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Sam Shepard, The Last Of The Punk Rock Cowboys

August 8th, 2017

Sam Shepard_Patti Smith

 

VILLAGE VOICE: He was — even more as time went on — the living, breathing image of a cowboy: tall, preposterously thin, ruggedly handsome, and maximally taciturn unless words were absolutely necessary. The few brief times I encountered him in this century, I would always think for an instant that I was encountering an ambulatory myth — The American Cowboy — and not my longtime acquaintance, Sam Shepard, the playwright, that quirky constructor of hypnotically fascinating plays, who had really wanted to be a rock drummer and had somehow settled for being a world-class movie star instead, while continuing to turn out quirky, fascinating plays.

The cowboy exterior was a genuine part of Sam’s complex reality. He loved horses and raised them; he didn’t care much for urban life and its endless technological encroachments. He didn’t like air travel — a writer-character in his play Angel City goes from the East Coast to Hollywood “by buckboard” — and I would be surprised to learn that he owned a smartphone. What he did own that belied the strong-and-silent cowboy exterior was a questing, reflective, poetically visionary mind, steeped in art, literature, and philosophy. Put it another way: Sam’s breakthrough film as an actor was Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven (1978), which features long, lingering close-ups of its main characters. The other actors’ faces look attractively composed in these shots; Sam’s face, though equally still, reveals a thought process going on behind the eyes. It should; you are watching him write Curse of the Starving Class and Buried Child, which appeared not long after the film was shot.

The profusion of plays that Sam turned out (45 is the current approximate total) testifies to the range of his mind’s activities. They come in all shapes and sizes, from seemingly (but not really) traditional small-cast two-acts to sprawling spectacles and gnomic sketchlike dialogues. Some of the early plays take their strategy from abstract-expressionist or pop art painting (Jackson Pollock was a lifelong admiration). A middle period draws on modern jazz, surrealism, and science fiction. MORE

PATTI SMITH: He would call me late in the night from somewhere on the road, a ghost town in Texas, a rest stop near Pittsburgh, or from Santa Fe, where he was parked in the desert, listening to the coyotes howling. But most often he would call from his place in Kentucky, on a cold, still night, when one could hear the stars breathing. Just a late-night phone call out of a blue, as startling as a canvas by Yves Klein; a blue to get lost in, a blue that might lead anywhere. I’d happily awake, stir up some Nescafé and we’d talk about anything. About the emeralds of Cortez, or the white crosses in Flanders Fields, about our kids, or the history of the Kentucky Derby. But mostly we talked about writers and their books. Latin writers. Rudy Wurlitzer. Nabokov. Bruno Schulz.

“Gogol was Ukrainian,” he once said, seemingly out of nowhere. Only not just any nowhere, but a sliver of a many-faceted nowhere that, when lifted in a certain light, became a somewhere. I’d pick up the thread, and we’d improvise into dawn, like two beat-up tenor saxophones, exchanging riffs.

He sent a message from the mountains of Bolivia, where Mateo Gil was shooting “Blackthorn.” The air was thin up there in the Andes, but he navigated it fine, outlasting, and surely outriding, the younger fellows, saddling up no fewer than five different horses. He said that he would bring me back a serape, a black one with rust-colored stripes. He sang in those mountains by a bonfire, old songs written by broken men in love with their own vanishing nature. Wrapped in blankets, he slept under the stars, adrift on Magellanic Clouds.

Sam liked being on the move. He’d throw a fishing rod or an old acoustic guitar in the back seat of his truck, maybe take a dog, but for sure a notebook, and a pen, and a pile of books. He liked packing up and leaving just like that, going west. He liked getting a role that would take him somewhere he really didn’t want to be, but where he would wind up taking in its strangeness; lonely fodder for future work. MORE

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BEING THERE: Belle & Sebastian @ The Mann

August 4th, 2017

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Photo by JOSH PELTA-HELLER

Back in February, when it was announced that Andrew Bird and Belle & Sebastian were going to play the Mann Center in August, images of bespectacled sophisticates sitting cross legged, politely nodding along to plucked violin, expert whistling, and crooning Scottish voices commingling in refined harmonies sprang into my mind. I pictured it hot and muggy and figured that most of the audience would be fanning themselves off with that morning’s edition of The New York Times. I was excited to see Andrew Bird perform again, as he’d enlightened me with a labyrinth of sound engineered by his adept use of a loop pedal at a show during his tour for Armchair Acrophylla (2006). And not only did the prospect of Belle and Sebastian make me thirsty for tea and want to go thrift store shopping for tweed jackets with elbow pads, but I was also excited to see the band responsible for If You’re Feeling Sinister (1996), a beautiful chamber pop classic that takes you on a journey as satisfying as a well-written novel. If you haven’t heard it, open up a new tab, go to youtube or whatever, and put it on as you finish reading this. So now that you have a feel for the mindset I had going to the show, let me take you to Thursday night at the Mann Center, where my expectations were met with some unpleasant realities.

The first thing I noticed, before Andrew Bird even took the stage, was the same kind of Leslie speaker that he’d used to great effect when I’d last seen him perform. Don’t know what a Leslie speaker is? Don’t worry, I had to look up the name myself. It’s a functional speaker that looks like a set of bull horns made out of phonograph speakers, and when Bird steps on a pedal, it starts to spin, bending the sound waves. After I looked up the name of the speaker, which sat center stage, Bird walked out, accompanied by a guitarist, bassist, and drummer. It made sense to me that he was playing with a band considering that he’s started a family. The band is like an extension of the social life he’s grounded himself in with his family. Not to mention that on his latest album Are You Serious (2016), he’s joined throughout by multi-instrumentalist Blake Mills, and, on one track, by Fiona Apple. Even though, logically, the band made sense to me, it ultimately diluted what makes Bird great, namely the energy he creates through a tension born from balancing his unbelievable control of music with the manic energy of his whims. As Bird and the band left the stage, the Leslie speaker was spinning, stretching and bending the last few notes, making it sound like the last measure played in reverse, taking my mind back to the whimsical intimacy of Bird’s solo performances of yore.

