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  • Show Reviews

    by Max Ink Staff Writers


    Margo Price with Wisdom Indian Dancer - photo by Linette Britt

    Margo Price with Wisdom Indian Dancer - photo by Linette Britt

    Farm Aid 2019
    Alpine Valley Music Theater E. Troy WI September 21, 2019
    Show Review By John Noyd
    Posted: Sep 2019
    (4693) Page Views

    Nestled in the very type of community they set out to support, this year’s Farm Aid at Alpine Valley Music Theater in East Troy, WI had many stories to tell, but none so on point as one with one of its musical participants, Margo Price. Herself a product of a farm family that experienced firsthand the economic downturn of Family farms struggling to survive in the face of corporate competition, Ms Price attended the press conference, opened the festivities singing, “This Land Is Your Land,” alongside Native American dancers, sat on a panel focused on stress among farmers and then gave a kickass performance that had a rock choir’s fire and country-gospel tenderness. No surprise then to find her back on stage at the end of the night singing with Willie and family, clutching her newborn who wore the cutest pink ear protectors.

    Family really sits at the heart of Farm Aid; from the sons, fathers and cousins that populated the stage to the artists who supported each other performances. As a mid-afternoon high point, Lukas Nelson had the Night Sweats’ brass, songbird Margo Price and British sensation Yola singing back-up, Particle Kid on guitar and his drummer’s son, half the size of his electric guitar, throwing devil horns and enjoying every minute in the limelight. Many performers mentioned returning time and time again to play Farm Aid, donating their services to the cause and reuniting with old friends whose mutual admiration is palatable as voices soared and roared and guitar licks ripped and ricocheted filling the ears and feeding the soul.

    During Price’s time on the panel she talked about the concerns musicians and farmers share regarding stress, mentioning the lack of health insurance and mental health resources, the economic uncertainty and burdened family dynamics. Wisconsin lost almost 700 dairy farms in 2018 and 2019 is on pace to be even worse. Hit by tariffs, seed patents and extreme weather, farmers nation-wide suffer as does the land they tend. Currently, the U.S. farm rescue is more than twice as expensive as the 2009 bailout of Detroit’s Big Three automakers, which cost taxpayers $12 billion. 34 years ago Farm Aid was about bankruptcy and foreclosures, today it is about sustainability and the future. Despite the bleak economic forecast and the relentless drizzle that beat down on the sold-out show, the vibe was downright happy. “Buy Local Food,” “take care of the people who take care of us,” “reconnect to the earth,” the sense of active community went from the human ridge that helped people across a particularly slippery hillside with calls of, “Come up high, come up high,” to the food stand helping out their local marching band by selling one of the tastiest cheeseburger and fries I’ve ever devoured.

    This year’s line-up included a slew of exceptionally strong songwriters playing their tunes and honoring their influences, covering Crosby Still and Nash, Elton John and the Talking Heads; building from country-blues roots, the fifteen bands covered soul, rock, honky-tonk, funk and folk. From Neil Young playing, “Heart of Gold,” and giving you a piece of his mind to John Mellencamp admonishing the crowd for missing the second verse of, “Jack and Diane,” Tanya Tucker singing the hell out of, “Delta Dawn,” and a recovering Willie Nelson opening with, “Whiskey River,” Farm Aid 2019 created good vibes, lasting memories celebrating the year-long efforts to promote a cleaner, healthier world.

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    Rival Son's Scott Holiday  - photo by Rockpicschick Photography

    Rival Son's Scott Holiday - photo by Rockpicschick Photography

    Rival Sons swing into Milwaukee for special night at The Pabst Theatre
    Rival Sons / Live at The Pabst Theatre
    Show Review By Linette Britt
    Posted: Aug 2019
    (4634) Page Views

    Rival Sons bring Feral Roots to Pabst

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    Khruangbin, Julia Holter and black midi - photo by Dave Robbins

    Khruangbin, Julia Holter and black midi - photo by Dave Robbins

    Pitchfork Festival 2019 - Chicago
    in search of something new
    Show Review By John Noyd
    Posted: Jul 2019
    (1592) Page Views

