Tag Archives: rocky votolato

Waxwing, Nazca Lines – The Vera Project

Waxwing has always been a bit of a legend to me. I was away for college during their formative years and somehow missed buying any records or seeing them live for a long time. I guess I just had bad luck. While on a roadtrip in 2000, I remember sitting in a Minneapolis restaurant looking for something to do for the evening. As my girlfriend and I looked through the paper, we ran across their name and I said “I think I’ve heard of them.” However, instead of attending the show, we decided to walk around the city and explore, instead. Quite likely the wrong choice. I didn’t see the band until their “final” show at the Redmond Fire House in 2005. I didn’t buy any records until well after that. However, when I heard the band was reuniting, I bought tickets immediately and started counting down the days.

As the day approached, I found myself searching for someone, anyone, to take my extra ticket. My housemate also bought four tickets and ended up having some strangers use the other three. I was worried that no one remembered this band and the Vera Project show would be just a handful of 30-ish year olds being nostalgic together. Judging by the stage banter, the band was slightly worried about this as well (or just being modest). Our shared fears went unrealized as the room filled up for the headliners. Though there wasn’t as much singing along as I’d imagined, the old folks had a good time.

Waxwing sounded tight, accurate, and enthusiastic. In my relatively short experience with them, I place them as a sort of NW Hot Water Music. That emotional post-hardcore/emo edge is more melodic up here, undoubtedly inspired by emo pioneers Sunny Day Real Estate. Waxwing’s sound is characterized by dramatic dynamic changes and heartfelt lyrics on the edge vocal capabilities. Though I stayed up front, out of the range of the main PA, the band sounded great. They are all talented musicians, of course, who have continued to play in other projects after the end of Waxwing. They’ve honed their skills and really nailed it last night.

It’s no secret I’ve been a fan of Rocky Votolato’s work. It probably helps that Rocky is about a month younger than I am. I admire his idealism and his honesty. I shy away from the sort of X-tian overtones, of course, but the message in his songs are usually ones I can identify with. Waxwing songs have that same inspiration. That feeling of meaning, like the songs speak about your own experiences instead of the experiences of the songwriter. Phrases like “It seems each new day has a job to do, to take its days worth of pain out of me and you” or “All of my prophets are singers of sad songs” make you feel like life is more of a shared joy than a solitary march through time. These sad songs give guys like me some hope, I suppose.

In recent years, my own disillusionment with the music that is being produced has grown. It seems that honesty, idealism, and songs from the heart are on the decline. Yet last night at the Vera Project, an old band brought out the old crowd and showed us that this thing we love will only die if we let it. And now that Waxwing is back together, we just might be able to show the world that music still matters. I’m looking forward to the continuation of the legend.

Singing along with the people singing along.
Waxwing setlist
Nazca Lines

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Minus the Bear, Rocky Votolato, Cave Singers, Past Lives, Triumph of Lethargy Skinned Alive to Death – The Showbox

I had quite an adventure on adventure day.  I know today is no internet day, but I didn’t get home until 4AM and feel this need to make sure my review gets on here for some reason. I also barely capable of movement, so typing is about the limit of my physical activity until I really wake up.

Last night’s show was a benefit for the John Spalding Medical Fund and looked to be very beneficial. There was a healthy crowd and the bars were packed with folks. All of the bands did an excellent job in bringing out people to show support for the family of their friend, who happened to have been in some highly touted local bands. My band played with his band once, but I never really knew him. However, cancer has been a prevalent theme of a few of the people around me the last couple years and I’m aware of the loss that others suffer, so I did my best to donate as much as I could. It’s a bit hard to write a review of the bands tonight, since I know they were all there for some other reason than to just play music. It will be particularly hard to write bad reviews about the ones I didn’t like. Perhaps I shouldn’t. I’ll probably make up for this travesty by going to more John Spalding benefit shows: like these.

