Category Archives: In Denver Live

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Le Butcherettes light up Fillmore ahead of At the Drive-In

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Photos by Michael McGrath, Story by Amy McGrath

I’m supposed to write a review of last week’s At The Drive-In show at the Fillmore, but I’m not going to do that, because, Le Butcherettes.

Because the raw, dramatic power of Le Butcherettes woke me up like a sparkplug to the brain. Because the minute that Teri Gender Bender, daughter of Denver and Mexico, hit the stage- I was entirely transfixed by the howling, growling and hair flinging. Because Le Butcherettes channel a raw rock and roll rage a la Iggy and the Stooges- tinged with the feminist art edginess of warrior women like Yoko Ono, PJ Harvey, and Nina Hagen. 

Le Butcherettes opens for At the Drive-In, the Fillmore, Denver, 6/15/17. Photo by Michael McGrath, denverthread.com

Le Butcherettes surprised me and made me pay attention. Musically- Gender Bender, on vocals, guitars and keys, and her bandmates, drummer Alejandra Robles Luna and bassist Riko Rodríguez-López- venture across a wide and challenging territory ranging from punk to pop, with a dash of indie/art rock sensibility.

As her chosen name suggests, Teri Gender Bender is actively challenging norms: her performance is suffused with both a howling feminist power and a frank, in-your-face sexiness. She tears away her military jumpsuit to reveal a clingy red dress and heels. She dares you to find her sexy and then tears at her hair and red-streaked face, howling like a banshee.

Le Butcherettes’ brief, challenging, and intense opening set was a revelation to me- and a fascinating feminist counterpoint to the hyper-masculine, slightly unhinged, aggressively physical post-hardcore roar of At the Drive-In. Can’t wait to see Le Butcherettes back in Denver, owning their own stage.


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Brian Setzer keeps his Rockabilly cool at Arvada Center

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Photo by Michael McGrath, story by Amy McGrath

To listen to “Stray Cat Strut” is to climb into a personal time machine. There I am, an early 1980’s middle school version of myself, laying on my bed, chewing gum and gazing at a centerfold poster ripped from the pages of Tiger Beat magazine. The cuffed t-shirt, the tattoos, the sneer, that perfect pompadour…. Brian Setzer was my first in a long line of bad boy crushes. It was an enduring pubescent fantasy of mine that Brian would roll up to the front of my middle school, Triumph engine roaring, sweep me onto the back of his bike and rescue me from the many indignities and down-right uncoolness of middle school.

Here I am, the arguably wiser middle-aged mom version of myself, enjoying a lovely early summer evening in Arvada, gazing again at this more refined, and yes- older version of the very same man. Brian has transitioned nicely from bad boy heart-throb to elegant statesman of rockabilly. At the core of this transition, as much as his enduring cool, is his undeniable showmanship and hard-won guitar prowess.

Brian Setzer’s Rockabilly Riot rolled into the Arvada Center Monday with all the trimmings: classic guitars and warm sounding vintage amps, archetypal tattoo imagery, well-coiffed women in their best pin-up finery. The show marked a down-sized but cranked-up return to rockabilly for Setzer, whose career over the last few decades has been connected with a swing/big-band revival in front of the The Brian Setzer Orchestra.

Setzer’s set featured both the greatest hits of the Stray Cats along with a smattering of other rockabilly standards. Fan favorites “Rumble in Brighton” and “Rock this Town” had the Arvada Center crowd on its feet singing every word. Setzer’s capable backing band also shined during more subtle moments, like the gorgeous instrumental “Blue Moon” interlude, showcasing his outstanding, Les Paul-influenced guitar work.

Setzer’s 40+ years in the music business is a testament to the his ability to successfully navigate the transition from teen idol to rock icon. And even though his tattoos were hidden under a tailored pin-striped suit, and his punk rock sneer has faded into a more savvy showmanship, “Stray Cat Strut” still gave me the same flutters in my belly that I first experienced as a rebel boy obsessed pre-teen.