    I went to this year’s Chicago Pitchfork in hopes of finding something new. My first time back since 2016, it soon became apparent how much the city had infiltrated and influenced the festival. Windy city artists as diverse as sizzling knob-twiddlers Bitchin Bajas, ultra-smooth DJ Valee, gospel legend Mavis Staples and sunshine folk-rockers Whitney populated all three stages. Fifteen young poets from Young Chicago Authors’ Louder Than a Bomb festival spoke volumes in their short performances between bands on the Blue Stage. Native son Ric Wilson brought the bombastic Lane Tech High School marching band, adopted daughter Lala Lala’s Lillie West fleshed out her stage with hometown aces Sen Morimoto, Kaina Castillo, Nnamdi Ogbonnaya and Vivian McConnell and goofball synth-pop duo Grapetooth brought their entire posse on stage to close out their set. The tribal vibe was infectious, and it was great seeing and hearing Chicago represented on so many different levels.

    There was glitz and there was grit; rappers, rockers, jazzbots and funkateers. Ferocious commotion from a shadowy, sumptuous Low, a mad jagged black midi and intergalactic magicians The Great Black Music Ensemble stood shoulder to shoulder with chic sophistication from art-pop surrealist Cate LeBon, cool subversive disconauts Stereolab and multi-lingual groovologists Ibeyi.  There were national acts and international acts, from Texas’ exquisite fusionists Khruangbin and D.C.‘s sleek Flasher to England’s hip hip-hop icon Neneh Cherry and Japan’s theatrical kitsch ambassadors CHAI. Each night’s headliners united generations, delivering baby boomers, The Isley Brothers, Gen Xers, Haim and millennials Robyn. All in all Pitchfork seem to cover all its bases, but did any of it qualify as new?

    What does new really mean, anyways? Rising stars? Break-through performances? Beyond the aforementioned events Pitchfork hosted alt-pop balladeer Jay Som introducing new songs from her forthcoming album, indie-rocker Snail Mail brought R&B chanteuse Clairo on stage after having fellow spitfire Soccer Mommy sing the night before at an after show and boppy iconoclasts Belle and Sebastian played their classic, “If You’re Feeling Sinister,” from front to back. Premieres, spontaneous collaborations; these are never before heard moments, but are they new? Quite a few Pitchfork artists are devilishly good at updating fertile traditions, adding new spins on old ideas like Standing On The Corner or infusing fresh energy to well-worn forms like Rico Nasty, but what about new music, daring, different music? Did Pitchfork deliver its promise of a hipster getaway where cutting edge met popular culture?

    The answer is a resounding yes! Personally, electro-classical maverick Julia Holter, insurgent black midi and tasty Khruangbin opened my eyes, pricked my ears and punched me in the gut with their new takes melting delicious licks and wily styles into a unique musical hybrid that stood on its own.  Each year I attended I came away with new groups to follow and a renewed hope for a bright musical future. 2019 was no exception and primed the pump until next year when I anxiously look forward to discover what Pitchfork Chicago deems in, important and new.

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    Phish performing at Alpine Valley Music Theater in East Troy, Wisconsin in July of 2019. - photo by Graham Washatka

    Phish performing at Alpine Valley Music Theater in East Troy, Wisconsin in July of 2019. - photo by Graham Washatka

    Phish
    Three Night Run at Alpine Valley Music Theatre
    Show Review By Jon Schinke
    Posted: Jul 2019
    (1451) Page Views

    Legendary Vermont rockers Phish returned to Alpine Valley Music Theatre in East Troy, Wisconsin after nearly a four year absence to play a trio of unforgettable shows, capping it all off with one of the most memorable performances in the bands’ illustrious history on Sunday night.

    The career-spanning set of shows saw the group dip into their massive catalog of material, playing songs from their inception in the 1980s, to songs off their most recent album, 2016’s Big Boat, as well as material from virtuosic guitarist Trey Anastaio’s solo career, including cuts from his newest project Ghosts in the Forest. The band even revisited tracks from their famed 2018 Halloween show, where they covered an entire album by a little known Scandinavian prog rock band, Kasvot Växt, which turned out to actually be Phish; yet another piece of lore “Phistory”. For more information on the Kasvot Växt Halloween prank, please visit your local search engine and prepare to “faceplant into rock”.