Triumph of Lethargy Skinned Alive to Death
Most super groups just do the same thing they were doing in their old groups. Pinhead Gunpowder comes to mind. ToLSAtD does something completely different than Murder City Devils, Pretty Girls Make Graves, Suffering and the Hideous Theives and somebody called Modest Mouse. ToLSAtD does a lot of slowness and thickness, while Spencer Moody works on his best Alan Ginsberg impersonation over the noise of guitar scratching and bass droning and drums every once in a while and keyboard doing something and sometimes sax wailing away. ToLSAtD sorely reminds me of the early nineties penchant for long epic songs by art college bands who think they’re really deep and heavy. There’s some morose grumbling about how the world is terrible, but just enough punk to keep them from sounding like all the bands that kids who grew up listening to Depeche Mode and The Cure ended up liking when they got out of high school. But they are good people for being a part of the benefit show. They also spoke the most honestly about Mr. Spalding. And Spencer Moody’s encouragement of the crowd to start bands is a topic near to my heart (“This isn’t so hard! They aren’t moving their fingers that much!”). His stage antics were as entertaining as always, but I guess the music was just too epic for me.

Past Lives
If you didn’t know, this is really a night of super groups. The drummer, bassist and singer played in some band called The Blood Brothers. From my limited vantage point I mistook the drummer for his brother, who played in Waxwing and Gatsby’s American Dream. One guitarist was also in Sharks Keep Moving. The other guitarist was in Shoplifting. This particular supergroup sounds like Motley Crue if they had listened to a bunch of Sonic Youth records. The guitars (two of them, no bassist) are all crazy and noisy, the singer sounds just like Vince Neil three-quarters of the time and the drummer adequately fills the need for rhythmic direction. They’ve got a little bit of that garage rock sound that is popular these days thrown in as well. They got the kids moving around a bit, which was good. They’re pretty fun, but I think the particular trend they are riding on is petering out.

The Cave Singers
Awesome! So Awesome! Mountain Singers is more like it!! They touch on the roots of folks music and rebroadcast those roots though actual passion and heart. This is another supergroup, made up of members of Pretty Girls Make Graves (and Murder City Devils), Cobra High and Hint Hint. The Cave Singers prove the point I’ve been trying to make my whole life: you don’t need a dang orchestra to make awesome music. In fact, the best music is often the sparsest. It just takes passion. The Cave Singers have the same passion as those fantastic solo artists like Tom Waits in the same minimalist style. I think their sound works better live than recorded (at least from listening to their myspace songs), particularly because they were the only band that inspired hooting and hollering from the audience . The use of the melodica as both a melodic instrument and and a percussive instrument was genius. And their sad, plaintive songs are the kind of sad songs that actually are celebrations of life and all things that are meaningful and worthwhile. Great stuff!

Rocky Votolato (and friends)
Rocky brought two friends with him tonight to play drums and bass. They were all a bit unfamiliar (musically) with each other, it seemed. The band could use some tightening up, but the songs were still pretty good. Rocky debuted some new material (3 songs or so). All of the songs were very political. Poignant lyrics and clear cries for political action in a time when everybody believes that our savior has been elected president and all we have to do is sit around and watch him save us from evil. When, in reality, we can only save ourselves from evil. Rocky with bass and drums sounds a bit like Waxwing, which is pretty awesome. They also did a Clash cover (Spanish Bombs). I enjoyed singing along with all but the new songs, but the Rocky set seemed short, probably because of including the band and the necessity of practice. A solo show might have been a better choice, but I don’t think this was the crowd for it. A Waxwing reunion might have been the focusing point of this already star-studded evening… At any rate, for the last song (Suicide Medicine), Rocky played solo, but forgot to pick up the acoustic guitar. I was hoping he’d continue that way, reminding me of my favorite punk singer-songwriter Billy Bragg, but he stopped mid verse and switched to the acoustic. It was sort of representative of the rest of the set: good, but could be awesomer. Me and the guy next to me liked singing along, at least.

