Online music magazine based in Copenhagen, Denmark

LIVE REVIEW: Roskilde Festival 2018 Day 1, 04.07.2018

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St. Vincent live at Roskilde Festival 2018

This year’s Roskilde Festival comes amidst a dry summer of almost uninterrupted sun. This leaves us with the quandary of what’s worse, dust or mud? For Wednesday, we’re not sorry for the sunshine. It’s an easy day with great sets and not enough time for the sunburn and dehydration to set in. But someone almost definitely knocked over a piss trough near the Arena stage, so there’s a possibility that things can change very quickly.

Nihiloxica
Nihiloxica, the first band to play the Apollo stage at this year’s festival, brought a frenzied and buoyant energy to start things off. With five percussionists in a row onstage and one synth/laptop/electronics player behind, the group, comprised of four Ugandans and two Brits fused tribal, trance-like African rhythms with modern electronic synth textures that would be equally at home at a dark techno warehouse. The intricate weaving polyrhythms of the Kampala drums were anchored into a tight groove by a western drum kit (although with a large hollowed-out gourd instead of toms) while a smear of fuzzed out dissonant synth tones swirled around it all. The absense of any real melody was striking but it allowed for the rhythmic reverie to remain as the centre of attention. The energy onstage was contagious and crowd was eager to dance along in the beaming sun. — MT

Nathan Fake
British producer and Border Community (and now Ninja Tune) recording artist, Nathan Fake lit up the Apollo stage with his effervescent blend of textural pads, sharp synth hooks and dark, driving techno production. Fake’s set was dynamic and driving and I imagined myself floating around the dancefloor in a sweaty club, only occasionally looking up to fill my field of vision with colour. A bright backdrop of colourful, pixelated pastel landscapes and psychedelic digital 3D renderings that pulsed and churned throughout the whole set. In the festival setting, however, a large-scale vivid display behind a solitary performer takes some of the focus away from the music and the un-sync’d projections were not quite captivating enough to keep my attention. That said, Fake’s energy was on point and his set of blended uplifting chord progressions, deep, propelling bass lines and bubbling arpeggios was seamless. — MT

St. Vincent
Annie Clark is genuinely one of the best guitarists of her generation and she could sell herself on just that if she wanted to. We’re lucky that instead she gives us St. Vincent, currently inhabiting a world of neons and latex, of male band members with pantyhose masks and synthetic wigs, and of off kilter, high definition video projections.

But Clark’s understanding of presentation extends to the way she delivers her songs. There is a rollercoaster of emotion from the way she scuttles around in four-inch heels for “Pills” to the creep-factor of her masked guitar tech looming over her for a somber intro to “Huey Newton;” from the revved up version of “New York” to pure heartbreak of the stripped back “Happy Birthday, Johnny.” Perhaps all of these feelings coalesce when she raises a fist over her head and insists, “Let’s fight the power today,” before launching into “MASSEDUCTION.” She takes us all over the map and acts as if it’s all perfectly natural. And in the end, you believe it is. — AF

Nine Inch Nails
General angst translates well when the earth is a giant trash fire, so Nine Inch Nails are giving us a very state-of-the-world-in-2018 vibe with their set. Trent Reznor brings a startling intensity to everything he does: His vocals, the way he moves at his mic stand, even the way he shakes a tambourine.

The atmosphere is charged and it feels at times like the band are trying to expunge something. Reznor has stated that “there’s too much fucking talking,” and thus careens from one song to the next. Something akin to a mosh pit emerges during “Hand That Feeds,” but in their state, most people are just jumping up and not landing evenly on their feet. For a post-midnight set, there are times when the lights are shockingly bright, and more than one person in the audience was spied with sunglasses on.

It’s still the songs of The Downward Spiral that exist most clearly in people’s minds, and it’s edifying to learn what awkward sing alongs they make: It’s intensely awkward to have a group of people sing the chorus of “Closer.” And as the set comes to a close at 2am, having the words to “Hurt” shouted all around you is one giant bummer. But that’s no fault of Trent’s — he can’t be held responsible for the crowd’s unchecked impulse. — AF

Words by Mikael Tobias and Amanda Farah. Photos by Morten Aagaard Krogh.