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    Sleepwalkers bashing it out at The Shitty Barn - photo by Dave Robbins

    Sleepwalkers bashing it out at The Shitty Barn - photo by Dave Robbins

    Sleepwalkers with L’Resorts
    The Shitty Barn June 18th Spring Green WI
    Show Review By John Noyd
    Posted: Jun 2019
    (1402) Page Views

    If Sleepwalkers didn’t have such a talent for crafting mega-infectious songs, they’d make a great cover band. The Richmond band headed by brothers Austin and Michael York, possess a real knack for sounding familiar yet fresh, juicing proven grooves, tweaking heat-seeking solos and humbly indulging in pumped pomp that reminds you of a half dozen fun things all at once. Radiating a friendly confidence headlining a sold out show at Spring Green’s The Shitty Barn, the band for the most part let the music do the talking; pausing to mentioned the last time they were in the state they opened for the Lumineers and a lot of the songs in the set are from an album coming out July 19th, “Ages.”

    When a band hones its chops locally, graduates to opening for a national band, then cuts a record that replicates the vitality of their live show with blockbuster chops, quick licks and zippy riffs, you know you are witnessing something special. I felt I was seeing Sleepwalkers at the peak of their powers on the verge of taking the next step up. The care Michael took adjusting his guitar pedals ever so slightly, fine-tuning his volcanic leads, reflected the attention the band put into the new album, a follow up to their 2014 debut.

    A band-produced affair with drummer Alex De Jong manning the boards, “Ages,” blazes in power-ballads catapulted into heaven-sent harmonies and squealing burners churning with breathless road-tested boogie; a groovy fusion of Southern California pop, heartland party-rock and smooth Philly soul. Traveling songs that hug curves, rev motors and kick up dust, Sleepwalker tunes unfold like a birthday card, splashes of effervescent sentiment, bright-colored reverence and warm supportive details. In an amazing display of technical dexterity, the band brought the varied sounds and flavors of the album to life, leaving the Barn audience dazzled, ending their set with everyone on their feet enjoying a moment of pitch-perfect, hip-swiveling bliss.

    Milwaukee’s casually upbeat L’Resorts kicked the night off with a brand of marimba-driven dance-pop that brought a sweet, tropical vibe to a beautiful summer night.

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    Rick Nielsen and Robin Zander - photo by Russell Kershaw

    Rick Nielsen and Robin Zander - photo by Russell Kershaw

    Cheap Trick with Miles Nielsen & the Rusted Hearts
    The Sylvee June 13, 2019
    Show Review By John Noyd
    Posted: Jun 2019
    (4441) Page Views

    The three-ring circus that is Cheap Trick’s Rick, Robin and Tom, came to town the Thursday before Father’s Day to play a sold-out show at Madison’s The Sylvee and the sense of family was thick; from Rick’s son on drums and Robin’s son on guitar and backing vocals to the hugs and hellos flowing around the box office, glory days and nostalgia mixed with a beautiful summer night. The crowd itself favored Empty Nesters, but a few youth and families came to witness that by all accounts was an extra special night of rock. Between baptizing the new venue from a band that in all likelihood played every size venue in Madison at one time or another, celebrating both WIBA’s fiftieth anniversary and forty years since their chart-busting, “Cheap Trick At Budokan,” the, “Greatest Fucking Band in the World,” responded with non-stop rock featuring Link Wray raves, Bo Diddley mischief and Johnny Thunder rumble bouncing from deep cuts to big hits, friendly front-stage banter and roaming showmanship tearing through a twenty-song set that brought the fun out in everyone.

    “Here’s one from our latest album; I bought one,” said clown prince and resident shredder Rick Nielsen, “It’s got four chords and we play most of them.” Showering the Sylvee with guitar picks, nicked riffs and twisted licks, Rick played to the side-stage photographers magically disappearing then appearing with a new guitar. From the Beatles embossed axe pulled out for a thundering version of, “Magical Mystery Tour, ” to Jeff Beck’s vintage Esquire on display during, “Voices,” and the five-necked beast that appeared only as a trophy near the final minutes, there seemed to be a guitar for every occasion. 

