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  1. Review by: Mike Prost Photos: Kaidy Mae Newman Umphrey's McGee - Photo by Kaidy Mae Newmango here for more photos go here to download a recording of the show (thx Bradm!) A lot of anticipation filled the room Wednesday night at The Danforth Music Hall in Toronto as Umphrey’s McGee were about to take the stage. The band from Chicago made the trip north of the border to play at the newly revamped music venue. The opening band The Bright Light Social Hour from Austin, TX started the night off right with bluesy dance jams that grabbed people’s attention. The venue used to have theatre style seating, which have been removed on the lower level to open up a general admission floor. The slanted grade of the floor makes for perfect sight lines. Shortly after 9pm UM began their first set. The band’s prog-rock dance fusion sounds got the crowd moving right from the start. Ocean Billy was an early highlight as UM jammed out hard with an extended middle section of the song. The band is known for their highly improvisational shows. Spontaneous key changes made on the fly, using hand signals between band members, help create a unique show each and every night. The dual guitar wizardry of Jake Cinninger and Brendan Bayliss, weave together effortlessly in an energetic sound that is second to none. A mixture of new and old favourites and a cover of Miss Gradenko by The Police filled out the set before UM closed with 40’s Theme. A song with playful lyrics about malt liquor and barbequing has dance rhythms held tight by Kris Myers on drums and Andy Farag on percussion that keep the crowd moving and grooving to the back beat. Funky bass lines on the low end by moustachioed Ryan ‘Pony Boy’ Stasik adds to the movement as the crowd gets closer and closer to the stage like a moth to the light. But it’s the face melting solos by Cinninger and Bayliss that excites the crowd and has the fans waiting with baited breath for the second set. If set one gave any indication of how set two would pan out, the crowd was ready for a barn burner. UM opened set two with Plunger and segued into a roaring version of Higgins and then concluded by jamming back into Plunger. The band was firing on all cylinders at this point and the mixed demographic crowd of young and old loved every minute of it. Keyboardist Joel ‘Goldside’ Cummins played a vital role in the ambient tones of the heavily structured songs during the evening. Turn & Run which was sandwiched in between the reggae rocker Utopian Fir had darker jams with a tease of Bob Marley’s Exodus. The light show performed by Jefferson Waful was nothing short of extraordinary. The combination of light and sound fuelled the fire for the night. The band ended the show with a cover of Live and Let Die by Paul McCartney & Wings. The buzz in the room was clear – Umphrey’s never disappoints. The audience certainly made the band feel welcome and at home as they raged all night long. For a Wednesday night this Toronto crowd sure made it feel like a Saturday. Setlist Set 1 Depth Charge > Ocean Billy Get In the Van Made To Measure > Professor Wormbog > Cemetary Walk Fussy Dutchman Miss Gradenko (The Police) 40’s Theme Set 2 Plunger > Higgins > Plunger Push the Pig 1348 Utopian Fir > Turn & Run[1] > Utopian Fir Live and Let Die (Paul McCartney & Wings) Encore Pay the Snucka [1] – with Exodus (Bob Marley) jam
  2. Review by David Barrett Photos by Mike Bouchard Peter Elkas in Ottawa at the NAC - Mar. 16, 2012 More photos by Mike Bouchard on Flickr The Fourth Stage at the NAC is a unique venue in Ottawa- at once intimate and spartan, the stage is barely raised from the floor, placing the artist on an almost equal footing as the audience. To many of the acts that play there, this lends an opportunity to converse fairly freely with the audience and this was obvious from the start on this night, with Peter Elkas working the room well with his disarming smile, perfect teeth and natural, spontaneous stage banter. We learned, for instance, before the show got going how he was born in Montréal and had played in many venues in Ottawa over the years; in fact he listed off each venue, one by one (tally being around 14, for those interested). The series of bands playing at the 4th Stage has been impressive, with someone giving careful consideration to those artists that would take maximum advantage of the room's qualities and this was no exception. “I tune because I care” was something of an ongoing joke and the band even strayed from the setlist to accommodate one or two requests In listening to Peter Elkas you are at once struck with both the feeling of experiencing a unique voice but one that resonates with a certain familiarity. In