After a twenty minute conversation about how Andrew Bird seems like a character out of Dickens novel, probably a chimney sweep, I started checking my watch because it took an hour for Belle & Sebastian to get on stage. And did you know that Belle & Sebastian isn’t just two people named Belle and Sebastian? Because I didn’t. There were eight or nine people on stage and fuck, I don’t even think any of them were named Belle or Sebastian. So I came to terms with the shattered image I’d developed of a man and woman recording If You’re Feeling Sinister over the course of a year living together in a cottage in the Scottish Highlands, and tried to wrap my mind around the reality of the group of performers on stage. There was a four-piece string section, a trumpet player, an acoustic guitarist, a bassist, and 76 trombones leading the big parade! All true, sans the trombones.

And man, if I were to follow the adage, “if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” then I think I’d have one more sentence to write. Fulfilling the pre-conceived/sight unseen notion I had of Belle and Sebastian, the band played “The Fox in the Snow” and it was every bit as gorgeous as the recording, and somehow all the more perfect and somber being played in the summer. So, sorry to all the adults that leant me those wise words, I’m gonna’ say some things about why the performance didn’t work for me. I’ll do my best to not be mean, but I can’t be nice.
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RELEASE THE BATS: Q&A With Poptone Drummer Kevin Haskins (Ex-Bauhaus/Love And Rockets)

August 3rd, 2017

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BY JOANN LOVIGLIO Drummer Kevin Haskins and singer/songwriter/guitarist Daniel Ash have been releasing the bats since 1978 — first with Bauhaus, then with Tones on Tail, then Love & Rockets and now Poptone. While Bauhaus has been writ iconic in the fullness of time, largely on the strength of the deathless and ineffably creepy/cool “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” single, and Love & Rockets had bunch of full-blown commercial radio hits spread across seven albums, it is the lesser known/more edgy Tones On Tail that is finally getting its due. Sandwiched between its proto-goth predecessor and its hit-making, MTV-rotating successor, Tones on Tail sounded like neither and existed for just two years, from 1982-1984, yielding one brief U.S. tour and a smattering of EPs and 12-inches. Tones on Tail is the classic middle child: frequently overlooked, but often the coolest kid in the brood. After Bauhaus Cover1spending decades appreciated by just a fraction of its siblings’ respective fan bases, ToT’s tiny but mighty catalog is getting a second listen with Poptone, which reunites ToT vocalist/guitarist Daniel Ash and drummer Kevin Haskins, and adds Haskins’ daughter Diva on bass. In advance of Poptone’s Philly stop at the Troc on Friday August 3rd, Phawker had a few questions for Kevin Haskins, who has spent the better part of the 21st century composing soundtracks for video games, film and television. Discussed: The East Side Club; how Bauhaus came to be in The Hunger; his semi-private audience with David Bowie; Eel Pie Island; the gloomy prospects of a Bauhaus reunion, plus the obligatory goth talk.

PHAWKER: I saw Tones on Tail here in Philly (and chatted with you afterward, as much as a drunk teenager can hold an actual conversation) in 1984 at a subterranean den of iniquity called the East Side Club, which now is a CrossFit gym to the great amusement of those who remember its past. I vividly recall this initial jarring moment when Daniel Ash, Glenn Campling, and you came out dressed in white, down to your painted white boots. Was that more of a visual/stylistic decision, or were you making a more overt statement to audiences that Bauhaus was over and you had moved on? And how did crowds — perhaps not ready themselves to move on after Bauhaus — respond to Tones on Tail on that tour?

KEVIN HASKINS The decision to wear all white in Tones On Tail was mostly as a reaction Bauhaus 2to how we presented ourselves in Bauhaus. We wanted to establish a new identity and we felt it was a very bold statement. In fact I recall during our first shows in the UK that Bauhaus fans would sit on the stage with their backs to us in defiance, a row of Bauhaus logos prominently displayed on their leather jackets.

PHAWKER: Poptone’s set includes material from all three bands but is mostly Tones on Tail, which has the smallest catalog and the most challenging music of your three bands. Why did your setlist turn out so Tones-heavy, and how did the three of you select the material that you would play on tour?

KEVIN HASKINS Aside from cover versions, when selecting songs from our back catalog to play in Poptone, Daniel had a desire to only play songs that he had written and sang on. This resulted in the set being Tones On Tail heavy. I felt that this would actually result in a very desirable set for our audience as that material had barely been performed live before.

PHAWKER: For those of us of a certain age and predilection, Bauhaus performing “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” in the opening sequence in The Hunger was a powerful and formative moment. Were you on set when the opening scene was being shot? Any impressions/memories you can share about David Bowie, Catherine Deneuve, or how the band came to be performing in a cage in a sexy vampire movie?

KEVIN HASKINS During the editing sessions of “Shes In Parties,” director Tony Scott would pop in to the edit suite of Howard Guard to check out his new video. This was when the seed of the idea to have Bauhaus perform in his next movie entitled The Hunger was born. Once he heard our first single “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” the idea was cemented. We all arrived on set at the nightclub Heaven in tones on tailCharing Cross London very early and waited around while the stage was being set. During that time David Bowie arrived in green designer army fatigues, brimming with charisma. After he disappeared into hair and make up our performance was filmed several times over. They erected a wire mesh across the front of the stage which Peter, behaving like a caged animal, utilized to great effect. During our performance Bowie appeared looking stunning in a silken black suit, round sunglasses and a huge black pompadour wig!
Later in the day we were treated to a remarkable audience with Bowie. In a side room to the club there was placed an old vintage Wurlitzer jukebox. Bowie sauntered over to it and began selecting songs. He turned around to see an array of extras, who were regular club kids at Heaven, and us. He motioned for us to all come into the room and sit down. For the next blissful hour he would put on songs, many of which [he] covered on the album Pinups, and regaled us with fascinating stories of when he first saw all these bands at Eel Pie Island at the Marquee club back in the ‘60s. It was a remarkable day!

PHAWKER: On a related note, many people assume the original version of “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” is live because of the crowd noise at the beginning. Explain the decision to include that snippet of audience noise, and what is the source of that crowd noise? Somebody else’ live album? An early Bauhaus gig?