LIVE REVIEW: Copenhell Festival, 20-23.06.2018

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copenhell logo

Beneath the swathes of denim jackets, bullet belts and Iron Maiden back-patches, Copenhell is a pleasingly diverse gem of an alternative musical festival that refuses to cater solely to the metal old guard. Of course, some of this year’s big names are cornerstones of the heavy world — from Avenged Sevenfold to W.A.S.P. and Ozzy — but the meaty line-up is pitted with artists that draw on everything from EDM to opera.

Even before the festival kicks off in earnest — on the inadequately titled ‘warm-up’ night — Copenhell makes a bruising statement of intent by hosting the grandfathers of post-metal, Neurosis. With only the festival’s smallest stage open to them, Neurosis work through a set made up of swaggering slabs of riffs and passages that wind to dead ends. The band’s tone is thick and cloying, almost claustrophobic — the sort usually reserved for small sweatboxes— but sounding satisfyingly heavy outdoors thanks to some deft sound-work.

In the harsh light of the festival’s official first day, Copenhell reveals its true bounty. The standard festival fare of food and merch stalls and bizarre sideshows are well put-together, but it’s Refshaleøen’s harsh industrial backdrop that really sets the mood. The 2000 metre2 unfaltering gaze of Fenrisulven — the Copenhagen wolf — watches over the weekend’s proceedings as 23,000 alternative music fans flood into the festival.

On paper, the opening day looks the weakest. The business end of Thursday hosts the likes of symphonic stalwarts Nightwish and bro-metallers Avenged Sevenfold, big crowd-pleasing acts that lack something in the way of nuance.

Lower down the bill, buried in the line-up, there’s much more to be had if the in-your-face stuff isn’t really your bag. While Parkway Drive are hardly subtle, their eco-metal manages both aggression and poignance. As the opening act on the main stage, Helviti, they have the dubious honour of setting the pace for the rest of the weekend and they do so with fiery aplomb.

Over on the smaller stage, gospel-cum-black metal act Zeal & Ardor are a different beast altogether. Their records have created a bit of a stir, so it’s gratifying to see their mix of spiritual chants from slave-era America and frosty screams land so well in the middle of the day. In less able hands, their Satan-fuelled ritualistic chants might seem trite or forced but a few songs in, the band have the crowd caught up in their thrall and chanting along.

Another black metal act, Danish born Møl, don’t quite summon the same trance-like state. As last minute replacements for bottled energy merchants Skindred, something gets lost in the mix. Their sensational new album, Jord, relies so much on high-end guitar to offset the grinding backdrop but it’s far too quiet and loses the flourishes that sets them apart from less by-the-book black metal acts.

Friday is an absolutely creaking with the prowess of its line-up so after inhaling all the caffeine and painkillers, we dive in.

Copenhell’s tendency to open the main stage with brutally high-energy acts continues. Nu-metal darlings Deftones could be a bit of an odd fit for this fairly traditional crowd, but they whip up a chaotic whirlpool in front of the stage with the likes of ‘Shove It’, ‘Rocket Skates’ and dripping-with-groove ‘Swerve City’. Chino is on masterly form, flinging himself around the stage and genuinely seeming to enjoy his crowd’s frenetic reception.

Yet more displays of kineticism comes from Japanese electronicore outfit Crossfaith. In front of a hard-drinking Danish crowd, their weird mash-up of EDM, blast beats and songs called things like ‘Jagerbomb’ goes off like a bomb.

After two back-to-back sweat-sets, Alice in Chains bring a pleasing and much-needed change of pace. The endless debates over Will Duvall’s suitability to replace deceased vocalist Layne Staley have finally — thankfully — seemed to abated. Duvall is a gold-standard frontman, easily as comfortable getting the crowd to bounce along to pulsing classic ‘Man in a Box’, wrenching heartstrings with the stripped-back ‘Nutshell’ or calling on the crowd to sing-along to new-era favourites like ‘Stone’.

The focal point of the weekend, Ozzy Osbourne, easily draws the biggest crowd. The man himself is on fantastic form, thundering around the stage and looking far more lively than he has in years, his live performances tempered to perfection by Black Sabbath’s wide-ranging The End tour last year.