Minus the Bear
I first saw Minus the Bear at the old Paradox about 6 years ago. As you know, they are a supergroup also, formed of members of Botch, Sharks Keep Moving, State Route 522, and Kill Sadie, among others. I was super impressed with their time signatures and cool guitar sound and ridiculous musicianship. I liked “This is What I Know About Being Gigantic” a lot, but something has bothered me about Minus the Bear since I first heard them. I think I learned what that was at this show. The crowd was into their music. They were moving around and singing along and going a little crazy. I kept watching the stage and waiting for that feeling to hit me. Even when they played songs I knew well, there was nothing even closely resembling that need to rock out. Minus the Bear is getting old, of course. Dave Knudson’s attempt at the sideways hair all the cool kids are wearing is a little ridiculous and Jake Snider just looks like Jesus, a look that is considerably more believable. I mean, the songs are great: technical and catchy all at once. The message appears to be “have fun, don’t care about anything.” When everyone yelled along with “Don’t say no to pills. Ativan won’t kill you.” and then some guy behind me yelled out “Yeah, we dig it!” I realized what has bothered me about Minus the Bear since that first show: they don’t inspire me. They inspire the white baseball hat kids to feel good about their party lifestyle. They justify a meaningless and hollow life. They encourage sheep to yell along with their celebration of successfully replacing caring with cavorting. There’s a balance out there between my constant need for meaning, my ridiculous ability to get my heart all smashed up by giving it to all the wrong people, and the Minus the Bear theory of life: “screw it, let’s go drink.” I don’t know, maybe I’m just jealous. But they didn’t look like they were having fun up there anymore. It looked like a job. Plus, I liked them better when they didn’t have a keyboard. Actually, I liked Sharks Keep Moving way more.

In the end, all of these bands did a good thing whether or not I liked their music. They all raised money to help one of their own. I bought some merchandise and gladly paid the hefty door fee to do my little part of the same. I regret none of it.

I’m going to go write about my after-show adventures in another post. Tonight, I’m also going to try to go to a third show this week. I still can’t really see straight. Maybe this is what a hangover is like.

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Rocky Votolato, Slender Means, Nazca Lines – UW HUB

What a strange evening! By far the weirdest venue to watch a show in ever. But it was a glorious adventure.

I arrived about an hour early, in my teacher uniform. Got a decent parking spot and went to Aladdin’s and got the tastiest falafel in the U-district. Great start!

Post-falafel, I was still early, so I went to 2nd Time Around and browsed their selection of punk and indie records. 2nd Time Around is where I bought a substantial amount of my records in the early days of my record collecting (92-95). These days, they are running at a fraction of their former glory. About 1/3 would be the right fraction. I picked up a $1 Nuzzle record for $0.86 including tax. Yay!

I made my way back to my car to find that the people who I had parked a litttle close to had spit on it several times. But they spit on the windows, so who cares? I put the record away and made my way to the HUB.

On the way I saw a former student and said hi. I thought that might happen. I got some concrete directions to the venue out of the deal, at least. And it was a good student, not one that I wouldn’t want to chat with.

The HUB is the weirdest place I have ever seen a show, and I saw a show in the middle of a swamp once. It’s clearly a college lecture hall. I walked through the mall-like, marble-coated hallway towards the auditorium and through the doors to find that I was supposed to buy a ticket. So I walked about 100 feet back and picked up a ticket. Then I walked back to the entrance and gave the college kid my $12 slip of paper. For an environmental group, they didn’t think too much about the environmental impact of tickets…

Did I mention that this show was a benefit for some group that takes care of the Puget Sound for us? Well, it was. And you didn’t go donate. So you’re a jerk. But I did, so I’m awesome.

Nazca Lines
I walked in just as Nazca Lines started a song and found my seat in the lecture hall. Did I mention that this is a weird “venue?” Think of a movie theater with old style seats that have little fold-down desks for taking notes on as some wise sage imparts knowledge to you from a stand at the front of the room. Then think of the wise sage replaced with a hardcore/indiepunk band blasting away at full volume. The audience thought it was just a lecture still, as I bobbed my head to the hardcore beat. I was laughing out loud like a crazy person at the ridiculousness of it all. Perhaps this lecture is on Metaphysical Differential Equations As They Relate To String Theory And Quantum Mechanics, because no one gets it. They’re woefully unprepared for this. Maybe Nazca Lines needs an acoustic set. HA! I like Nazca Lines. They remind me of Chain of Strength. Except not as straight edge. And about 20 years later.