    Musical pyrotechnics were not restricted to guitars as Daxx Nielsen ravaged his kit throughout the romps, stomps and barn-burners while a jaw-dropping twelve-string bass solo from Tom preceded his turn at lead vocals covering the Velvet Underground’s, “Waiting for the Man.” Loose, yet spot on, the energetic chemistry between everyone fueled earth-shattering fanfares, rampaging jams and block-buster ballads.

    Singer, songwriter and frontman Robin wore many hats, both figuratively and literally during the hundred minute set; leading the crowd with a riveting, “We’re all alright,” trading guitar barbs in, “California Man,” and searching for Tom when he disappeared at the beginning of, “I Want You To Want Me.” Quick with a smile, ageless in his reviving thirty-year old hits, Robin’s ringmaster panache set a high standard from the opener, “Hello There,” to the final song, “Good Night Now,” with occasional rests to thank Madison, the opening band and remind everyone they’ll be opening for ZZ Top September 4th at Milwaukee’s BMO Harris Pavilion.

    A situation arose where I was unable to see the opener, Rockford outfit Miles Nielsen & the Rusted Hearts, led by one of Rick’s sons, but I could hear them blast away while local legend Art Paul serenaded the scalpers, late arrivals and smokers. By all appearances, a nice warm-up for a fiery night of sizzling rock ‘n roll.

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    Superorganism - Majestic Theater May 2019 - photo by Russell Kershaw

    Superorganism - Majestic Theater May 2019 - photo by Russell Kershaw

    Superorganism with Simpson
    Majestic Theater May 1, 22019
    Show Review By John Noyd
    Posted: May 2019
    (2440) Page Views

    Bringing the same show they performed in the smaller Frequency down the street just over a year ago, the international collective known as Superorganism descended on Madison’s Majestic Theater to trip the light fantastic. The roomier accommodations made a world of difference, allowing a critical mass to form for some loud crowd-sourced joy that cashed in on Superorganism’s sing-along slogan-songs and freedom-seeking freakiness.  Cartoon anarchy delivered in a psychedelic cyclone, the eight-person ensemble’s stage-screens reflected skittery video glitter back at wacky laid-back theatrics to wrench the dulled mid-week senses from complacent blankness into fabulous interactive passion. Paying ball-pit lip-service in an over-stimulated playground, the band’s dynamic antics and porous choreography mixed slow-brewed funk trapped inside a rainbow-flavored lava lamp into wonky 8-bit sound samples spooning slacker adages as ironic spoofs and retro-future grooves. Sparkling marketing positing cosmic optimism with phosphorescent graphics, comic-book costumes and a day-glo Greek chorus; it all made for one mega-rad, ultra-fab Wednesday night.

    “I had cheese curds for dinner,” said lead singer and sometime guitarist Orono Noguch, “and I think I did last time I was here.” Then she went off on a minor ramble about how every band probably mentions cheese when they play Madison before breaking into the next song. That down-to-earth smirk and casual attitude did much to keep the party light and happening in a dazzling display of showmanship glitz, open-hearted catharsis and woozy phat beats. Pop by its very nature is simple and direct, hiding its subversions in glossy diversion and sly ironies; art-happening enchanters, Superorganism put forth sublime pop whose indulgent tastes for eclectic cross-cultural fetishes turns doomed consumerism into virtual-reality safe-rooms, digital missionaries celebrating universal hallucinogenic raves.

    It was the opener, Simpson’s first time in Wisconsin and her snappy raps kicked off an evening of audience participation and post-modern bonding with questions about cheese hats and country dialects. “Find me on social media,” she said, giving out her twitter name, WhoisSIMPSON, and sassing her DJ’s Instagram handle, Polygamy. while laying down an impressive set that flowed with ardent jargon and mastered sass. A perfect compliment to Superorganism’s internet aesthetic.

