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REVIEW + PICS: Years & Years | (Le) Poisson Rouge, New York

There’s a few things that you tick off along the way when you’re a hyped band to validate that you’re on the right track. Infiltrating the blogs, winning over the critics and scoring a number one single are all good indicators but perhaps the biggest is playing a sold out show in New York City.

Brits Years & Years are yet to really crack the charts in the US but they have managed a number one single in the UK with King and last night at (Le) Poisson Rouge it seemed as if the hype had traveled the seas. A packed out room stood waiting for the band to take the stage for the last show of their US tour, many of them donning Years & Years crowns.

Taking to the stage with Take Shelter it was immediately clear how the band have kicked so many goals in such a short amount of time. They oscillate between soul, pop and house music, effortlessly borrowing the good elements of commercial music and blending the, together to make something delectable. Take Shelter also confirms that the band have already developed a small but dedicated following in the US – one that know all their released material inside out.

Though frontman Olly Alexander was clearly suffering from illness, coughing in between songs, he still managed to push through and deliver silky smooth vocals complete with dance moves. He’s shy, but there was a quiet confidence poking through as he hurled his arms around the air in the dance breaks of each of the tracks.

The band continued to fire out gold for the entirety of the night offering a short but impressive set that made it impossible to believe that they haven’t even released their debut LP. Memo offered a beautifully solemn moment, one where we got to truly hear Alexander’s vocal capabilities while early track Real brimmed with popping beats and a brilliant chorus that found a perfect balance between RnB and electronica.

The few new songs they played sat much in the same lane as what we’ve heard from them before, only extending the belief that the band have more than just one hit single up their sleeves from their forthcoming album Communion. Even Worship which is only a matter of weeks old found huge favour with the crowd as they elevated its gospel-flavoured chorus. Many of Years & Years’ songs are crafted around those types of hands-in-the-air moments that can only be properly realised when the whole crowd is on board.

Things really heated up for the final few songs of the set kicking off with the strobing bass of Desire. Desire sits in the dance lane more so than any of their other tracks and that works strongly to their favour in the live arena. It was the first true jumping moment if the night and the band lapped up the ramped-up energy.

After a short and perhaps unnecessary break the band returned for an encore of their massive hit King. The song with it’s howling synths and meteoric chorus rightfully provided the golden moment of the night. The crowd sang ever word back with mighty passion, giving the sense that it won’t be long before this infiltrates the charts in the US (it’s slowly doing so in Australia).

Years & Years’ best sets are yet to come as they’re set to join the European festival circuit armed with a debut album but their New York show provided a short showcase that one, proved we should believe the hype and two, built excitement for what will be one of the best selling debuts of the year. Rarely has pop music ever sounded this good and come so guilt-free.

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Read our interview with Years & Years here.

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REVIEW: Black Vanilla At Civic Underground, Sydney

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Australia has built itself a neat electronic music scene over the past few years. It’s seen a network of collaborations build and flourish with the likes of Chet Faker and Flume or Basenji, Cosmo’s Midnight and Wave Racer making music and playing club nights together. No collaboration, however, has come with more raw energy or aggression that the triple hit of Marcus Whale (Collarbones), Lavurn Lee (Guerre) and Jarred Beeler (DJ Plead) who operate as Black Vanilla.

Over the past few years Black Vanilla have churned out a smattering of excellent releases but as the group prove tonight they really prosper in the live setting. There’s something about the music and movement that Black Vanilla deliver on stage that translates to an almost violent dance-off. We’re talking the same kind of pent up release that you would see at a metal show only instead of the circle of death, it’s a mosh pit of excellent, angular dance moves.

Marcus Whale is, for the most part, the leader of these dance moves. He throws his body around from start to finish hitting every accent with an equally hard-hitting dance pose. It’s impossible not to feel like moving with every muscle in your body. In fact, the music commands it. Thudding bass and industrial, after-midnight synths induce sweat immediately. It’s beautifully melodic music but coated in a hard armour which ricochets off every wall at the intimate Civic Underground. One scan around the room and you’d be hard pressed to find one person not laying their life on the line in the name of dance with the pit looking like a combustion of energy exploding.

Lee’s solo work as Guerre is impressively lushes but here it’s his quasi-rapping that makes the biggest impression. Hovering over the crowd, Guerre stares down people as he delivers a dark, affecting vocal with the mic cord wrapped around his hand. On a day when Death Grips streamed their final album it was hard not to make the comparison between the two. While it’s easier to see the human side in Black Vanilla the two groups share the same raucous energy on stage.

Some songs soften the atmosphere with more immediate melody while others like Cloaks have a vibe that pulls you into the depths of the dance floor. The soft murmurings of Lee at times feel like the words of a higher being. For the entirety of the set the three of them bounce off each other. It seems their combined energy is what works in Black Vanilla. They optimise the benefits of collaboration and all give each other a bit of gusto to go harder.