Perhaps the biggest joy of the weekend comes from the addition of Zakk Wylde to Ozzy’s line-up. Wylde is a decidedly unsubtle guitarist, inserting pinch-harmonics into the least likely — and sometimes least appropriate — riffs and always on the cusp of dropping into a roaring solo. A big presence on stage, he isn’t eclipsed by the main man and intermittently steps forward and let’s rip.

The set is pretty close to spot on too, with three Black Sabbath covers — including the unexpected ‘Fairies Wear Boots’ — and packed with fist-pumping, cheesy classics that have defined Ozzy’s career.

Saturday is no less eclectic in its variety, and caters to all manner of tastes; whether you’re into experimental French avant-garde breakcore (Igorrr), cock-rock (Steel Panther) or even swashbuckling pirate metal (Alestorm), the final day of the festival is a veritable smorgasbord of heaviness.

The anticipation of the festival’s main stage closing act, Ghost, has built to fever pitch by the time frontman Cardinal Copia and his unnamed ghouls and ghulehs take to the stage, which is mocked up, fittingly, like a cathedral.

When Ghost started out they were a bit of sideshow, with fans as interested in the band’s Satanic garb as their music. Recent albums have completely overturned this misconception; Copia is undoubtedly theatrical but their musical content is bold and has hooks for days.

Songs like ‘Square Hammer’, ‘He Is’ and ‘Faith’ could comfortably be delivered by globe-straddling pop stars were the lyrics not about giving souls over to Satan. But when you think they are at risk of taking themselves too seriously, they escort out some geriatric black mass bishop to deliver the sax solo in ‘Miasma’.

The whole set is uplifting, amusing and mesmerising, in a way that only these Swedish rockers can be. A fitting end to a festival that refuses to be painted into a box.

LIVE REVIEW: The Dead C, Alice, 07.06.2018

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The Dead C live at Alice, Copenhagen, Denmark

The Dead C are considered a bit of an anomaly in the New Zealand music scene. While their contemporaries were engaging in the jangly pop-punk associated with the Flying Nun label, the trio were honing noise-scapes both brash and thoughtful. Three decades later, Bruce Russell, Michael Morley and Robbie Yeats are still going strong as a fiercely independent improvisational act.

Walking on stage to a sound collage of crackling voices and noises, the trio slowly start to disclose their separate functions, distinct enough to that you could tell, knowing nothing of them, that they’re dynamics have been honed over decades of playing together. Morley’s guitar is washed in reverb, delay, looping in on itself, a rough seascape over which his chants are occasionally just loud enough to cut through. In stark juxtaposition to this are the heavily distorted wails, drones and bleeps from Russell. His tiny amp has a pickup taped to the speaker, a technique I vaguely recall being used by Dead C fan Thurston Moore.

The drums follow the guitars rather than vice versa, their rudimentary rhythms there to enhance the chaos of Yeat’s bandmates. The impossibility of the task to impose a structure seems a premeditated satire of the idea of structure itself, couple with a distant, romantic reminder that at their heart the Dead C are a rock band.

You see this in Russell’s increasingly convoluted guitar techniques, as he abandons his strap to drag the instrument upside down on the floor, grating the strings with a beer can or abandoning it altogether to fiddle with his pedals. Because of that extra pickup taped to the amp itself the signal chain is so odd that the most improbable sounds start to emerge. Apparently satisfied with his latest effort, Russell turns to Morley with an obvious look of “I’ve done my part, let’s bugger off”, and after a few more truculent loops from his bandmate, eventually they do.

LIVE REVIEW: Çiğdem Aslan, Alice, 01.06.2018

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Çiğdem Aslan live at Alice in Copenhagen, Denmark

Istanbul-born performer Çiğdem Aslan stands at the centre of a whirl of cultures, languages and musical traditions. Her solo work focuses on the rebetiko tradition that grew out of cities in modern day Greece and Turkey during the Ottoman period, and as such featurues songs in both languages. These are songs of love and vice, full of drama and, if the exegeses to the songs are to go by, a certain amount of rebellious humour.

