrify the stage with his rocking “Highway To Hell” and later joined Joel for “Big Shot”.

But it was Joel’s hits that kept the audience moving in the unseasonably chilly air. Fans danced with each other during “Always A Woman”, tried to keep up with the lyrics of “We Didn’t Start the Fire” and swayed along with “Piano Man”, one of the evening’s most warmly received songs. Fans illuminated the stadium with cell phone lights as Joel let the audience finish the final, familiar chorus a’cappella.

The encore began with hits “Uptown Girl”, “It’s Still Rock and Roll To Me” and “Only The Good Die Young”. The twenty-five song set culminated with “You May Be Right” and the audience sang along to, “I might be as crazy as you say, if I’m crazy then it’s true that it’s all because of you.” While it might seem crazy Joel is packing stadiums, his timeless music, unwavering talent and clear passion for performing ensures fans will pack the house to see him, crazy as they were at the beginning of his career to sing and dance along.

For more information on Billy Joel:
Official site

Show Review: Future Islands @ Apogee Studio

Samuel T. Herring is my spirit animal

May 3rd, 2017
Kyle B. Smith
Category: Lead Story, Review

Coinciding with this year’s edition of Coachella, there was a damn near month of top-notch shows from Santa Barbara to San Diego, and beyond.

On a recent Tuesday night in Santa Monica, Future Islands usurped the stage to record a robust 16-song live performance and interview with Jason Bentley for an upcoming broadcast on KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic. Sandwiched between their Sunday sets at Coachella, Baltimore’s best is on tour to support new LP, The Far Field.

In many ways, the album is a continuation of the emotional magic on Future Islands’ 2014 breakout effort, Singles. The band’s performance, too, was in step with live appearances that made them famous.

You have William Cashion’s liquidy bass grooves, Gerrit Welmers’ masterful keys and buttons work hidden under a stoic presence, and then of course, the wild card of Samuel Herring as otherworldly front man with a Victor Price growl, and a cache of moves that will make your head spin. Altogether, it’s a emotionally dizzying experience, and a sort of wistful disco for hopeless romantics.

Future Islands preceded their set (and new album) opener “Aladdin,” as they do all shows – with a team huddle and handshake. Before you knew it, Herring was snatching imaginary stars from the sky, reeling them in, and then singing to them as they sparkled in his grasp. Cashion wasted no time in bringing the room up and down staircases with a trademark circular bass line.

During “Beauty of the Road,” Herring somehow melded cutting a rug with a mimed version of a hanging himself with a noose. But he let himself off the hook, resolving to lose himself with another hybrid concoction; a joker’s-grin-turned thousand-yard-stare of longing during the desperate refrain of “Time on Her Side.”

By the fourth song, “Walking Through That Door,” Mr. Herring had self-flagellated his own skull until a bright red mark appeared as backdrop to cascading beads of sweat. Ever loathe to rest, he turned outward and worked the front row like a politician, singing eye-to-eye with audience members, then lunging side to side like a skulking speed skater.

The set included all but one song off of The Far Field. Touring drummer Mike Lowry laid down excellent work on new one, “Day Glow Fire,” which segued in to “Through the Roses.” The latter contains an affirmation that could aptly sum up the resolve in Future Islands’ ethos: we can pull through, together.

Perhaps the high point of the LP, “North Star” kicked off with a Talking Heads head-bobbing groove, and then saw Herring battling the elements for his dear against a howling synth wind.

The latter part of the set reached farther back in to the catalogue for “Seasons,” the song which buttered the band’s bread, and a few particularly emotional cuts in the encore (“Black Rose,” “Tin Man,” and the wrenchingly beautiful, “Little Dreamer”).

The evening began with a discussion between Future Islands (Herring, Cashion, and Welmers) and KCRW Music Director Jason Bentley. Details are to be saved for the broadcast, but the conversation touched on Herring’s mom’s observation on the band, their unique relationship with fellow Baltimore artist Dan Deacon (and his Daffy Duck t-shirt), and Future Islands’ beginnings “in the neon days of the early 00’s,” as “wild feral children with crazy ideas.”

For a relatively brief exchange, the interview sheds much light on the history and inner workings of the group, and how the “succinctness of form” in The Far Field is a logical output at this point in their evolution. Listen in, and find out which new song contains a discrete shout out to James Taylor.