Slender Means
Well, it was 2/5ths of Slender Means: Sonny and Josh. Both wearing stocking caps. I haven’t had any luck at really liking Slender Means yet. I’d like to, but there’s something that just doesn’t work for me. Tonight, as a two-person acoustic/electric act, I enjoyed them a bit better. They’re not so smoothed out with just two guitars. They’re clearly talented musicians and their vocal harmonies are excellent. However, their radio-friendly mix of Coldplay and the nicest Radiohead songs rubs me the wrong way. The kids were into it, and I’m okay with it, though. This is like one of those Business Communication classes, or whatever, that you take to pad your GPA. So safe and unchallenging. The opposite of what college is supposed to be.

Apparently, I sat in front of my least favorite people in the entire world: christian frat/sorority d-bags. Thanks for reminding me why I didn’t renew my lease in the U-District, fratties.

Rocky Votolato
During Rocky’s set, they turned off all the lights. From the first instant, you want to sing along. This is that class, that lecture, that finally shows you exactly who you are, or who you were searching for. The one that fills you with hope and understanding and light and fulfills your reasons for 30-year, $100,000 student loans and miles from home and the newness and change and growing pains. This is everything. Messing up the first song is perfectly okay, Rocky, because we want you to be just like us. Not infallible. Just a voice. Just our voice externalized. This is the type of class where you applaud at the end. The kind of class that you might not find in a lecture hall, but on the streets outside the college or in a punk house just before you drop out or in the eyes of the woman you’re going to marry. Though it was hard to sing along when no one else was, this is the best Rocky Votolato show I’ve ever seen. Better than the final Waxwing show. Better than when I saw him in San Diego, or at the Mural, or at Neumo’s. His voice was strong and the sound was awesome. Sonny Votolato came up to help out with “White Daisy Passing.” He took requests (He must not have heard me yell out “All My Prophets”) for the last couple songs. He played some of my favorites (Mixtapes/Cellmates, Suicide Medicine, that one about sparklers (so awesome), Goldfield, Alabaster, etc…), though I wanted to hear Montana and I’ll Catch You as well. And then, near the end, he told us he was going on a “long break” while he recorded a new record. He’s going to spend time with his family. This was his “last show for a long time,” he claimed. I understand this. But I also know how this need for expression in a public place eats at you when you can’t perform. It’s okay, Rocky, take a break. You do deserve it. Just let us know when the record is out and when you’re coming back. Because we miss you already.

On the way home, I walked past the place where the former UW employee set himself on fire. On the steps of the Suzallo Library, mere feet away from the site, the Husky Marching Band was entertaining a group of college kids. College is definitely the home of conflicting emotions.

I walked through the slight drizzle to my car smiling about how messed up this whole place is. Not just our corporate University, but the whole world. How nothing is right. How it is not supposed to be. How it never will be. How comforting that is.

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Rocky Votolato, Palodine – Seattle Center’s Mural Amphitheatre Free Concert on the Lawn by KEXP something or other

Free show!  Yes!

I think the last free show I saw at the Mural Amphitheatre was Seaweed and some other band i can’t even remember the name of. In the 90’s. That’s how old I am.

Tonight’s show was pretty glorious. The sun just setting behind the trees placed the lawn in the shade but kept the outdoor stage well lit. The crowd was mostly all-ages, it appeared, as the beer garden was sparsely attended. The sickly sweet smell of cotton candy, or perhaps orange julius, or maybe just the perpetual assortment of state fair food that resides in the seattle center “center house” and the “fun forest”, wafted past our unwilling nostrils as we all sat on the lawn and listened to the bands. It was a wonderful evening to cap off a few days of relaxing and avoiding the heat up at the lake.

I arrived a song or two into the first band’s set. Late as usual. Palodine is a two-piece band, guitar and drums. But not the indie-rock two piece like the white stripes or a pop two piece like mates of state, Palodine is a grunge-ish two-piece. I know that grunge contains this negative connotation, but get over it. It’s what they are. And Mudhoney just played a while back so you shouldn’t feel bad about admitting that you liked grunge back in the day and can still kind of understand why you did. At any rate, their sound is quite dark. The guitarist guy does well at filling up the available space with lots of effects pedals and what not. The singer/drummer plays a floor tom, snare and crash cymbal with mallets, sticks and brushes for various effects and does so while standing up. Her voice is very mid-90’s female rocker a la Tori Amos + Carrie Akre, etc. In all the package is interesting and works pretty well. If it was 1993, they would be blowing up and a major label would be jetting them around the world.