KEVIN HASKINS The version of Bela Lugosi used for The Hunger was an earlier live recording. At the bequest of Tony Scott we attempted to make a special the recording but it simply didn’t work out.

PHAWKER: Last Bauhaus question, there was a reunion 10 years ago, some live shows and a “final” album — Going Away White — was recorded but the reunion dissolved before its release. The 40th anniversary of the band’s formation in 1979 is approaching. Any possibility of re-activating the band to mark the milestone with a tour? What would it take to get Bauhaus back together?

KEVIN HASKINS The version of Bela Lugosi used for The Hunger was an earlier live recording. At the bequest of Tony Scott we attempted to make a special the recording but it simply didn’t work out. There are no plans to revive Bauhaus at this time.

PHAWKER: You put down your drumsticks for a number of years after Love & Rockets Loave & Rocketsended. What were you up to in the interim, and what made you decide to return to playing — and to commit to touring again?

KEVIN HASKINS After Love And Rockets I began a career as a film and tv composer which was interspersed with touring with Bauhaus. In January of this year Daniel called me about doing a career retrospective tour.

PHAWKER: Does having your music referred to as “goth” bother you? That after-the-fact label annoys the hell out of me — if anything is “goth” it’s Bach, it’s “Toccata and Fugue,” or maybe it’s cartoonish stuff like Specimen — not Bauhaus and The Cure. Your thoughts about the g-word?

KEVIN HASKINS Goth was a pigeonhole created by the media and possibly due to the fact that we wore black and our first single was about a vampire actor, we are now termed as the Godfathers Of Goth. An entire movement sprung up that we were/are associated with.

POPTONE FEATING DANIEL ASH & KEVIN HASKINS @ THE TROC FRI. AUG. 4TH

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NPR 4 THE DEAF: We Hear It Even When U Can’t

August 3rd, 2017

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FRESH AIR: As a climate change activist, former Vice President Al Gore is used to speaking in front of both hostile and friendly audiences. But there is one individual he has all but given up on. “I have no illusions about the possibility of changing Donald Trump’s mind,” Gore says. “I think he has made it abundantly clear that he’s throwing his lot in with the climate deniers.”

In withdrawing from the Paris climate accord in June, Trump said he “cares deeply about the environment” but argued that the deal imposed burdens on the U.S. that would hurt American workers “while imposing no meaningful obligations” on other leading polluters like China. Administration officials at the time sidestepped questions about whether Trump believed that climate change was a “hoax,” as he had said prior to becoming president. When pushed in an interview on CNN, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said, “President Trump believes the climate is changing and he believes pollutants are part of the equation.”

Gore spoke with the president multiple times prior to Trump’s announcement about the Paris accord. Gore is now focused on building a bipartisan consensus to address the climate crisis.Part of creating that consensus is spreading awareness of an issue that Gore has been following for decades. His 2006 documentary An Inconvenient Truth, which was basically an adaption of his PowerPoint presentation about the effects of global warming, was a surprise box office success. Now he has a new documentary, called An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power.

Gore warns that climate change is not just an issue that affects future generations: “It’s happening to us now. This movie is designed to drive those points home, but also to make people aware that in the last decade, the solutions to the climate crisis have become available to us.” MORE

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TONIGHT: Birdman

August 3rd, 2017

DC_RECENT+WORK_03_Andrew+Bird

 

Since the late 90s, Andrew Bird’s music has dabbled in baroque, Americana, and gypsy jazz stylings — all invariably punctuated by pizzicato violin, and the kind of savvy whistling you hear on crackled recordings from the 1920’s, when whistling had its heyday. Throughout the years, the only threats to Andrew Bird’s swagger as a musician have been his tireless intellect and classical training. Now, intellect and classical training aren’t necessarily swagger killers, but they can limit the accessibility and warmth of music. On his latest LP, 2016’s Are You Serious, Bird harnesses his mind and virtuosity to produce a dynamic album that’s easy and enjoyable, while he continues to express himself through meta-lyrics sprinkled with word-of-the-day-calendar words, plucked violin, and jaw-dropping violin virtuosity.

Throughout the album, he’s joined by six-string polymath Blake Mills, who fleshes out the richly textured arrangements with pedal steel guitar, mandolin, and electric banjo. On “Left Handed Kisses” he’s locked in an argument about love songs with similarly eclectic, eccentric Fiona Apple. Collaborations have become increasingly important to Bird’s output, and he’s started Live from the ANDREW BIrD ARE YOU SERIOUSGreat Room, which has featured performances of his material with artists like Fiona Apple, Jackson Browne, Matt Berninger of the National, and Jim James of My Morning Jacket. These videos are worth checking out. The collaborations on Are You Serious ground Bird’s whimsical music and help to ensure that the songs exist in the world humans share, rather than in Bird’s esoteric reality.

The last time I saw Andrew Bird, he was touring Armchair Apocrypha (2007), donning a cardigan, a vest, and a shirt and tie, performing alone amidst spinning Leslie speakers that looked like old-timey phonographs and warped the sound waves with the Doppler effect. He vibed like a hip professor or mad scientist who lived with his head in the clouds, gracing the audience with the perspective he found in the sky. But with the passing years and the onset of fatherhood, Bird’s music has become more grounded in his personal experiences. Are You Serious is his first conventional LP release since settling down and starting a family, and these life events are apparent throughout the music. Whereas before Bird’s songs mused about apocalyptic futures where there’d be tables, chairs, and dancing bears, not to mention snacks, the tracks on Are You Serious feel much closer to expressions of Bird’s lived experiences w/r/t aging, love, restlessness, and sanity, to name a few. On Are You Serious, Bird expresses maturity as both a musician and a man, now living with his feet on the ground and his eyes on his family, when they aren’t glancing up at the clouds. — DILLON ALEXANDER

ANDREW BIRD + BELLE & SEBASTIAN + PORCHES@ THE MANN THUR. AUG. 2ND

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Win Tix To See Belle & Sebastian @ The Mann

August 2nd, 2017

 

First, these thoughts about Belle & Sebastian’s staying power, written 11 years ago and, oddly enough, still applicable and moderately amusing:

Boy oh boy, did Philebrity editor Joey Sweeney get his Underoos in a bunch when I mentioned that a new Belle and Sebastian album was cause for “a legion of cardigan-clad Millhouses to raise their skinny arms to heaven like antennae.” Speaking like a man who’s taken all the locker room towel-snapping he was gonna take for one lifetime, he told me to get my gang together and meet his gang on the playground for a badminton death match. (I don’t know if you’ve ever seen Sweeney’s shuttlecock, but needless to say, I was concerned. Dude’s been workin’ out.)