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    Mitski in motion - photo by J Robbins

    Mitski in motion - photo by J Robbins

    Mitski with Jay Som
    The Sylvee April 3rd, 2019
    Show Review By John Noyd
    Posted: Apr 2019
    (2698) Page Views

    The first time I saw Mitski she was headlining a triple bill with PWR BTTM and Palehound at The Frequency. PWR BTTM were crazy, rambunctious, like bright, burning sparks flying everywhere. Palehound came on cheery and thoughtful, her songs like flickering candles throwing shadows and shedding light. When Mitski appeared, she was a beacon, strong, focused and intensely determined. The next time I saw her was at the High Noon, again it was as if she was singing to a balcony that was somewhere beyond the visible horizon. Mesmerizing in her potent concentration, Mitski seemed perched just this side of a break-through and, “Be The Cowboy,” was its name. Turning that ever-searching lighthouse inward and routing creative rages through an astonishingly zen presentation, Mitski unveiled a new version of herself to the sold-out Sylvee’s audience. Meta-Mitski exalted the body, dissected social dynamics and choreographed human appetites to the beat of a sublime digital universe.                                                                                                                     

    The show started with Mitski’s slow patient walk to center stage, a subtle quasi-robotic precision to her steps, then, taking a seat on a plain white chair behind a plain white table, her prudent movements became more and more a deliberate exhibition. Emotions in motion as it were; her poise, deportment and posture eventually reflecting sacrifice, commitment and discipline. Enlightening the songs with action, the visual-musical synthesis groped broken utopias while muffling struggling hungers, elevating the physical into the sensual and the emotional into a mindful exposition depicting deep themes of self-image and identity. List-making lyrics referencing lipstick, high heels and make-up materialized as desires and regrets erupted in a fusion of jazz ballet and coy burlesque, transforming sexbot pinups into yoga-toned color guard. As the concert proceeded, the set list evolved into a living story detailing happiness and tragedy, pantomimes where mirrors became phones and pool cues became rifles. An attentive crowd spellbound by the limber actions and iron will both applauded furiously and held their breath. In a silent moment between songs, someone shouted, “Mitski, you’re so weird,” only to have another, smaller voice say, “thank you.” Maybe all this art-rock theatrics was thick with metaphors, stereotypes and symbolism, but personally the entire performance took my breath away, opened my eyes and had me thinking for days. Bravo, Mitski, Bravo.   

    Opener Jay Som’s bass-driven alt-pop ballads bounced in sun-riddled crispness belying a cynical distance which lent punk authority to the glistening delivery.  Like Mitski, Jay Som enjoys a strong local fan-base built from their previous visits to Madison, steadily working their craft, refining their style and making great music.

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    Weezer's Rivers Cuomo - photo by Russell Kershaw

    Weezer's Rivers Cuomo - photo by Russell Kershaw

    Weezer and Pixies with Basement
    Madison's Alliant Energy Centrer March 31st 2019
    Show Review By John Noyd
    Posted: Apr 2019
    (2478) Page Views

    Right from the get go Weezer aimed to please by indulging in their own peculiar whimsy. While Basement and the Pixies both took the straight for the throat mode, with particularly sinister lunacy permeating Pixies’s set thanks to Joey Santiago’s frenzied guitar barrages and Frank Black’s rapturous sunstroke vocals, it was all fun and games for Weezer. Opening their jam-packed hour-plus set dressed in pinstripes for a barbershop quartet rendition of, “Pork and Beans,” the band hardly left a moment for anyone to catch their breath.

    A band from the nineties, Weezer’s long-standing reputation filled the Madison Alliant Energy Center with an energetic demographic who spent elementary school bopping to, “Buddy Holly, ” only to party ten years later to, “Beverly Hills.” Another ten years and here we are revisiting those multiple golden years with post-ironic, nostalgia-addled, “Africa,” whose pinnacle solo was impressively slayed by Rivers Cuomo on a synth-driven guitar.  Quite a few families attended, their exposure to these hits no doubt marked stages in their lives; proms, first jobs, kids. Hiding among the young, a small contingency of Weezer and Pixies fans who actually grew up in the nineties, rounded out the numbers. “Say It AIn’t So,” indeed.