Tonight Çiğdem Aslan is accompanied by double bass, percussion and the kanun (or kanonaki for Greek fans)—a harp-like instrument played horizontally across the lap—a reduced set of instruments compared to her recorded material, but more than enough to summon the passion and melodrama of rebetiko. The double bass adds a touch of jazz to the sound, and the kanun moves from dreamy glissandos to tempestuous trills. Çiğdem summons the character of the mortissa, after which her first album is named—the rebellious barfly and chanteuse of the Aegean.

As dramatic and controlled as she is a performer, Çiğdem is also an enthusiastic storyteller, providing the audience with brief translated summaries of the songs. There’s something for everyone, from tales of a jilted wife hooking up with a young butcher in Smyrne, to reveries of hashish-induced bouzouki jams. A particular favourite of mine seems to sum up the quintessentially Mediterranean experience: a woman asks her lover to let her sleep over, promising him his mother won’t find out.

Slowly over the evening the audience is coaxed out of its nordic reticence, with girls from a local dance class twirling wildly in front of the stage, and people singing along in both Greek and Turkish. The atmosphere is contagious and before long you would be forgiven for thinking you could hear the sea lapping against the shore of some Cycladic island just outside.

LIVE REVIEW: Pere Ubu, Hotel Cecil, 29.05.2018

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Pere Ubu live at Hotel Cecil, Copenhagen, Denmark

In the 40 years since they began their career, Pere Ubu have never been worried about making their audiences comfortable. Their music is harsh, their lyrics are often grotesque, and singer David Thomas has cultivated a voice that is unsettling to its very core.

But what is most discomfiting about Pere Ubu’s performance at Hotel Cecil is Thomas’s own obvious discomfort. There is no way to not acknowledge this: Thomas has trouble getting up the stairs to the stage, getting across the stage, getting settled on his stool. There is a chuckle in the audience as he repositions himself with the help of his bandmate, and as the music starts he spits back at the crowd, “I really appreciate you laughing at me, asshole.” And though there is fire and life in his retort, there is still a pall over the first part of the set.

Once Thomas is back in storytelling mode between songs, the mood in the room shifts back to the weird: Thomas intones that “…one out of two songs is about monkeys. I’m sure it makes some kind of sense, it makes sense to me,” before the band play “Monkey Bizness” followed by “Carnival.” Robert Wheeler, responsible for electronics and theremin, has what is either a toy ray gun hooked up to a contact mic for glitchy sound effects, or an instrument that looks remarkably like a toy ray gun hooked up to a contact mic (he seems delighted with it, whatever it is). Darryl Boon serves as a wonderful reminder that a clarinet can sound weird as fuck when taken out of context and is probably under-utilized by bands opting instead for more electronics.

It all strikes exactly the right tenor of the strange post-punk band that, despite a few pop tricks up their sleeves, is still just a strange post-punk band. But then there comes the awkwardness of the end of the show; it seems that, despite Thomas’s mobility issues and the stage not being optimally accessible, the convention of an encore is going to be met. And the crowd are appreciative, never halting their applause for a second until the band return and cheering anew when Thomas comes on stage a minute after the rest of the band starts up. It doesn’t seem like gratitude enough, though, for this unnecessary cruelty for what is ultimately only one song. But the band are to be admired and appreciated. Touring is hard on performers that are younger and more mobile. We should count ourselves lucky that Pere Ubu are still willing to do this.

LIVE REVIEW: Tomaga, Alice, 25.05.2018

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Tomaga live at Alice, Copenhagen, Denmark

Taking their cues from the minimalism of Reich and Riley as well as free jazz and psychedelia, even on paper the British/Italian duo Tomaga tick all the right far-out boxes. The result of two musicians taking the term DnB very literally, their most recent work, Memory in Vitro Exposure, starts with a very Reich-ian pattern of mallets, destabilised by a descending bassline, before moving in more atmospheric directions. But the duo’s involvement in projects as diverse as psych outfit The Oscillation and the dark post-punk of Raime is an indication of the breadth of their outlook. What side will we see tonight, the meditative or the free-er, more off-kilter?

This is the second date in Tomaga’s Alice-sponsored mini tour of Denmark, with shows in Aarhus, Copenhagen and Odense. Tonight the opener are local boys Erna, who engage in a very energetic set of drums and effected percussions, winning over an audience through sweat and the intricacy of their interlocked rhythms.