I mention this only because the new Belle and Sebastian The Life Pursuit sounds like a band of Harry Potters that’s not gonna take any more shit off anyone. To me, it marks the triumph of “twee” over “lad.”

Twee, for those who don’t mark key points in their lives by the semiobscure Scottish B-sides you were listening to at the time, is a Brit euphemism, a baby-talk mispronunciation of the word “sweet,” and The life Pursuitusually refers to something unbearably precious. The term actually dates back to the dawn of the 20th century, and was usually used in the pejorative. But in the mid-’80s a gaggle of jangly Glaswegian indie poppers adopted the term as a badge of honor.

Lad, or laddishness, has the same Maxim raison d’etre in England as it does here: Get drunk, screw something, preferably female, or barring that, come last call, kick the shit out of someone, preferably smaller than you.

Twee vs. lad is basically the latest skirmish in the mods vs. rockers war that’s been going on since the ’60s. The haircuts may change, but the battle rages on. Ten years ago, when Belle and Sebastian released their Tigermilk debut, grunge was still, literally, all the rage. Rap-rock was ascendant. Scott Stapp, Fred Durst and Scott Weiland were the new alpha dawgs of rock, each destined for a bone of stardom they’d all choke on eventually. They did it all for the nookie.

While lads went out night after night and drank, drugged or fucked themselves into ass-clown status, the twee kids in Belle and Sebastian took care of themselves. They wore a scarf when it was cold. They got a good night’s sleep. They wore a mack in the rain. They wrote and recorded songs with the dutiful regularity of homework and the giddy invention of a science fair project. Or so goes the preciously crafted image. Truth is, twee kids like sex, do drugs and even get drunk from time to time.

Jocks may do it harder, but nerds do it longer. If rock ‘n’ roll really is just high school with money, longevity is the revenge of the nerds — it’s like money in the bank. You ever been to a high school reunion? Ever notice how all the quarterbacks and cheerleaders seem to have peaked long ago, how they’ve all morphed into middle-class suburban shlubs or wide-assed soccer moms? They don’t know Belle and Sebastian from Wallace and Gromit.

And all the nerds from back in the day-where are they? They wouldn’t be caught dead here. They’ve long since evolved into something too cool for school reunions. And while Scott Weiland is fronting a Guns N’ Roses tribute band, Scott Stapp is crying for a reporter from Rolling Stone and Fred Durst is making cell phone-cam porn tapes, Belle and Sebastian are on top of their game, sounding younger than yesterday, still making pure pop for now people. – JONATHAN VALANIA, PHILADELPHIA WEEKLY 2006

Second, we have a pair of tickets to see Belle & Sebastian perform with Andrew Bird and Porches at the Mann tomorrow night (Thur. Aug. 3rd.). To qualify to win, you must A) Join our mailing list (see right, below the masthead). Trust us, this is something you want to do. In addition to breaking news alerts and Phawker updates, you also get advanced warning about groovy concert ticket giveaways and other free swag opportunities like this one!

B) Send an email to Phawker66@gmail.com telling us you’ve signed up for our mailing list (or are already on our mailing list) along with the answer to the following B&S trivia question: Where is Lazy Jane having a baby tonight? Put the magic words LAZY JANE PAINTER LINE in the subject line and include your full name and a mobile number for confirmation. Good luck and godspeed!

BELLE & SEBASTIAN + ANDREW BIRD + PORCHES @ MANN CENTER THUR. AUG 3RD

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BLONDIE: Rapture

August 2nd, 2017

The Rage & Rapture Tour featuring Blondie and Garbage touches down at the Mann Center tonight.

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THE GODFATHER OF GRUNGE: Q&A With Butch Vig, Garbage Drummer/Producer Extraordinaire

August 2nd, 2017

butch-vig-by-autumn-dewildePhoto by AUTUMN DEWILDE

EDITOR’S NOTE: This interview originally published on November 23rd, 2016. In advance of tonight’s Garbage/Blondie double bill at the Mann Center, we present this encore edition. Enjoy.

meAVATAR2BY JONATHAN VALANIAThe Smart Studios Story documents the rise and fall of the legendary recording studio founded by acclaimed producer Butch Vig and his partner Steve Marker, where they recorded Smashing Pumpkins, Garbage, Death Cab For Cutie and, most importantly, Nirvana’s Nevermind. The film tracks the evolution of Smart Studios from its humble DIY beginnings as a glorified punk rock treehouse with free beer to the center of the alt-rock universe in the 90s only to close in 2010 as the age of the big, expensive analog studios gave way to digital home recording. In the interim, Vig has produced albums by the Foo Fighters, Goo Goo Dolls and Against Me! and reactivated Garbage, which went on hiatus in 2005. Recently, The Smart Studios Story has embarked on a screening tour around the country, which stopped in Philadelphia at PhilaMOCA earlier this month. In advance of the Philly screening, we spoke with Butch Vig from his home in Los Angeles where he was gearing up for a tour in support of Garbage’s surprisingly vital sixth album, Strange Little Birds.

PHAWKER: One of your earliest musical endeavors was contributing a track to the slumber_party_massacresoundtrack of Hollywood slasher pic Slumber Party Massacre? Is this true? How did it happen?

BUTCH VIG: That’s true. Long story short, I was in film school and a bunch of my fellow students moved out to Hollywood. One became David Lynch’s cinematographer, and another is Jerry Bruckheimer’s editor. Another friend from Wisconsin was working on Slumber Party Massacre. It’s just in the scene where somebody is walking down the beach with a boom-box and gets an axe in the back, but we were thrilled to be a part of it.