Editor’s note: Michael took lots of great photos of Brian Setzer at the Arvada Center. The one you see here was the only one approved for publication by his management. We’re not sure why…. we thought he looked great!!


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Photos by Declan Geise

Thriving Local Band AMZY Rocks the Gothic

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Photos by Declan Giese

Ahh, to be young, fresh-faced, optimistic, and in a kick-ass rock band again…. How many of us wouldn’t sell everything we had to get into that spotlight? Well, local up-and-coming band AMZY hasn’t had to sell anything to land themselves in the great graces of rock ‘n’ roll – and pretty quickly. The seemingly cut-for-video four piece played a packed Gothic Theatre last Friday night, proving that – while young – they’ve got what it takes to stay there.

Fronted by Australian native Brennan Johnson – who belts out vocals like he was born to do it – they started with a heart-wrenching version of Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good” that stopped the audience in awe. Johnson did Simone justice, while the rest of the band backed him up impressively, and if anyone in the Gothic had any doubts before then, they were sold by the time the opener ended. They followed that emotional setting with a little more than an hour of upbeat, electronic power pop that was almost impossible not to dance to. Centered around Johnson’s strong vocals, Nick Billings’ bass work and Wes Barton’s near-flawless drumming gave their set a solid, skilled foundational rhythm, while Sean Grant’s guitar work defined the addictive, explosive sound. Who knew such a wall of sound could come from a simple Telecaster, anyway?

Their infectious grooves showed influences like The Killers and locals Churchill, and occasionally added a smidgen of Alt-J (especially in parts of “Feet on the Ground”) – but wrapped pretty deeply in a hard rocking maelstrom of vocal harmonies, power chords, keys and rhythm. Their new single “Sorry Not Sorry” was a wrangling anthem to walking away from a relationship that had the whole room jumping, while the smooth “We Don’t Walk We Dance” settled the crowd into a swaying dance. “5 to Midnight,” with it’s catchy singalong chanting and impossibly sticky hooks, had the crowd howling in unison. At one point, Johnson boarded a giant inflatable unicorn boat and navigated deep into the crowd on willing fan’s heads, hands, and shoulders – nearly abandoning ship more than once.

AMZY plays a solid, super-catchy power pop, but with more substance that the average young group. Their latest single “Sorry Not Sorry” is available now, and they plan to release a new EP later this year. Keep your ears open for them – they’re coming to take over Denver, and coming fast.


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Decatur Releases Smooth, Pensive Alt-Rock at the Walnut Room

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Local up-and-coming 5-piece Decatur hosted an EP release party last Friday night in front of a Walnut Room filled with happy & adoring fans, leaving no one disappointed. Fronted by a suave looking Sean Decrescenzo, the band played a little more than an hour of smooth, well-constructed rock that mostly recalled the sounds of Alt-J or The Fray, occasionally adding a soupcon of Dave Matthews‘ pop brilliance.

Decrescenzo was joined by Quinn Cox (guitar, keys, vocals), Chris Howard (drums, vocals), Sam Oatts (bass, vocals), and Tay Hamilton (guitar, vocals) in delivering a well-practiced and well-produced sound filled with full vocal harmonies floating through dynamic guitar and keyboard constructions and anchored by a rock-solid rhythm section. “Don’t Talk” – the opener on their debut eponymous EP – was a moody heartbreaker, and “Shadows” played out an almost film noir atmosphere.

While these musicians are fantastically talented and played a nearly flawless set, it’s a little too evident that they’re still reaching for a consistent style all their own. Well-constructed songs like “Hide Me Away” and “Every Little Step” Came across with just a shade too much of The Fray in the overall sound, although in most of the other songs Decatur easily portrayed their own unique, smooth and pensive sound.

The venue was either swaying or bouncing to the set, pumped up and excited as the band played ou its set. Many of the fans were familiar enough with the band to sing along, but almost nobody was standing still. Decatur is on its way up in the Denver scene, and with their talent and commitment should be among the upper echelon before you know it – keep your eye on them. You can stream their debut EP on SoundCloud, to get a good taste of them.