    From t-shirt guns to flame-shooting flashpots, disco balls and music-video backdrops, Weezer pulled out the big guns for the big hits, while somehow making the entire process seem intimate. Whether coaching thousand-strong sing-alongs or embarking on a four-wheeled boat to play to the back seats, Rivers courted collaborative happiness in a sea of camera flashlights that echoed the night’s shower of sparks pouring on stage as a fitting pyrotechnic finale for a band that spreads cheeky, cheery, wise-guy brightness.  In contrast, the stronger than ever Pixies weren’t looking for new recruits. Between the non-existent chat between songs, blinding lights and mechanical proficiency, the band pitched howling alt-rock punches with desert-punk crunch that challenged rather than engaged with a freight-train display of cathartic heart attacks whose execution was a thing of beauty. 

    Stadium-worthy Indulgences from both camps made this time-warped Sunday a memorable entry in anyone’s rock ‘n roll bucket list. 

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    Michael and Spyder, Steel Panther - photo by Tricia Starr, TStarr Photography

    Michael and Spyder, Steel Panther - photo by Tricia Starr, TStarr Photography

    JJO Yellow Snowball 2018
    Steel Panther Live at the Sylvee
    Show Review By Al Brzostowski
    Posted: Dec 2018
    (5821) Page Views

    As tradition goes, Steel Panther made their holiday stop in Madison for the JJO Yellow Snowball. Steel Panther heated up the Sylvee, as the temperature dropped in Madison.

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    Manchester Orchester The Sylvee December 5th

    Manchester Orchester The Sylvee December 5th

    Manchester Orchestra and The Front Bottoms with Brother Bird
    The Sylvee, Madison WI December 5th, 2018
    Show Review By John Noyd
    Posted: Dec 2018
    (5667) Page Views

    Indie-rockers Manchester Orchestra lets the music do the talking. Singer, guitarist Andy Hull did say hello halfway into their set, but soon apologized for not being very articulate or having much to say. That’s ok - the epic journey he and the band took Madison’s The Sylvee spoke volumes; brazen in its attacks and tender in its celebrations with lyrics placating demons and savoring dreamers, the exceptionally tight unit plummeted thundering depths and reached transcendental heights often within a single song. A seething seizure of light and sound greeted the eager audience as the band book-ended the show with the opening and closing tracks from their latest opus, “Black Mile to the Surface.” Although the new album dominated the set, choice cuts from every other album burned powerfully next to MO’s latest as their trademark catharsis came fully alive on stage. Bonding the audience in sweet savage sadness, the soul-baring session was bathed in red shadows and blue fog; stalking, white-hot high-beams swept the venue as brawny, longing songs faced blameless anguish, pitching blistering bliss against existential tempests and uniting the crowd in majestic consensus. Concluding with a three-song encore, which included a deep cut from The Black Mile Demos EP, the band finished the night reaffirming their music’s unique ability to draw gravitas and humanity from larger-than-life arrangements and down-to-earth concerns.

    Chatty patter came naturally to The Front Bottom’s hard-strumming Brian Sella whose slacker narratives reveled in disheveled debauchery. Spinning winning folk-punk tales backed by a touring band playing two drum kits, guitars, multiple keyboards and violin,  alongside a functioning bar the crew and band-mates frequented during the side-splitting set, TFB’s smart-ass anarchy broke down all walls between them and their rabid fans. The snarky carnival had no problem getting the crowd to participate in every song including the uproarious, “Peace Sign,” where the mosh pit subsided long enough to flash a peace sign and middle finger in response to the song’s dogged insistence.

    Brother Bird, whose thirty minute set started in a country-folk vein before turning dark and synthetic, wondered if they were being a downer, too emo. No worries, in a night of dire pariahs exuding groovy retribution, BB’s sultry despair fit right in with the rest of the evening’s misfit visions  

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    James Milbrandt - photo by Tricia Starr-TStarr Photography

    James Milbrandt - photo by Tricia Starr-TStarr Photography

    Versus Me
    Live at The High Noon Saloon
    Show Review By Al Brzostowski
    Posted: Nov 2018
    (9125) Page Views

    Amidst the dark lighting, James Milbrandt and his VSME band mates took the stage after an eerie introduction, launching into “Not going back”. From there, VSME segued into their new track, “Left Here” — in which they recently released a music video to.

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