PHAWKER: Judging by the documentary, the Midwest indie-rock scene seemed more about D.I.Y than adhering to some specific punk-rock orthodoxy. Is that true?

BUTCH VIG: Yeah it is. We were never elitist about any kind of music that we worked with or anything. One of the reasons we did so many hardcore punk bands is there was a thriving scene at the time. As soon as you get a couple bands coming into Smart they would just tell their friends. We never advertised and it was all word of mouth. Anyone who wanted to book time there could. It was good learning ground for me because I learned how to record everything, even though I didn’t really know what I was doing. You had to figure it out by the seat of your pants.

PHAWKER: Cheap beer seemed to have played a central role in these proceedings as it seemed to do with many aspects of life in the Midwest, can you speak to that a little bit?

BUTCH VIG: Growing up in Wisconsin that’s part of the M.O, that’s what people do. They go the_smashing_pumpkins-gish-frontal1to the local tavern on the corner. There was a local tavern right across from the studio called The Friendly, which was not always that friendly actually, because there were a lot of blue-collar rednecks there. There was a point when we had a coke machine in the studio upstairs, and it had eight or ten slots, and we had Coke in only one and the rest had cheap beer that we put in there. We made it free, we put duct tape in so if you put fifty cents in or whatever it would drop right back down so the beer would drop down and you could take the money out of the coin return and put the money back in.

PHAWKER: In Billy Corgan, leader of the Smashing Pumpkins, you found a kindred spirit who was willing to meticulously craft an album even if that meant spending days getting a drum sound right or a guitar tone right or recording 45 takes of a vocal.

BUTCH VIG: I found a kindred spirit in Billy in the sense that he wanted to make an amazing sounding record. Now it’s so easy to make things sound perfect, to tighten things up and edit, drums or guitars or whatever and fix vocals, back then you had to play it. As good as they were, we recorded a lot and we did a lot of takes. Making Gish was the first time I ever had a proper budget. Before then I’d done hundreds of records in a couple days. I think we had about 30 days to record and mix Gish, and to me, that was like Steely Dan time.

PHAWKER: Is it true that you were only able to convince Kurt Cobain to double track his vocals by telling him that John Lennon used to do that?

BUTCH VIG: That’s true, because he just felt like it was fake, and as much as I knew, I told the band that, that I wanted to double some things, I wanted to go back and overdub some things, because we need to make this sound on a record, when someone wakes up in the morning and this is playing on their little alarm clock radio, we need to make the record sound as intense there as if you were standing in front of the band playing live in a room.

PHAWKER: In the wake of the overwhelming success of Nevermind and perhaps nirvana_nevermind_responding to the holier than thou underground types that were complaining that the album’s production values represent some kind of sellout of punk rock purity, Cobain told writer Michael Azerrad “looking back on the production of Nevermind, I’m embarrassed by it now. It’s closer to a Motley Crue record than it is a punk rock record.” How did you respond to reading that that?

BUTCH VIG: I remember reading it at the time and it bummed me out because when we finished the record, the band was over the moon with how it sounded. They worked really hard to get that record super tight but what happened was when you sold fifteen million records you cannot maintain your punk credibility and say “Man, I’m so glad we sold fifteen million records.” You have to walk away from it. He had to diss it, in a way, for himself and how he was perceived by the public. I wish he was around today because I have a feeling he would have gone back to love it.

PHAWKER: The Nevermind sessions at Smart started in April of 1990. It was just supposed to be a little indie record for Sub Pop. After a number of the tracks were recorded, the sessions stopped when Cobain blew his voice out on “Lithium.” The plan was that they were going to come back and finish the record there but instead they sort of used those tracks as a bargaining chip to get a major label deal — and at that point “Smells like Teen Spirit” was not even written. So if he hadn’t blown his voice, the album probably would have been finished at Smart, without “Smells like Teen Spirit,” and would have become just another hip little indie record on Sub Pop instead of the generation-defining zeitgeist-embodying blockbuster we all know and love?

BUTCH VIG: Correct.

PHAWKER: So, moving forward, you form Garbage with Smart Studios co-owner Steve Marker, which was a big break from the punk sound of the music you had become famous for producing.

BUTCH VIG: Well, by the time I started Garbage, and by the time anybody heard of Nirvana or Smashing Pumpkins, I had done, I swear to god, strange_little_birdsa thousand punk rock records, and I was getting tired of just guitar, bass, and drums, especially after Nevermind took off. I started getting calls, people thought I had some magic formula and if I could just plug that into, whoever it was, whether it was a singer/songwriter or a blues artist or a hair metal band, I knew how to change them into an alternative grunge band and I wasn’t interested in doing that.

PHAWKER: After a lengthy hiatus, Garbage is about to embark on a tour in support of a new and intriguing record called Strange Little Birds.

BUTCH VIG: Yeah, it’s gotten a lot of great press despite being such a dark album, it’s definitely the darkest album that we’ve made. I think there’s something about it that has resonated with people. Part of it is that we took some of the rock and roll out of it, the album is much more sort of cinematic and atmospheric, and I think the music works, arrangement wise, really well with Shirley singing and her lyrics. She has sung some of the most powerful performances she’s yet recorded on Strange Little Birds. I think you can hear that, there’s an immediacy and an emotional vulnerability to the performances out there that we would have fussed over more in the past in Garbage, but at this point in smart-studios-tourour career we’re trying to leave things alone and be a little more spontaneous with them and I think that translated a lot to the vibe on the record.

PHAWKER: Smart Studio closes in 2010 because…?

BUTCH VIG: The music business has changed and so has recording technology, the D.I.Y. attitude has taken on a whole new meaning because someone can record on their laptop in their bedroom, so why pay $100 dollars to go in the studio when they can keep that money in their pocket. The studio got used less and less, and we couldn’t get anybody. We were literally offering 100$ dollars a day to come in and track, just pay for the assistant engineer and you can use the studio and it just wasn’t getting used. Between insurance and keeping overhead and heating and bills and all that kind of stuff, we couldn’t let it sit there with closed doors, so we finally decided to pull the plug and sell it.