making a name for him self as an indie-rock songwriter, he has had the opportunity to venture out from well trodden trails and into the fringes, having had on his musical journeys a variety of interesting companions (Ron Sexsmith, Joel Plaskett Emergency, Neko Case, Feist are, for instance, past musical companions to Elkas), each seeming to subtly infuse his style with their own voice. That Elkas is an accomplished songwriter is something of a given; this was evident from the get-go with the release of his reflective, catchy and melodic 2003 debut album, Party of One. His subsequent efforts underscored this as the sophmore Wall of Fire demonstrated a slightly different type of sound in equally accomplished fashion. Elkas's Repeat Offender (released last year) shows how this evolution in styles has showed what I've felt was a Motown sound with rich harmonies shaped into a uniquely Elkasesque sound (occasional heavy and fuzzy guitar licks and short solos and a nice departure from the verse/chorus/verse/chorus structure and the other musicians). Elkas's songwriting centres around good melodies, interesting chord changes and ultimately, solid hooks. A great vocal range and a great command of both electric and acoustic guitars give him a nice little arsenal of talent from which to draw. This was demonstrated in his professional approach to the gig, warming the audience by opening his first of two sets solo, with an acoustic guitar and harmonica. Thus, Sweet Nancy and Sunlight showcased reflective lyrics, pretty melodies and interesting chord changes. They also serve well to show off Elkas's vocal range, falsettos scattered throughout. Burt Neilson Band veterans Jeremy Little and Gavin Maguire then joined the stage and Elkas switched to an electric Epiphone (then to a Fender by the fourth song). He also explained that [our very own] his keyboard player, Jeff Heisholt couldn't make the gig as he was in Texas at the SXSW festival; more on that later. Blue of You from his 2011 album, Repeat Offender, cranked things up a notch with a driving rhythm and a bit of heavy guitar at the song's close. While tables of women in the 20-30 age range lapped up the gentle side of the Elkas songwriting catalog, the more testosterone-laden male bracket seemed to hoot and holler a bit more during and after the heavier numbers. Having three albums of songs to draw from kept the sets interesting and Elkas's influences were given nods with distinct flavours ranging from Motown/Soul through to Beatles sounds as well as Bruce Springsteen songwriting sensibilities. And in keeping with Elkas's easygoing banter we were treated, later in the night, to stories involving his teenage self making a trek to meet his childhood hero, Springsteen, and how it finally came to fruition years later– more on that the CBC website. Little and Maguire kept things tight, and stepped up in making up on some of the harmonizing with the absence of Heisholt. The songlist itself was evidence of thoughtful musings on how to make a set flow and Elkas's efforts paid off well. By the end of the first set the energy had been waxing, and by the time they took to the stage again the audience was palpably ready for more. When a songwriter knows his material inside-out and understands the dynamics of a good musical flow, the results can be insidious– this was such a night, despite the absence of a quarter of the band's sound. The fact that Elkas was comfortable with all of this shone through via more and more banter, back and forth between himself and the audience (“I tune because I care” was something of an ongoing joke and the band even strayed from the setlist to accommodate one or two requests). Anticipation was a great warm up to Cruel Thing to Do, providing the meatier part of the first set and set a certain tone for the songs of scoundrels that rounded out the set. Perhaps not coincidentally, during the string of scoundrel songs Elkas made a request of the audience, “We miss Jeff, can everybody say that?”. The second set opened with Elkas on the Wurlitzer (hoping, as he told us, that he wouldn't make too many mistakes, he didn't, by my reckoning) for 2011's Atlas and merged into a second set that proved to shuffle hooks, change pace and add audience participation (Elkas had the room yelling/singing “Yeeeahhhh” and “Wooooooo” during the effervescent and vaguely My Girl-reminiscent Something Beaming). The hooks abided throughout the rest of the set with Elkas “replacing” Heisholt with a kazoo for (appropriately?) Build a Harmony, and the second set crescendo-ed via Cool Thing to Do, and a very rocking (& rather Blues Brothers-y) Everybody Works. The encore was a nice one-two punch with an acoustic solo version of “How Do You