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Black Marble moody and magical at Lost Lake

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Black Marble plays Lost Lake on 5/27/17. Photo by Molly McGrath, denverthread.com

Story and Photos by Molly McGrath

Moody electronica band Black Marble packed the sold-out Lost Lake on Saturday, May 27th. The synth and bass duo from New York had Denver followers waiting long and hard, as it was their first time playing in Denver. Touring in support of their new album It’s Immaterial, the band attracted goths and hipsters alike, as the melancholy yet danceable songs provided an deeply pleasant listening experience.

Voight plays Lost Lake on 5/27/17. Photo by Molly McGrath, denverthread.com

Denver’s two piece darkwave/ noise band Voight kicked off the night. They filled the room with a thick smoke, complete with fluorescent back lighting. Their music contained elements of Psych Rock, Electronica, and Darkwave and was reminiscent of A Place to Bury Strangers. Voight’s set was extremely eerie, and gave the audience a sense of total mystery about what the rest of the show had to offer. However, Draa, four young men from Phoenix (on tour with Black Marble) differed greatly from this, providing a perfect transition to the headliner. Draa’s sound had lots of Psych Rock influences, and was for the most part, extremely joyous. Imagine you are the star in a Sundance film, driving in a yellow convertible down the coast of Oregon, everything is green and there are little flowers in the tall grass. It makes sense that Draa is playing on the radio, because it is such happy and tranquil music.

Draa plays Lost Lake on 5/27/17. Photo by Molly McGrath, denverthread.com

Finally the long awaited Black Marble appeared and played songs from both of their studio albums. The band’s synthy nature had the full crowd dancing throughout the night. The man next to me even cried several times. They encored with Iron Lung, a single from their recent release, It’s Immaterial. Overall, Black Marble brought a juxtaposing (extremely melancholy, yet soothing) energy to the Lost Lake.


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Beer beats weed at Denver’s Project Pabst

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Photos by Michael McGrath, story by Amy McGrath

What happens when a big music festival is sponsored by a major beer manufacturer in a city that’s become one of the international hubs of legal marijuana? In the case of Denver’s Project Pabst, beer culture wins.

The security screening for this festival was the most stringent of any in recent memory. If security is on the hunt for guns and weapons to protect festival-goers, that’s certainly appreciated. But I stood near the entrance on Saturday and watched countless patrons be turned back at the gates for having marijuana in their bags. Later, during Twin Peaks stoney and super-fun set, the band encouraged the audience to light up in their honor…. but few seemed to have weed to light, and if they did light up, security pounced quickly, even deep into the crowd. At least when Project Pabst is in town, it appears that beer culture still beats weed culture.

Ice Cube plays at Project Pabst Denver, 2017. Photo by Michael McGrath, denverthread.com.

Project Pabst brought a strong lineup to its Larimer Street/RiNo street party for the second year in a row, including festival headliner Ice-Cube. Twin Peaks, Phantogram, Danny Brown and Kurt Vile all contributed strong sets to the diverse lineup. We were looking forward to catching a mid-afternoon main stage set from Chicago hip-hop poet No Name but were disappointed to find out she had pulled out of the lineup shortly before the festival, replaced by Denver math-rock outfit Montoneros.

Though the main stage lineup was strong (especially Vile’s dreamy sunset vibes), our favorite sets of the day were found in more intimate environs, on the lovely, sun and art drenched Meadowlark patio, and inside the dark, beer drenched Larimer Lounge. Young Denver trumpet/funk master Wesley Watkins led his project Other Black through a beaming, effervescent set of funked up soul to a joyous crowd at the mid-afternoon Meadowlark.