THE RAGE & RAPTURE TOUR FEAT. GARBAGE & BLONDIE @ THE MANN TONIGHT

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BEING THERE: Fleet Foxes & Animal Collective

August 1st, 2017

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Photo by JOSH PELTA-HELLER

At first blush, the marquee billing for the Animal Collective/Fleet Foxes show at the Mann Center last night confused me: Animal Collective was the opening act? The experimental trance-pop band that made their name with mesmerizing collections of psychotropic anti-folk like Sung Tongs (2004) and Feels (2005) couldn’t be an opening act. They were too revolutionary and exciting. Unfortunately, though, the keyword here is were. It’s a pretty human thing to hold on to the past. Damn memory and everything. But, jesus, I knew better. I’d listened to Merriweather Post Pavilion (2009) and heard a shift in the band from a group of bright, creative friends organically expressing their collective id to a handful of professional musicians doing their jobs, massaging their individual egos. And that’s exactly what I saw at the Mann Center last night. Animal Collective’s performance was rote and dull, a reminder that their best days as a group are behind them.

After AC’s set, I was resigned to sit back and enjoy the breeze, maybe find a spot to sit with a view of the skyline, but when Fleet Foxes came on stage they shook me out of my disillusioned stupor. Blood red lights illuminated the backdrop of the stage, turning the six performers into silhouettes in a Dante-esque inferno. Like I said, I’d gone to the show more for Animal Collective, and prior to last night my impression of Fleet Foxes was of a vanilla choral band that subsisted on major key harmonies, perfect for naptime at progressive preschools. But just minutes out of the gate, they’d disabused me of that impression with a feral energy fueled by a collective urge to express, channeled through Robin Pecknold’s almost obnoxiously perfect vocals. He sipped tea throughout the evening, ensuring the health of his vocal chords, which basically didn’t miss a note all night.

I was impressed by the clarity and delivery of his voice, but wasn’t shocked that it sounded every bit as good live as it does on the recordings. What did surprise me, though, was that Fleet Foxes weren’t vanilla at all. Don’t be fooled by the drop-dead gorgeous harmonies — one part Pet Sounds, one part Gregorian chant — they have edge. Loud as fuck, their clangorous chord progressions and whiplash key changes can be as tumultuous as shifting seismic plates. It’s as if The Beach Boys left the sandbox and retreated into the mountains of the Pacific Northwest, conjuring woodland reveries about eternal, elemental things — sun, giants, oceans, wood smoke, strawberries in summertime.

About halfway into the set, the rest of the performers left Robin Pecknold alone on stage to croon and howl to the moon armed with nothing more than his acoustic guitar and perfect pitch. The audience ululated with delight, not even able to hold their applause until the ends of the songs, no doubt rendered giddy by the persistent fragrance of combusted cannabis wafting down from the lawn. When the rest of the band returned, a duo of women who’d been dancing the whole night screamed out an invitation to Pecknold to set up house and make little baby foxes with them. Fox babies? Without missing a beat, he suggested they adopt and see how it goes. – DILLON ALEXANDER

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THEATER REVIEW: Wicked @ Academy Of Music

August 1st, 2017

WICKED

 

To say that Wicked: The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz is truly magical is an understatement. This musical is a maze of gloom and light, of hope and fear, of friendship and treachery. It tells a tale of magic and betrayal, of vice and virtue, and plays a spin on the world of Oz that remains truly unforgettable.  The story follows Elphaba, born with skin the color of emeralds and possessing an unusual ability. The product of an affair, her father has always hated her, blaming her for the disability of her younger sister Nessarose and the death of her mother. Now, getting her education at the esteemed Shiz University, Elphaba is tasked by her father to look after her sister, when she accidentally shows a display of magic. This act gains the attention of Madame Morrible, who then decides to teach Elphaba sorcery. Soon she befriends the overly-perky and cheerful Glinda, and when the two of them are offered the opportunity to meet the Wizard of Oz, they set off to the glimmering Emerald City. But lies are waiting under all of the shining green, and when those lies surface, Elphaba’s safety is compromised and what follows is the story of just how she became the infamous Wicked Witch of the West.

The production values of this production cannot be underestimated, for it’s a visual feast that makes the entire experience feel like one is witnessing magic. Although, of course, this magic also lies in the talent of the cast. Jessica Vosk, who plays Elphaba (the Wicked Witch of the West), breathes life into the role, allowing us to empathize with the character at both her worst moments and her best. Ginna Claire Mason, who plays the bubbly Glinda (the Good Witch), gives the show an uplifting and cheerful protagonist who evened out Elphaba’s pessimism, and gives the two of them a wonderful sister-like dynamic. The excellent cast in both the main and side characters only help to reinforce its magical atmosphere. Real talent in this and any show, however, lies in the voices of the actors, and the cast never failed to enchant the audience with booming voices and soaring melodies. Songs such as ‘Defying Gravity’ or ‘For Good’ added the Midas touch to an already-perfect musical. Playing on timely themes (such as how everyone feared Elphaba due to her green skin and how everyone believed that animals should be seen and not heard), Wicked inspires and makes you feel for the characters. A talented, inspired cast, songs that will get stuck both in your head and your heart, and beautiful and elegant sets render this show an unforgettable experience. – CHARLIE C.

WICKED NOW PLAYING @ THE ACADEMY OF MUSIC THROUGH AUG. 27TH

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BEING THERE: XPoNential Music Festival 2017

July 31st, 2017

Photos & Text by JOSH PELTA-HELLER

This year, XPoNential Music Fest management scrambled to prepare for End-Times weather, rescheduling the first day of the event to shift more of it to the shelter of the BB&T Pavilion, and moved up set times, as highly anticipated performances from two beloved local bands — Swift Technique and Hurry — fell casualty to the lineup rework. Philly fest-goers armed themselves with ponchos and steeled their resolves — or just decided to stay home. Early Day-One acts Arkells, Brownout and Pinegrove did their damndest to rally the raging of the Friday afternoon crowds in advance of killer sets from Angel Olsen, Offa Rex and Philly-faves Hop Along, but the atmosphere remained decidedly subdued.