Sleep” and a “tribute” to Springsteen in the form of Only You and concluded with the Beatles-esque Turn Out the Lights, once again featuring Elkas on the Keyboard. While it's somewhat of a truism, the combination of Elkas's professionalism, song crafting and excellent stage presence left all in attendance with the realisation that this is a band that will continue to make itself heard and will continue to entertain and inspire– hope for scoundrels yet. Peter Elkas Mar. 16, 2012 Ottawa, ON - NAC 4th Stage Set I Sweet Nancy Sunlight Blue of You My Well Runs Deeper Anticipation Cruel Thing To Do Repeat Offender Fall Apart Again Party of One Set II Atlas Wall off Fire Goodbye to Dublin Paid Back Something Beaming Build a Harmony Cool Thing Everybody Works Poor Young Things How Do You Sleep Only You Turn out the Lights
  3. Written by: Jay McConnery Photos by: Mike Bouchard Perry Ferrel and Dave Navarro of Jane's Addiction at Ottawa Bluesfest 7-16-2011 The final weekend of Bluesfest 2011 delivered a cavalcade of dynamic headlining appearances; Jane's Addiction who left the crowd of late 30-something Lollapaloozers gasping for air as Perry and the fellas smoked through a near-perfect set of their peak era's timelessly bookmarked hits, Blue Rodeo who skillfully delivered true Canadiana more succintly than a syringe of maple syrup injected directly into the sphincters of the stumbly yet appreciative crowd, and the surprise headliner late Sunday afternoon- this crazy bitch known as Mother (Fucking) Nature, who arrived without a moment's notice and left a crowd of 12-day festival 'veterans' soaked, frightened with disbelief and many thankful they were still alive. Surely, anyone reading this has seen the footage, or heard about the freak storm that ended Bluesfest about 4 hours early on Sunday night, but if not, allow me: A few songs into Cheap Trick's mainstage set, at about 7:10pm Sunday, right after a most engaging and rocking rendition of 'I Want you to Want me', some very dark clouds began to blow in from the Quebecoisie North, at a worrying speed. Concert goers (including myself) were busy taking pictures as it rolled in, as it was truly unusually dark and bared down with a hilariously accurate baring. Temperatures had been stifflingly hot all day, and I think we all expected to enjoy a bit of a cool shower together and further the mood of celebration already in place with the amazing lineup of music the night held for us. Standing in the festival plaza, watching Cheap Trick work through the next song, the wind suddenly picked up to an intensity like I have never before witnessed in this city; signs anchored with huge cement blocks began to blow over, the banners along each side of the stage were flapping like loose unmanned sails, dust came up in a huge blinding cloud and all at once the front of house speakers went down. The band had just put their instruments down and began to leave the stage, as it was obviously no longer safe, when I turned to my wife and said- 'We should get into the beer tent, this might be a pretty crazy downpour..' and as we turned that way, the intensity notched up again and the collective confusion and panic of the crowd became tangiable. The wind was whipping in what felt like increasing gusts, and all of a sudden the mouth of the beer tent didn't feel like a safe place to be. The flaps of the tent began to whip ferociously as I pulled my wife forward to ask if we should retreat to the War Museum- when all of a sudden we both turned to witness the MBNA stage teeter, totter and then blow over onto itself and all the production to it's rear. It was literally a huff, a puff and then the titanic sized stage went over like a house of cards. Knowing a little bit about the number of people associated with stage production, the number of family and fans likely watching from the sidelines and the volunteers milling about- I feared the worst. This made the imagery even more awful, and implanted one visual clip that will stick with me forever.. We shared a quick glance of 'Holy Shit!', grabbed hands and ran for the museum parking garage at full tilt. Admittedly, it was handy to have an actual bunker (within a monument designed to look like one) to flee to in this situation. Inside the muggy confines of the parking garage, we stood in disbelief as throngs of fans strolled in, obviously unaware of what had just happened, screaming 'wooo' or 'partee' or just laughing about the soaking. I met one gentleman who seemed concerned, so we shared our experiences and as I described to him what I had seen, and the likelihood that someone may very well be seriously injured, he said- "Joe Satriani will be on the other stage though, right?" Wow, buddy... We kept to ourselves