Kurt Ottaway, longtime powerhouse on the Denver music scene (Overcasters, Tarmints, Twice Wilted) prowled the tiny Larimer Lounge stage out front the excellent Emerald Siam in their pumped-up set of darkly sonic pysch-rock. And providing an interesting sonic counterpoint to the Ice Cube mainstage festival set happening just outside, Denver’s Flaural lit up the Larimer with their substantial but sunny psychedelia.

Other Black plays at Project Pabst Denver, 2017. Photo by Michael McGrath, denverthread.com.

The diverse lineup and inside/outside offerings meant even older Denver music fans, aghast at how the once gritty side of Larimer street has become a highly decorated, homogenous hipster playground, could find something to love at Denver’s Project Pabst- even if they still couldn’t find the weed.

Emerald Siam plays at Project Pabst Denver, 2017. Photo by Michael McGrath, denverthread.com.


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Son Volt Relevant and Real at Gothic Theatre

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Story by Amy McGrath, Photos by Michael McGrath

“You’re with me now, will be again…” Drown, Jay Farrar, Son Volt

The music of Son Volt serves as a significant musical place-holder in my memory. Rising from the ashes of early 90’s college radio gods Uncle Tupelo, Son Volt’s first album, 1995’s Trace, was one of the first really important albums of my adulthood. I was newly graduated from college, negotiating the “real world” of career, credit cards, and post collegiate relationships. Trace was brand new but also perfectly embodied the musical influences of my childhood- Willie Nelson, Guy Clark, Bob Dylan- and the album was a deep source of comfort, a security blanket for me in an uncertain time.

Fast forward twenty-two years to spring 2017. I have learned there is no “certain” time. I am constantly negotiating and re-negotiating my relationship to the “real world” and searching to find some meaning in this experience we call adulthood. Jay Farrar and Son Volt continue to make relevant, roots-bound rock music that illustrates the stark realities of “Trump’s America”- economic depression, environmental degradation and general hopelessness. Musically, it’s rootsy, country blues/rock remains grounded in familiarity, but lyrically, the work feels especially relevant in its themes of life struggle and the quest for redemption.

Son Volt plays The Gothic Theatre, May 12, 2017. Photo by Michael McGrath for denverthread.com

Friday night at the Gothic Theatre, Son Volt sounded both comforting and fresh as they rolled out the electric blues of their latest release, Notes of Blue. The album is cranked up a notch from Son Volt’s more mellow recent releases, and the energy of the Friday night show followed suit. Opening with the rocker “Lost Souls,” Farrar’s signature nasal cry was well mated to the noisy guitar rock strongly reminiscent of his Uncle Tupelo origins.

Son Volt’s set offered up lots of strong work from their new album, especially the driving, voodoo grit of “Midnight.” But Farrar and company also offered up plenty for those who have been following them from the beginning by featuring several of the standout tracks from the debut album Trace. The mournful slide guitar whine of “Ten Second News” is Son Volt at its sad and beautiful best.

Keeping it balanced in the encore, the band offered  “Windfall,” likely the happiest ever Son Volt tune and contender for best road trip song of all time, and left the entire Gothic crowd in full sing along mode: “Both feet on the floor, two hands on the wheel, May the wind take your troubles away.” In a final blast of indie rock joy, the band returned for a 2nd encore with a spirited cover of the Velvet Underground classic “What Goes On.” Thanks, Son Volt- for something so direct and real. You’re with me now, and will be again.


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Photo: Isobel Thieme/DenverThread

Substance Flows from Peter Hook and The Light

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Photos by Isobel Thieme/DenverThread

The Summit Music Hall was filled with history last Saturday night, as Peter Hook and the Light played both the New Order and Joy Division Substance albums in their entirety. Hook played his signature, unforgettable bass constructions alongside his son Jack Bates, who also played bass throughout the show, and keyboardist Andy Poole, drummer Paul Kehoe, and guitarist David Potts. The band did a masterful job replicating both New Order and Joy Division for nearly three hours, only stopping for a short break between the two records.