KCRW will broadcast portions of Future Islands’ set and interview on Morning Becomes Eclectic on Tuesday, May 9.

Future Islands is back in LA at the Greek Theater on September 19.

All photos by Brian Feinzimer

KCRW’s Apogee Sessions featuring Future Islands Setlist

Beauty of the Road
Time on Her Side
Walking Through That Door
Day Glow Fire
Through the Roses
Ancient Water
North Star

Black Rose
Tin Man
Little Dreamer

For more information:

Future Islands
KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic

Show Review: The 1975 @ The Greek

UK indie pop band brings 80s synth, screaming fans

May 1st, 2017
Mary Bonney
Category: Review

Los Angeles has become a second home to the UK act The 1975 since their debut with the perfectly packaged single “Chocolate.” The group previewed their highly-anticipated sophomore album I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It in LA before its release, performed to a packed Forum during the album’s promotional tour and even hosted a pop up shop last holiday season. Last week, the indie pop rock group played two evenings at The Greek Theater to accommodate Los Angeles fans that can’t get enough of these musicians from across the pond.

All photos by Stephen J. Branagan

Powerful winds whipped through The Greek Theater as instrumental music warbled to a crescendo to open then show. Screams erupted as frontman and multi-instrumentalist Matthew Healy took the stage with his signature swagger wrapped in a snug white hoodie for the funky “Love Me” followed by the debut single from their recent release “UGH!”

The set split their songs between their two LPs, balancing the “Change of Heart” followed by “The City” and the desperate “Lostmyhead” with 80s synth-pop ballad “Somebody Else”. Upbeat songs like “She’s American” were balanced by the slow burning “Robbers”.

John Waugh’s saxophone solos were woven through the set, reminding fans of the indie pop rockers R&B influences. Three synth keyboards were lined up downstage, perfect for songs like “Menswear” and instrumentals where Matty took to the keys to create hypnotic soundscapes during extended instrumental interludes.

Stage lights cycled through neon pinks, blues, greens and purples throughout the night, complementing the 80s vibes of their latest album. Their signature rectangles were suspended above the stage as screens displayed complementary images like black and white static, crashing waves and cityscapes through the evening.

A rainbow lit up the stage for “Loving Someone,” which was dedicated to the LGBTQ community. The 1975 has always been an inclusive group (denouncing Trump during our election season at their last LA performance) and Healy explained proceeds of a merchandise option would benefit charities in those communities.

Healy continued his tradition of asking fans to put away cell phones for the burning “Me”. I watched a sea of fans who had been Snapchatting and FaceTiming the show (Healy called out someone who was video chatting from the pit) respect his request and give their full attention to Waugh’s dramatic saxophone solo.

The one two punch of infectious tunes “Girls” and “Sex” ended their first set in a dance party, complete with sing a longs with thousands of screaming girls.

Encore began with “Medicine” as hundreds of cells phones returned, flashlights lighting up the arena. Healy brought the house down by conducting the crowd-turned-gospel-choir in the the soulful “If I Believe You.”

Their biggest singles “Chocolate” and recent earworm “The Sound” ended the evening, a night that was packed with over twenty songs. There was little downtime in between songs, but after the success of this group and their growing discography, fans got exactly what they wanted; to soak in dreamy instrumental interludes and the chance to dance and singalong to perfect indie dance pop on a summer night in Los Angeles.

For more information:

The 1975 official website

Show Review: John Mayer @ The Forum

The humbled icon returns to the spotlight!

April 26th, 2017
Zein Khleif
Category: Lead Story, Review

It’s by the grace of the Gods that I was able to attend John Mayer’s The Search for Everything Tour twice in the last three weeks. The first time, in Washington D.C., I spent the entire two hours with my mouth agape at the pure, unadulterated talent in front of me. The second time, at Inglewood’s The Forum on April 21st, my mouth definitely did not close, but it is with triumphant pride I announce I was able to keep it together just enough to take some photos and notes for this review!

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Show Preview: Molly House Records @ AKBAR

The queer dance party hits LA

April 24th, 2017
Lex Voight
Category: Review

Looking for great DJ’s, a community, or a kickass dance party? Molly House Records is having an Album Release party on 4/29.

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