or in company of other friends who might be more aware of what just 'went down' (too soon?), and the implications that it might have for the lives of actual humans. Uncertainty was certainly the most overwhelming reaction, knowing nothing, and being unable, or perhaps incapable of helping. As the storm slowed, we left the bunker to see volunteer staff scurrying about carrying tills full of cash, worried parents scanning the crowd for their children, security freaking out or lazily texting and senior staff shouting that it was all over in an attempt to evacuate the park. We were clumsily directed East, but managed to head out the West exit towards our bikes and were shocked by the damage. Everything without weight was completely blown around, perimeter fences collapsed, tables and chairs all over, some vending stations mutilated, basically just crap strewn everywhere. We walked up to the exit and saw the the remnants of the MBNA stage leaning backwards onto the parkway, surrounded by firetrucks and ambulances. I stood there for a moment trying to imagine how it could've possibly come down like that, and saw a musician I know sitting in the drivers seat of his truck, with his family, probably doing the same. We exchanged a glance and I knew immediately the best place to be was safe at home. The emergency personnel was on the scene, and it was time to let them sort things out- and get out of the way. Biking home through the lightening was nowhere near as scary, even with the power out in our neighbourhood until Monday evening. It was later the next day, with great relief that many of us learned no one was seriously injured through a tweet from the Bluesfest brass. Thank G-O-D! Focusing on the weekend's performers will be difficult for anyone that was there Sunday night, because that was the show of life my friend, and nothing else holds a candle. In so many ways this was such an unfortunate, but somehow fittingly epic end to a monumental, galvanizing, yet very memorable and obviously incredibly well-attended Bluesfest. There were a lot of adjustments this year- many of which resulted in anger or frustration. Some seemed unavoidable the first couple of days, but as the festival went on, there were definitely moments where I had the strange feeling that we were all taking part in a colossal test of basic human intelligence, and many of us were flat-out failing. Although the new layout admittedly presented challenges with seemingly reduced sanitation services and possibly an increased focus on the bottom-line- with every change there was an opportunity to 'beat the line', usually by taking a few extra paces, or by just looking around and using your brain a little. Bottle necks were easily predicted and avoided, beer was easily snuck in (if that's your thing, you skid), , close comfortable vantage points available and often empty at several stages and all concert pitches were easily traversed with only a few real 'lawn chair' moments. Isn't this all we could've ever hoped for? No, the line-up wasn't perfect, and didn't really make sense with the Vegas theme, or at all for that matter- but do you really care? I don't! It was something to discuss, and argue about. I suppose, but the festival once again provided an undeniably incredible amount of entertainment value for ticket holders (especially full pass holders) and a fantastic opportunity to really catch up with friends, spending quality time as only your friend-family can do when given this amazing opportunity to be together everyday for 2 weeks.. What else could ever give us this excuse, as we all slowly morph into boring regulars? Thanks again Bluesfest- I'm already looking forward to next year!
  4. Written by: Jay McConnery LA-33 at Ottawa Bluesfest - Photo by: Andrew Carver Lineup wise, Thursday night at Bluesfest rolled in like a parched tumbleweed after the glorious rock show wetness of the night before had all but dried up, giving many regulars a good excuse to take a night off. Scanning the program earlier in the day, I was admittedly close to bailing as well, but knowing these dark horse days at Bluesfest can often be the talk of the festival, with an unknown act delivering a break-out performance that people discuss for eternity, we gobbled some hastily rolled burritos and hit the Parkway on our bikes with no express expectations, except for the expectation that I would eventually be right that it was a good idea to head down. Well, I wouldn't say it was the dark horse night, but on that confusing scale it was at the very least a well-tanned donkey. Maybe with some sunburnt pale spots. It was with indifference that I learned Theory of a Deadman would not be preforming due to illness- but I was happy to hear Hamilton's