They started the first set with a few bonus cuts–“Dreams Never End,” “Procession,” and “Cries and Whispers”–before starting on the New Order album in order. The older songs stood out clearly from most of the rest of the New Order portion, which came from the band’s more accessible, dance-hit remix period. This part included highlights like the ubiquitous ‘80s hit “Blue Monday,” “Confusion,” “State of the Nation,” “Bizarre Love Triangle,” and the rest. While the band performed all the songs remaining true to their roots – Hooky’s bass was a bit overpowering at times – after five or six dancefloor legends they began to get somewhat tiresome. The crowd loved it early on but seemed to settle towards the latter half.

Hook didn’t address the audience much, although he did dedicate their version of “The Perfect Kiss” to the recently passed director Jonathan Demme, and later stopped the band to admonish some sort of skirmishing fans near the front. Otherwise, he was Hooky the smug professional for the entire set.

After a brief intermission -no doubt allowing the band to load up on oxygen – they came back out and played Joy Division’s version of Substance – and they looked as if they’d just begun, rather than having already played a full 90-minute set. And the audience was re-energized right along with them, screaming out lyric after lyric to nearly every song, pogoing, or simply swaying in old-school shoegaze form. Hearing such influential and brilliant classics like “No Love Lost,” “Warsaw,” “These Days,” and “Leaders of Men” performed live was a hugely satisfying experience. Hook did a good job of approximating Ian Curtis’s signature vocal style while keeping his own affect pretty evident.

It was the last half of the Joy Division set that brought the place down when the band launched into songs like “Transmission,” “She’s Lost Control,” “Dead Souls,” and “Atmosphere.” Even after nearly three hours of playing, the band never looked or sounded worn down, and did justice to the original post-punk anthems. And then, of course, came time to play the ubiquitous (but still emotionally jarring and brilliant) “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” As you’d expect, nearly the entire audience sang every word along with the band, which stopped playing at one point to showcase the howling that absolutely filled the venue.

While Peter Hook remains in litigation with the other member of New Order–something he often comments is truly heartbreaking–his tours have re-introduced these important albums to so many, and in many cases have introduced them for the first time, with great respect. The records’ longevity is absolutely evident, and the insight and ingenuity of the lyrics and music are, maybe, more relevant now than when Curtis was alive.


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Bob Mould Lights Up the Oriental Theater

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Photos by Michael McGrath, Story by Billy Thieme

After decades of almost no stage banter or commentary, Bob Mould had some things to say to a near-packed house at the Oriental last Saturday night, both in and in-between songs. The ‘80s/’90s influential punk rocker cut a slim, professional figure, alone on that large stage save for his guitar, amp stacks, and a mic stand, as he belted out a litany of songs from his history – more Hüsker Dü songs than I expected (a great thing), plenty of Sugar pieces, and many from his solo records.

Mould has always made an unforgettable – and unmistakable – use of his unique voice, nasal and powerful, threading often indiscernible lyrics through impossibly fast and razor-sharp power chords, and Saturday’s show was no different. Starting the show with “Hoover Dam,” “Your Favorite Thing,” and a searing “I Apologize,” he quickly riled up an already excited audience. Despite the rows of chairs set up in the pit area, most down at the stage chose to stand once the tunes kicked off – understandably.

The rocking continued through “See A Little Light,” “The End of Things,” “You Say You,” and a few others, as Mould thrashed his Fender, stalking from one side of the stage to the other, clearly in a music-borne ecstasy. He slowed things down a bit with “Lonely Afternoon” and “Sinners and Their Repentances,” from Workbook – one of his earlier solo records – almost crooning over the complex chord progressions.

He closed out the set after nearly 90 minutes with a set of Sugar and Hüsker Dü favorites: “If I Can’t Change Your Mind,” the beautifully maudlin “Hardly Getting Over It,” “Flip Your Wig,” and the masterpiece, “Celebrated Summer.” By this time the majority of the audience were on their feet, screaming for more. And Bob delivered with a three-song encore including “In A Free Land,” “Daddy’s Favorite,” and “Black Confetti.”