The threatening storm clouds remained idle, though, and the operational meteorologists at NOAA proved their worth again. For the most part, the rain held out through livewire performances from Conor Oberst and company, and from Wilco. Mr. Bright Eyes made it clear at least twice that his commute to Philly from New York City was long and arduous, rendering an almost unbelievable account of travel by helicopter that left fans wondering if he sourced it from a graphic novel. The crowd seemed grateful for the efforts nonetheless, warm to a galvanizing set that accelerated to critical speed, as the Omaha folk singer got political, dedicating that unnamed “piece-of-shit and his piece-of-shit family” a rendition of “Roosevelt Room,” and faithfully evoking the hair-raising sneers and the tenor of Dylan’s “Masters Of War.” For Wilco’s part, lead singer Jeff Tweedy brought the show home with an odd selection of cuts, the first half mostly from newer albums, and the second with their best-known hits from Summerteeth and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, “War On War,” “Heavy Metal Drummer,” and the din and discord of “Via Chicago.” This was an abridged set, for them, as they pushed right up against the venue curfew that night with a rowdy one-song encore of “Outtasite (Outta Mind),” and let everyone get back to their cars before the skies finally opened up.

With the festival in full swing for Saturday and Sunday, fans bounced back and forth between the Marina and River Stages at Wiggins Park for daytime sets from Philly-area musicians both adopted (The Dove & The Wolf, Strand of Oaks) and native (Cliff Hillis, Dave Hause, Hardwork Movement, Dave Bromberg).

Artists came to play from afar as well, from Cali’s indie-experimental-psych-baroque pop-rock collective Foxygen, to Oregon’s harmonic sister-trio Joseph, to ‘60s southern R&B staple Charles Bradley. Houston’s The Suffers brought their self-proclaimed “Gulf Coast Soul“ through for two separate sets, both outdoor and then indoor, the former wrapping with an “intro-to-hip-hop” lesson from frenetic vocalist Kam Franklin, a notable medley of adapted covers of Outkast’s “Spottieottiedopaliscious,” and Three 6 Mafia’s “It’s Hard Out Here For A Pimp.” And New-Orleans-based folk-blues Hurray For The Riff Raff played their hearts out too, frontwoman Alynda Segarra getting as political as ever, channeling Patti Smith, Karen O, and Zack De La Rocha, with battle cries, a fist in the air, and a very venue-appropriate Springsteen cover that somehow didn’t even come off pander-y.

Austin indie-rock darlings Spoon made it back here too, finally, for an electrifying headline set pulled in large part from their more recent catalog, and especially highlighting their latest LP Hot Thoughts. Amos Lee and co headlined their Saturday-night spot in collaboration with New Orleans’ Preservation Hall Jazz Band, who played a tremendous standalone set earlier that day as well. And on the third night, the Georgia-based Drive-By Truckers played the weekend into the sunset, with their brand of politically charged southern rock. – JOSH PELTA-HELLER

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Win Tix To See Fleet Foxes & Animal Collective!

July 30th, 2017

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The hirsute Seattle-based five-piece known as Fleet Foxes traffics in often-acoustic autumnal 60s folk-rock and sun-dappled three-part harmonies which can be deadly in the wrong hands, but they’ve always stayed on the right side of precious. While it is well known that the Fleet Foxes look like lumberjacks and sing like angels, what is less known is that live they play like they made a deal with the devil at the crossroads. If, like me, you loved their 2008 self-titled LP but were a little underwhelmed by 2011’s Helplessness Blues and find the new Crack Up a tad snoozy, you should know that when performed live everything — even the cloistered silences of their most hushed and understated songs —  blares with the kind of heat, friction, and true grit that is sometimes absent on the recordings. In concert, Fleet Foxes are remarkably precise and versatile ensemble players adept at replicating the ethereal sonics and whisper-to-a-scream dynamics of the arrangements, and those immaculate, sunbeam harmonies — part Beach Boys, part Gregorian chant — raised the hairs on the back of my neck. Which is why they need to make a live album as soon as humanly possible. But in the meantime, get thee to the Mann tomorrow night, where/when they perform with trance-rock gurus of Animal Collective.

We’re gonna make that easy to do that for one lucky reader in the form of a pair of free tix to the big folk-rock show. To qualify to win, you need to do two things: First, join our mailing list (see right, below the masthead). Trust us, this is something you want to do. In addition to breaking news alerts and Phawker updates, you also get advanced warning about groovy concert ticket giveaways and other free swag opportunities like this one!

Second, after signing up, send us an email at Phawker66@gmail.com with the answer to the following Fleet Foxes trivia question: What is the name of the Fleet Fox who tendered his resignation in 2012 with the following letter to Fleet Fox leader Robin Pecknold:

I realize this is sort of a bizarre time, seeing as we’re all on tour together right now and very well may all be in the same room as you read this, but on this last break home I had a pretty potent moment of clarity wherein I realized that I need to resign from the band.

This may come off as a touch dramatic, and silly, given that we’re a few weeks away from being done with this record cycle anyway; however, in my mind, it’s a big decision to extract myself emotionally, creatively, etc.

Again, I don’t want to seem presumptuous that I think this is some kind of big deal; I know people are looking forward as opposed to wringing hands over the band right now, but it’s important to me that I let you all know, as part of a larger shift in perspective.

I’ve been a real a son of a bitch to you guys on more than a few occasions, and I’m sorry you all had to bear the brunt of my self-loathing and unhappiness for so long and with such regularity. That said, I’m proud to have been a part of such a great band.

I think you know that ultimately what this is all about, and has been about forever and ever, is the fact that I am an impossibly self-motivated, obsessive narcissist (7 records…  Who the hell does that? Someone should have held a creative intervention), who, as long as he isn’t diverting all his energy into his own enterprises, feels constricted, and marginalized, and useless. Which makes them full-blown, wounded-pride, wildly-irrationally resentful creeps.   