Arkells were given their time slot, and could see they were ready for the opportunity. They played to a great crowd and sounded like they've found the sweet spot in reeling in their enthusiasm but still hitting the energy levels they are known for. I really like their sound, but craved the sparse atmosphere of the periphery, so we continued on to check out the smaller stages and began by spending a few minutes checking out Girls with Guitars on the Hard Rock Stage, playing some pretty simple blues with dexterity and a lot of potential. They looked great on stage, which is obviously the first rule of girl-rock, and displayed some impressive chops as well. Hopefully they can keep at it and maybe choose a better name, because there were some moments that sounded pretty big. Over to National Bank, where we enjoyed the last portion of Rosie Ledet and the Zydeco Playboys, jamming some very vampy and borderline sloppy zydeco blues with that great accordion and washboard sound. The guitar playing swamp-master kept things together, and over the course of a few tunes, I came to like their jangly style. When this wrapped up, there was nothing playing on any stage for about 15 minutes, which was kind of weird, so we committed to the first few songs of Billy Talent by waiting around at the MBNA stage. With a name lifted from one of Canada's finest rock'n'roll movies, Hard Core Logo; Mississauga's Billy Talent took the stage and busted into one of their riff driven heavy-ish anthems that had fists pumping and the kids screaming. These guys have been on the scene for over a decade and a half, and have developed a huge following across Canada- so I thought I should give them a chance. First off, I think singer Ben Kowalewicz sounds and acts a lot like Johnny Rotten on stage. He doesn't have the same range, but does the higher range stuff quite well and even uses some similar expressions in his delivery.. Maybe they were watching 'Rock'n'Roll Swindle' before the show in the tour bus, who knows. Also, the guitarist with incredibly high hair, steps very adeptly between the busy lead riffs and singing backup. I can say for sure, that their music is not for me, and it doesn't have any elements of intrigue for me at this stage in my life- but I respect their very tight playing and the maximum output delivery they were dishing out. The Tea Party were also underway, so we drifted through conflicting sound bleed over to the Subway stage greeted by well known tune 'The Bazaar' which sums up their style quite well- modern psychedelic riff rock heavily influenced by classic rock. You can tell that Jeff Martin likes Jim Morrison and Jimmy Page a lot, and who doesn't right!? We watched a few tunes, noting one of the biggest Subway stage audiences we'd seen yet, and skipped over to Hard Rock to check out Tim Robbins and his band. He was obviously not happy about the tremendous sound bleed coming his way from the Tea Party, and not only mentioned it, but also did a headband of contempt which seemed to take the audience off guard. Tim broke into his song (reading lyrics from a music stand) and although the band was quite good, his singing voice was only okay- on par with the other Hollywood Stars who have decided to be rock stars too. Using his thespian training, he did manage to command some attention and in retrospect actually delivered some pretty interesting lyrics in his songs; but it felt more like people were there to celebrity-watch rather than enjoy music. Did you hear he and Susan Saran don broke up? OMG! Seriously, I didn't know. I actually had a lot of fun screaming "Bloodsucker Proxy" ! "Bull Durham" ! "ANDY DUFRENSE"!!! The highlight of the night was 'LA-33' on the National Bank Stage- giving it the long lost feeling like the Black sheep Stage of years past. This Colombian Salsa group is considered the best in their country and often tour the jazzfest summer circuit, skipping Ottawa. Their fans seized the opportunity to see them in town and were out tonight, thankful with chants of 'Co-lom-bia!' and ready to dance! Straight out of Bogota, this may have been the tightest Salsa music I've seen in my life- a 14 piece band complete with a World class Salsa duo spinning and stepping on stage had this enthusiastic portion of Ottawa's Latino community out dancing to the Salsa, Mambo and funky Boogaloo grooves. I am enjoying Salsa and Latin Jazz more and more through further exposure, and one day I will be able to dance salsa steps- perhaps the lazy man version, but I will get those steps down. Trying tonight was a whole lot of fun, and I'm always impressed by a well practised Salsa duo on the dance floor, and there were many smiling faces having the time of their lives showing off their stuff.