Saturday night’s show was the first of a solo US tour for Mould that wraps up at the end of April. Judging by that performance, each show will be an unforgettable experience.

Denver trio Andy Thomas’ Dust Heart opened the show with a set of moving, dark country gothic that recalled local ghoul Munley. Thomas played acoustic guitar alongside fellow member of The Knew, Tyler Breuer, on steel guitar and Jen GaNun on harpsichord. His guttural yet smooth voice let out ballads about heartbreak, landscapes,  devils, and lovers, well-matched by the folky constructions.


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A Garden of Surprising Delights at the Marquis Theater

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Photos by Sandisz Thieme, Story by Molly McGrath

Something about the energy of the Garden as they played the Marquis last Tuesday was shocking and innovative, chaos in its best form. The Marquis lineup was one of the strangest, most innovative lineups I’ve ever seen; The Garden, Fat Tony and Loretta Kill all highlighted each other in a strange, puzzle-esque way.

The Garden, two androgynous model twin brothers (Fletcher and Wyatt Shears) from Orange County, California are the founders of what they call the “Vada Vada,”  genre (as well as a state of being) the defies all set binaries and puts a twist on traditional punk and electronica. Over the years, their music has transformed from minute long punk ballads about simple and everyday things, to complex beat driven songs following narratives of their life in “the Vadaverse.”

The Garden opened the show with the title track of their new album “U Want The Scoop?” and as soon as the band began to play, the audience began dancing, moshing, and singing along. From somersaults to strange hand gestures, the comical side of the Garden’s music is brought to life on stage, including their personal interactions with the audience- shaking the hands of every person in the front row and allowing audience members to sing the catchy choruses into the microphone.

The Garden’s performance however, greatly contrasted that of Fat Tony’s. Although high levels of energy remained throughout the night, Fat Tony brought a very different vibe to the room. The Nigerian-American rapper from Houston had many members of the audience dancing as he sung, rapped, and occasionally screamed the lyrics to his songs.

But even before Fat Tony took the stage with his  R&B influenced hip-hop vibes, locals Loretta Kill took the stage. Their music, loud, punky and danceable, had the members of the teenage audience bobbing their head along. Some members of the audience, like myself, danced vigorously through their full set. Eli Lancaster of Loretta Kill described the night as the strangest lineup he has ever seen, yet the most fun he’s ever had playing a show, and I totally agree with him.


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Tinariwen Come in From the Desert to Play The Oriental Theater

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Photos by Michael McGrath

Taureg guitar band Tinariwen delighted a near-packed Oriental Theater with their unique blend of blues, psychedelic guitars, and rhythms often reminiscent of a slow, majestic plodding across hot dunes, camels in tow as night falls. The band was promoting its eighth international release, Elwan (Elephants), the latest product of 20 years of global popularity. Touring the US, Tinariwen were far from their remarkably dangerous home in northern Mali – and the music on the new album reflects that harsh environment. They usually sang in their native language – so I’m hard-pressed to identify any songs – but they were all beautifully sad, or jubilant, or sweepingly poetic, and all were drenched in a beautiful combination of Middle Eastern folk and (I swear) Grateful Dead-influenced guitar meandering.

Dressed in traditional desert clothing – beautifully ornate and covering nearly 100% of their bodies, the band members made me feel stuffy and hot – but they played on brilliantly for more than an hour, as the semi-packed pit danced and clapped in rhythm. These nomads definitely have established their American fanbase, and they’re passionately committed to the band, as much as the band is committed to them – which was obvious throughout the night.

Dengue Fever opened the evening with their unique blend of Cambodian rock, surf, Afro grooves, and psychedelic jazz, bringing the level of the theater up in short order.

 

 


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Foxygen breathes new air into Gothic Theatre

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Photos by Michael McGrath

Foxygen brought its big, high-energy show to the Gothic Theatre on Tuesday in support of their 2017 release, Hang. 


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