I’ve hit a fork in the road in terms of how I regard myself, and what liberties I need to give myself to just move forward and be as productive and useful as I can without living in a malaise of mind games. “Mind games” as in, a 4-year emotional steeplechase trying to fend off the depression that sets in anytime I’m not being creative of my own volition (this sounds dramatic, but is absolutely true) and telling myself I’m an asshole for not being able to just be congenial, content and grateful when I find myself with everything everyone I ever came up playing music with ever wanted (chiefly, respect/salvation from death-work), and worked their asses off for, sitting in my lap. Yet, the dreamer in me persists in being a total ingrate; ornery, petty and mean.

We both know what was going on in my head—internalizing the success of this band as a direct statement on the uselessness and uninspired, boring nature of my own music. My big failure, which is precious above all things to me, and is just about the only thing I’ve ever found to do that felt like it meant anything.

ALL OF WHICH IS INSANE. SO:

I have this choice to either be productive and useful and do what gives me sustainable purpose and allows me to take my mind off all the obvious angst (see: the nature of this entire ridiculous email), even if that means I’m a total misanthropic, selfish monster who can’t get along with others, or to try and maintain the alternative, which it is obvious I fucking suck at. At fucking 30 years old.

On top of all this, I have had, what is in my mind at least, a substantial creative breakthrough, and writing, recording, etc. has taken on a whole new identity and voice, which I believe is my own, and which I don’t think I’ve ever been able to use until now, and I really, really, want to use it.

Put the magic words WHITE WINTER HYMNAL in the subject line. Please include your full name and a mobile number for confirmation. Good luck and godspeed!

THE FLEET FOXES + ANIMAL COLLECTIVE @ THE MANN MON. JULY 31ST 7 PM

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GEEK SQUAD: The Temple Of Doom

July 28th, 2017

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the-geek-300x300BY RICHARD SUPLEE GEEK SPACE CORRESPONDENT Before Marvel made their own movies, they licensed their properties out. This is why Sony owns the rights to Spider-Man, Fox owns the X-Men, and the Hulk is unlikely to get a solo movie anytime soon. Fox also own Marvel’s Fantastic Four: Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic who can stretch his body super far), Sue Storm/Richards (Invisible Woman who can create force fields on top of the obvious power), Johnny Storm (The Human Torch who becomes a being of fire) and Ben Grimm (the rock like creature known as The Thing) were the first superhero team created by Stan Lee. The team was the first superhero franchise where the heroes faced problems.  These were superheroes with flaws. Johnny was an egotistical hot shot teenager while Ben Grimm dealt with isolation due to a monstrous appearance.

Fantastic Four (2005) and it’s sequel Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007) were minor commercial successes. Tim Story directed Ioan Gruffudd (Mr. Fantastic), Jessica Alba (Invisible Woman), Chris Evans (Human Torch) and Michael Chiklis (The Thing) in two mediocre family films. The first was a forgettable origin story where the team gained and discovered their powers before fighting Julian McMahon’s Doctor Doom. Rise of the SIlver Surfer saw a threat from outer space threaten the Earth. This movie is remembered for turning Galactus (a giant, purple-wearing space entity who devours planets in order to survive and whose survival is needed to keep the universe going) into a giant cloud. Fans did not like that. At all. The franchise was forced into hibernation for 10 years. I’ll give a disclaimer that I did not see Fantastic Four (2017) so all my criticism is second hand. Josh Trank directed Miles Teller (Mr. Fantastic), Michael B. Jordan (The Human Torch), Kate Mara (Invisible Woman) and Jamie Bell (the Thing) in both a critical and commercial failure. I did not see the film because I was not interested in the younger cast. The commercials made the F4 come off as teenagers when they are usually adults. They were dealing with the US military in some dimensional-portal experiment. And Toby Kebbell’s Doctor Doom was a computer programer who got caught up in the same experiment. The project just didn’t feel like The Fantastic Four and the lines looked crap. Which is ashame, because a segment of fans (aka racist assholes) blame the film’s failure on the casting of Johnny Storm when the cast looks looks to be the strong part of the film. The plot and character development looked all over the place.

After two failed Fantastic Four franchises where does Fox go next? The studio is releasing 3 X-Men movies in 2018 but had no further plans for Stan Lee’s first superhero team outside of keeping the product away from Marvel as long as possible. As part of last week’s San Diego Comic Con, Noah Hawley (creator of the FX shows Fargo and Legion) announced he is developing a Doctor Doom film. Doctor Doom is the F4’s main villain. Previously Victor Von Doom (yes, this was the character’s birth name because “Victor Evil Guy” was apparently taken) was played by Julian McMahon and Toby Kebbell. But both versions were ill-received by fans. McMahon’s Doom was a billionaire similar to Lex Luthor with a crush on Invisible Woman Sue Storm while Kebbell’s was a computer programmer/scientist before gaining superpowers in a science experiment. So is Doctor Doom really able to carry an entire film?

The short answer is yes. The Victor Von Doom of the comics is Marvel’s most complicated villain. He is a walking contradiction. Doom is a man of science and magic. Victor has been both freedom fighter and dictator. He was born in the fictional country of Latveria. His Romani parents taught him magic from an early age. After their deaths (his mom was killed by the devil and his dad by a Latveria government official) Doom went to University in the USA. There he study science alongside classmate Reed Richards (the future Mr. Fantastic) and built a machine to talk to the dead. Doom used both magic and technology to take over Latveria. That story is more than enough for a film. I do wonder if Victor can be done properly without the rest of the Marvel Universe though. He is connected to more than just the F4. Doctor Doom and Doctor Strange fought to see who will be Earth’s new Sorcerer Supreme. Captain America, Nick Fury, and all of S.H.I.E.L.D usually keep an eye on the super villain who happens to lead an entire country. Iron Man’s technology is often compared to Doom’s to give fans a reference of his power. So can Doctor Doom work without the majority of Marvel? Under a good director and writer, yes. Doom is a brilliant and unexpected way to begin the Fantastic Four franchise. Victor’s origin is too deep to do correctly alongside the superhero team’s. That is why it was shortened and dumbed down. A proper Doom origin requires very little Fantastic Four. The film can build the Fantastic Four’s universe outside of Marvel’s first family. The team dynamic will feel different just because the audience knows more about the world. It will be similar to Fox’s last reboot of a Marvel superhero team, X-Men: First Class (2011) and hopefully it will rebirth the franchise in a similar way.

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