  5. Written by: Jay McConnery Photos by: Mike Bouchard It's difficult to sit down and reflect so quickly on something that is still ringing through my ears and bones like this. I feel like my concert pants are bursting at the seams and my belt leather is groaning against my heaving belly as if I have just devoured the perfect medium rare Sirloin Tip steak with a nice creamy garlic mash, a tasty salad and a frosty stein of the good stuff.. and I don't really want to talk about it. Or maybe it was a Tofu steak, it doesn't matter! I just want to keep this feeling for as long as I can. Should I go back and think about how delicious it was, and how much fun it was to chew and swallow? In a minute, maybe, but not yet. For now, I'm definitely able to return to the beginning and re-evaluate how one of the more sublime weeknights of Bluesfest kicked off. For me, and many others who actually arrived on time for the logistically difficult 6:15pm start time, Trampled by Turtles were the perfect way to start the proceedings with fast, interesting and precise modern bluegrass. They have been making a name for themselves on the American Bluesgrass circuit for some time showing up at prestigious festivals by way of their old school chops and forward thinking song writing and arrangements. They can fiddle with the best of them, but can also bring the house down with perfect songs, like their closing number 'Wait So Long', that could easily slip into the repretoire of a hugely popular band like the Avett Brothers. I cursed myself (Damn you, McConnery!) for missing the first half of the set and definitely hope to catch them again sometime soon. Once TBT wrapped (to a very impressive crowd for the time slot), we headed up over the hill to the National Bank Stage to check out Imaginary Cities from Winnipeg, who were last through Ottawa in the Spring, opening for the Pixies. I liked the sugary samples I had heard in duo format but was happy to hear they were performing with a full band, half of whom seemed to be celebrating their birthday today. Songwriting duo of Rusty and Marti have written some very lovely songs, folk rock at heart but turned up in energy level live, the songs possess more of a ghost rock vibe, which kept me tuned in for most of their set. Marti Sarbit who preforms in a totally natural and unpretentious way onstage, has a classic voice, but is also unplaceably reminicent of several current front women- the closest comparison I heard was a cross between Amy Winehouse and Kim Deal. I also heard Nina Simone and Jenn Grant... but I heard quite a few, and I'm still not sure- maybe its just her. They played a very cool, even slower, arrangement of Cake's song Mexico, complete with the great horn solo played note for note perfect, on the moog. My Morning Jacket - Ottawa Bluesfest 7-13-2011 There was a bit of a gap for me between Imaginary Cities and the evening's headliner. I visited the Dirtbombs twice- and it wasn't up my alley this evening. You gotta figure Dirtbombs are going to be more effective in closed spaces, and I just felt like the music was moving very slowly in direction and I never really understand the 2 drummers playing the exact same beat thing either. I imagine when it's working, it would help create a full deliberate sound from stage, but tonight it just acentuated my disinterest. Metric was doing their thing over on the Claridge Stage which I decided to skip entirely, 'cause there is always next year, and I even caught a little more Blues from Smoking Joe Kubek and Bnois King. They sounded a little more traditional and wore white, perhaps to stay cool in the evening sun, but again, I can't imagine someone who cares this little about the Blues writing about something called Bluesfest, so I won't pretend. To be fair, at this point I was completely distracted and ready to get a good spot for mainstage headliners, My Morning Jacket. My Morning Jacket - Ottawa Bluesfest 7-13-2011 We popped over to the festival plaza to find Metric had ended their set early, and much to my delight, the evening (and perhaps in the minds of some, the festival's) main event band, My Morning Jacket, were starting early at 9pm. As they emerged to open the show, we easily galloped up to within 50 feet of the stage with beer in hand and felt the tremendous bass vibrations greet our jubilation and shake our insides like baby rattles. I asked my wife if we should retreat further back to get some earplugs, and she wisely said, 'Nah, we'll get used to it!'. We did, and the band played music that truly deserved to be listened to at damaging decible levels, riding that intangiable vibe beam that Rock n Roll music delivered imbeccably can sometimes do, so we soaked in as much of it as we could. I should admit, this was my first MMJ show, and after following the group's releases for the last 8 or so years, I really can't believe it really took me this long to see them live, so with all sincerity, thanks for that Bluesfest! With a stage flanked by two chillin' black bears (one in a poncho, one in a summer dress) and a huge green cycloptic eye backdrop, they played with the heart of a modern Crazy Horse, and only Neil Young would be a fair comparison for a multi-threat multi-beast songwriter/singer/jammin' guitar player as diverse and talented as Jim James. The man can sing just about however he wants, and it always ends up sounding just like him. The band played with endless energy, as one, ebbing and flowing, with groove and feel, through all the tunes you'd hope to hear and some new ones that I look forward to getting to know. Energy levels were off the charts at certain moments, with beautifully crescendo-ing solos and interplay colliding in peak fashion under the watchful eye of drummer Patrick Hallahan who could always bring things home magnificently, or kick off the next number hugely, without missing a beat. Leaning heavily towards 'It Still Moves' and 'Z' tracks- it felt like we were being treated to a greatest hits show, complete with antics- Jim James' towel head vampire, and evidence of their musical proficiency- keeping it together when an offtime loop was stuck at loud volume until a tech figured out the source and turned it off. So yeah, all in all, it was exactly like a big delicious satisfying meal. Yeah.
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