Tomaga begin their set in a deep ambient cloud of electronics and the screeching of metal on cymbals. But it is not long before this gives way to a percussion-heavy thrill ride. And it would be a crime not to give space to Valentina Magaletti’s drumming in a live setting, where there is less space for effects but more for her creativity and energy. In the meantime Tom Relleen juggles bass, synths, mixers and samplers, laying down the foundational mood on which the rhythm develops.

Apart from the occasional use of some Korg Volca leads, the electronics and samples have a raw edge to them, at times metallic and at others more organic, the interlocking of Magaletti and Relleen producing a multiplication of elements both cerebral and physical. Add to that the occasional dub-tinged bassline and you have something way groovier than any of the fancy name-checking above would have you believe.

 

LIVE REVEW: Little Simz, Pumpehuset, 16.05.2018

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There is a look of euphoric incredulousness to Little Simz as she announces that tonight is the final show on her Poison Ivy tour. But this is unnecessary self-effacement from the 24-year-old London-based rapper, already at the end of promoting her second album, Stillness in Wonderland. Her naturalistic flow, jazz-infused beats and self-analysing lyrics have already made her a significant presence, with plaudits from everyone from Lauryn Hill to the Gorillaz.

It’s a warm early summer evening at Pumpehuset, made all the warmer by the 90s-infused harmonies of the opening act, RnB duo VanJess. The Nigerian-American sisters are brimming with grooves and good will, and after several months of only attending  rather austere experimental sets this is a very welcome change to my listening habits.

Accompanied by drums, keyboards and a DJ, Little Simz jumps on stage to deliver a celebration of her work so far, even teasing a new track from her upcoming album. In a live setting her vocals are more raw, the occasional dreaminess of Stillness in Wonderland giving way to something more direct.

If you want a clear indication of the thoughtfulness of Little Simz’s approach to lyrics you have only to look to “God Bless Mary”. The song starts out as a classic ‘tales from the early days’ jam that takes a fundamental key change when Simz reimagines her days and nights spent honing her skills from the point of view of her neighbour Mary, who “has heard everything before the world has” and tacitly supported her by never complaining about the noise.

No one is likely to complain tonight either. Called back by the chants of the audience, Little Simz brings them on stage to the delight of everyone except a rather worried looking tour manager.

 

LIVE REVIEW: Johnny Marr, Store Vega, 19.05.2018

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Johnny Marr live at Store Vega Copenhagen

Johnny Marr is one of the greatest guitarists of his generation, but he’s only come into his own as a solo artist in the last few years. His visit to Store Vega, however, suggests that he’s now at home in this role. Half of the set is songs from his forthcoming album, Call the Comet. You can stream a couple of the tracks now, but it’s mostly unavailable.

But Marr knows that you know him from a particular time and place (or maybe from one of the other dozen bands he’s played with in his career), and everyone in the audience seems keen just on being in his presence. They’re excited about the new material, they’re just as happy to rock out to “Easy Money” as any 80s classic.

Marr also has a very low-key personality that lends itself well to what feels more like a promotional exercise than your average tour. He has a few guitar god stances to pull, but seems to quickly become shy about them. He expresses his mixed feelings about streaming as he introduces his latest single, “Hi Hello,” asking the audience to buy it even if it’s only a bit of plastic. There is a jangle to his new songs that brings to mind his work with the Smiths, and an evident but not heavy-handed political bent that jives well with being the guy who told off David Cameron.

And there are unexpected moments such as“Getting Away With It” from his project Electronic. While he seems to reach for the notes that Bernard Sumner hits on his own, the focus on guitar compared with the atmospherics of the album version breathes a new energy into the song.

But in answer to the inevitable question,”Is he playing any Smiths songs?” the answer is yes. They are interspersed from “Big Mouth Strikes Again” as the second song to show closer “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” (sold to us as the weirdest singalong ever). It’s nice that they’re threaded throughout the set instead of presented as a block or a treat in the encore after listening to Marr’s solo work. And while his is not the voice we associate with the Smiths, he does a pretty good Morrissey impression; his voice takes on a throatier quality for those songs. And after watching Marr mess with his tuning pegs for effect while playing “How Soon Is Now,” there’s no point in ever watching any other performer fumble their way through that song again. So good news for all you Smiths fans who cringe every time Morrissey speaks: We definitely don’t need him anymore.