Speaking of interesting, I’m glad somebody invited “Dave” to the show. He was rocking totally and completely out. Jumping up and down, falling down, making the rock symbol, playing air guitar, motioning us all up towards the stage, attempting to sing along, pointing at random people in the crowd and generally enjoying himself. Sometimes I wish I was mentally unstable enough to rock out like that at all the wrong times when absolutely no one else is even thinking about it.

I also appreciated DJ Shannon during the break between bands.  She was playing some songs on two CD turntables and she was also rocking out a bit.  Singing along with the last song (to herself, thinking we didn’t notice) was quite precious.  Plus, she’s kind of a cutie.

Rocky Votolato
It sounded like Mr. Votolato’s voice has mostly healed from tour. It still faded out near the end and he was having troubles blasting out the highest notes (so modified the melodies to be lower in his range), but for the first few songs it seemed like all was well. This set contained more new songs than his Neumo’s set, but that was okay, since there were very few people singing along anyways. Just me and some indie high schooler, plus a smattering of other folks on a few songs (like “the light and the sound”). I hate sitting down during shows, but I wasn’t brave enough to stand in the middle of the crowd at the amphitheatre. Sorry, Mr. Votolato. The amphitheatre made Rocky seem small against the colored stone mural from 1962. But a guitar and a classic vocal sound is all it takes to fill me with awe verging on fanaticism. And singing along from the grass is really no different than singing from a crowd, except everyone else is much less participatory. I wish he would have encouraged us to sing along like he did at Neumo’s. I feel like all these people are missing something even more wonderful by just sitting there and watching. To each their own, I guess. Mr. Votolato was also more talkative during this set, explaining a couple songs. While some people don’t like all the talking, I’m very appreciative of it, because it shows how much passion he has for these songs when he can’t find the right words to describe them and just gives up and plays them instead. Like he remembered that he said all he needed to in the song. In all it was a pretty great set, though I liked the one at Neumo’s better. He still ended with possibly my favorite Votolato song (of the solo stuff, never mind the Waxwing stuff), “suicide medicine.” And as I was hanging out for an hour or so chatting with Maya and her friend Mike (I think), Rocky was there with his wife and talking to all the people that came out. I think he made a lot of new fans that day, so I’m happy for him and happy that he’s a good person. I’ll continue to go to the shows as long as he’s able to sing.

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Rocky Votolato, Owen, Nazca Lines – Neumo’s

let me tell you about blueberry pie. blueberry pie is delicious. my friend tessa and i had a pie-making adventure this afternoon. no, this doesn’t have anything to do with the show i’m “reviewing.” i don’t care what you want to read about, i’ll type whatever i darn well please. this particular blueberry pie was comprised of farmer’s market blueberries, a tiny lemon from madison market, some sugar and potato starch and, after a relentless quest for a plant, some basil. that’s right, a basil and blueberry pie. just a couple leaves of basil. you could hardly taste it, but it made the pie special. and the crust was delectable too, but i had no part in that adventure. making the insides is easy so i volunteered for that job. mmm, pie.

wait, maybe blueberry and basil pie does have something to do with the show i saw this evening. let’s find out together.

neumo’s is pretty sucky. not el corazon or studio 7 sucky, but “hey we’re a fancy rock venue with 40 bars and a million security guards and flashy lights but we can’t afford to turn some fans on so its not a million degrees in here” kind of sucky. like searching for a basil plant at a farmer’s market and four different stores only to have to buy one at trader joe’s (which i dislike). but in the end, the venue did it’s job: put on a show.

nazca lines
i saw nazca lines at the georgetown music festival. and they were okay in the front stage at jules maes. they were definitely better at neumo’s which i found strange since i imagined they’d be better in a basement somewhere.  turns out that they’ll be playing some basements at the carousel festival at the end of august.  maybe i’ll go check them out there too and let you know if i’m right.  nazca lines is doing an excellent job of keeping hardcore alive.  i’ve met cory, the singer/guitarist a couple times, and i’m sure you’ve seen him around as he is a staple of seattle rock shows.  he also sounds somewhat like ian mckaye in the minor threat years.  however, combine that east coast hardcore sound with some of the fine west coast stuff and this combination packs a pretty good punch.  at times, nazca lines reminded me of the early HIMSA days.  i could also hear a little TRIAL (all hardcore bands deserve all caps, of course) in there, but that’s just because i really want to say that they’re following the great tradition of big northwest hardcore bands.  i’d mention UNDERTOW, but that’s pushing it, since i haven’t heard any UNDERTOW since i was in high school and bill quimby was trying to sell me excursion records for $8 a pop.  at any rate, nazca lines are the lemon zest and lemon juice in this pie.  a little sour and out of place, but that’s why you like it.