LIVE REVIEW: US Girls, Hotel Cecil, 06.05.2018

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US Girls live at Hotel Cecil in Copenhagen

US Girls’ Meg Remy styles herself as the creative force behind her project than a solo artist. There are no musicians credited on her most recent albums (this year’s In a Poem Unlimited and 2015’s Half Free), but rather producers are credited for building the tracks. So it’s a surprise when she takes the stage at Hotel Cecil that she’s backed by a seven-piece band, including a backing vocalist and a miniature saxophone.

The band is already playing “Velvet 4 Sale” when she and her backing vocalist join them. She jumps straight into the song. With her enormous, multi-piece band, the work translates very well. The references to funk and disco come through very clearly and sound more organic than the records — especially the saxophone — and the band have mastered the live fade out.

Remy never says anything to the audience the entire set, but she’s very present throughout the evening. The performance is full of dramatics, of Remy acting out the gender politics themes of her work, most memorably when her saxophonist menaces her and her backing singer with his tiny saxophone. The lighting choices, however, make it difficult see these details, and I’m not sure how much audience members even a few rows back pick up on. Considering the musical style and the fantastic costuming of the whole band (wide legged trousers, cheetah print jumpsuits, military style jackets), it would be fantastic to see the pageantry played out on a brightly-lit, full disco-style production.

It’s not the most straight forward evening and Remy doesn’t give us any signposts along the way, but she does make an impact. This is definitely a case where the components are all there and it’s only a matter of waiting for the staging to catch up.

LIVE REVIEW: Lawrence English, Alice, 19.04.2018

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Picture this: our intrepid photographer arrives late and sweaty (we must assume) to the venue, parks his bike, and approaches the entrance. The area outside is ill-lit and completely deserted. As his hand reaches for the door handle, the entire building starts to vibrate.  The windows and doors rattle, the bricks tremble and even the pavement outside murmurs underfoot. One intense tone wrenches through the building, and as he makes his way through the corridor, past the empty cloakroom, it intensifies.

Inside, the room is dark but for a set of neon red strips on the stage. Under their ghoulish glow the audience lies strewn across the floor, as if stunned by the aftershock. I am lying among them, but the shock, though real, is mostly metaphorical. The man at the centre of all this, Lawrence English, introduced the piece with a recommendation that we experience it lying on the floor. There is some initial awkwardness, but as soon as the first dark waves of bass come crashing through the floor, it is clear that he knows what he is talking about.

Of course his previous body of work proves this on its own. Through his work both as an artist and a thinker, Lawrence English has long been interested in developing ideas around the bodily experience and politics of listening. The piece he is presenting tonight is Cruel Optimism, which draws its inspiration from a book of the same title by the theoretician Lauren Berlant. This is English’s most collaborative piece, including contributions from, among others, Swans percussionist Thor Harris and Austrian artist Heinz Riegler.

From down here on the floor, the initial impression is of sheer violence, an intensity felt directly through every limb in contact with the hard surface. For the first minutes I am coming to terms with a feeling of helplessness, an awareness of another being affecting my body in such an un-ignorable, un-interpretable way. Maybe because there is nothing I can do but experience it, the music stops becoming a medium, and becomes a complete object.

The first passage feels like being stuck in the loudest and busiest of city intersections. Subway trains of unimaginable size barrel through the earth below, sirens phase in an out of each other. A high pitched buzz covers all of this, swarming here and there until the bass collapses away and the buzz becomes the frothing sound of a wave after it has crashed. At other points the sound is positively monolithic, an insistence that occupies each body until it is suddenly swept away and replaced by something which is almost choral in quality.

It is very hard not to sound utterly ridiculous in recounting this, but as I consult the track list afterwards they seem to bear out my own listening: “Hard Rain”, “The Quietest Shore”, “Pillar of Cloud”, “Exquisite Human Microphone”. Needless to say, I will be lying down at concerts more often now.

 

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