mike kinsella calls his solo project owen. i bought an owen cd some time ago and listened to it several times. i really wanted to like it, but nothing ever convinced me that it was genius. his live show, however, only took about half a song. i understood that the guitar playing was excellent. i know that his voice is quirky yet listenable. what i didn’t know is that the songs are amazing. these plaintive calls to lost loves or maybe somebody in the room.  if jen wood had been opening this show, i might have been balling on the floor by the end of mr. kinsella’s set.  there’s only so much of this honest yet sad music that one can take.  there’s also only so much stupid crowd banter that you can take.  mr. kinsella dealt with it professionally, calling out the stupidest one, asking him why he was wearing a suit, commenting that belle and sebastian was probably on his ipod, etc.  when the stupid suited film school jackass yelled out his phone number and asked mr. kinsella to call him because he was single, it was all i could do to not yell out “i wonder why.” or some similar thing.  at any rate, kinsella turned out to be a genius.  only a crazy genius would say “you guys should have come to my wedding, it was awesome.” to a crowd of a couple hundred folks he’s never met.  and only mike kinsella can sound sincere when he does it.  at the end of his set, after many jackasses had yelled out random songs, he entertained the crowd with metallica covers he worked out seemingly on the spot.  the 21+ crowd up above, who had ceaselessly discused whatever it was that was more important than the genius on stage, was even more lost as he floundered around with metallica do they decided to talk louder.  man the crowd made me a little angry this evening.  but mr. kinsella was the basil in our metaphorical pie.  a little unexpected, but really, really good.

rocky votolato
mr. votolato is a legacy in his own right. from his tenure in waxwing to the present, mr. votolato has always been destined for greatness.  as regular readers of this site know, i lived an extraordinarily sheltered childhood.  one of my many regrets has always been the time when i was on a roadtrip and in minneapolis and i did not go see waxwing but instead walked around the city aimlessly.  i didn’t see rocky votolato until last summer, actually.  when i was in san diego for some teacher training, i took the light rail to go see him for the first time.  frankly, i wasn’t that impressed that time.  he had a band and the opening act was terrible and it just wasn’t what i was expecting after listening to his recorded work.  tonight was a different story.  tonight was awesome.  in my opinion, the best shows are the ones where you can’t help but sing along.  sometimes even to the songs where you don’t know the words.  like you’re a part of something that can never be repeated.  tonight, i sang along with almost every song.  it was glorious.  he did a waxwing song and all the ones i like from his records.  the thing i like about mr. votolato is that he is the northwest’s folk hero.  when he started singing, even the 21+ crowd in the bar stopped talking.  it’s easy to see what’s awesome about him because it’s all presented to you at once.  there are no secrets on stage.  fantastic.  and when everyone sings along it’s like we’re all sharing some big truth with the world and, though they should have known it all along, we realize it’s doing some good.  however, mr. votolato’s voice is getting tired.  maybe it’s just the end of a tour, but he’s been singing for a long time.  perhaps his sacrifice is just for all of us.  the price he pays to make his voice sound just how we need it to sound.  rough around the edges, but really holding nothing back.  because that’s how we should all be, holding nothing back even if it does sacrifice something.  oh, i forgot about the pie metaphor.  let’s say rocky is the blueberries.  that fundamental ingredient that makes a bluberry and basil pie actually taste like it should.

well, that’s about it for the show.  i think i saw a student there, but i successfully avoided them so they couldn’t make fun of my singing along.  also, i had to buy a t-shirt and cd from mr. votolato since i know he has a family to support with this stuff.  and speaking of t-shirts, tonight i think i saw the guy who was wearing the harkonen shirt at the jen wood show at the tractor.  and this time he was wearing a texas is the reason shirt.  i might have to high five that guy some time.

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