Whale precedes the final song with a dedication to anybody who has ever struggled with the boundaries of gender by definition. Black Vanilla embody the freak within all of us and as the final song throbbed and strobed it seemed for a second as if nobody had a gender to go by. When you’re in an atmosphere where not one person is ashamed to be acting the way they are, it’s hard to feel one ounce of self-consciousness. Such is Black Vanilla’s triumph.

Whale asked us to film this song on our phones. So we did.

#blackvanilla murder on the dance floor @astral_people

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REVIEW: Hayden James at Oxford Art Factory, Sydney

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Hayden James brought his Something About You tour to his hometown of Sydney on Friday night, playing to a sold-out crowd in the sweaty confines of the Oxford Art Factory.

James took to the stage after a solid opener by Mickey Kojak, a neon sign lighting up his name below the decks (it changed colour, though the show kicked off in baby pink) in front of a kaleidoscopic screen of slow-moving graphics. Over a 1-and-a-half hour set, James exercised fun and originality intertwining his signature mellow synths and slow, deep-house beats with everything from Kendrick Lamar’s Swimming Pool to his sensual, soothing version of Dillon Francis’ Without You.

The crowd seemed to be made up of fans that have followed James from the get-go, dating back to initial hit Permission To Love released in 2013, judging by the crazy cheer when he announced it. Fellow Future Classic artist Flume made a cameo with a densely layered version of breakout single You and Me. James tended to favor fellow Aussie tunes throughout the set, including a nod to Rufus who he supported on their sell-out Australian tour in 2014, as well as Alison Wonderland. James also opened for Odesza on their 2014 North American tour, prefacing his most recent single and final song of the night, Something About You with a remix of Say My Name.

At this point, in a sweet yet possibly not overly thought-through move, James invited the crowd to jump on stage with him and obviously, they obliged. His decks were on a wheeled table, so he may have regretted the invitation once the stage became a jumping orgy of over-excited fans threatening to send his equipment flying. Guy must really love them to prioritize their fun over a little old insurance/OH&S hazard.
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Photos by Bianca Bosso

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REVIEW + PICS: Tinashe At Metro Theatre, Sydney | Aquarius Tour

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Australia doesn’t seem like the most likely place for a DIY RnB singer to make a splash but it seems US singer Tinashe has struck a chord here. 2 On, the first single from her debut album Aquarius is burning up radio here now almost a full year after its initial release and last night she played to a sold out Metro Theatre. It’s one thing to be sold out but it’s another thing to induce hysteria when you enter the stage. As she strutted on behind a puff of smoke the crowd erupted as a sea of iPhones revealed themselves as if Beyonce had suddenly appeared in a busy Westfield.

Tinashe is an interesting case. She’s been compared to Aaliyah, Ashanti and Janet Jackson yet she differs to them. While Aquarius was undoubtedly an RnB album she’s worked with everybody from Calvin Harris to Ryan Hemsworth and Dev Hynes proving just how expansive the genre in which she operates has become. On stage she has the same slinky stage presence as FKA twigs with the hard hitting dance moves of Ciara and the vocal prowess of Jessie Ware. With just a drum to the side of the stage and four back-up dances, the petite Tinashe fills the stage effortlessly.

She began with Vulnerable from her mixtape Black Water immediately hitting with her caramel vocals and sultry walk. “Don’t stop looking at me”, she sings as her voice hits full flight, slicing the air and creating gasps in the process. Her dance moves are immediately impressive but they’re never feel over-rehearsed. There’s a certain rawness to Tinashe that makes her far more endearing. Even when the back-up dancers joined her it always felt as if they were five friends improvising rather than counting every single beat.

The Dev Hynes-produced Bet was the first song of the set where we really got to hear her vocals in full force. Bet is extraordinarily atmospheric thanks to Hynes’ expert layering and it complements the bursts of smoke covering Tinashe. All of the songs from her debut album are binded by a sense that there’s a wave washing over and this was the first time that we really get to feel that texture.

The set bounced between mixtape and album tracks and even threw in a few popular RnB tracks to hype a crowd which was already at fever point. The hard hitting Watch Me Work was complemented beautifully by the tender How Many Times. She moves between the energetic and the slow effortlessly never sucking the energy out of the crowd, even in the dimmest moments of the night. A portion of Kid Ink’s Body Language was served while Tinashe composed herself for her Calvin Harris-feature, Dollar Signs. A thumping bass-line and glassy percussion sent the crowd wild while Tinashe fist-pumped like she was owning the stage at Tomorrowland. It’s far from her best song but live it was a chance to let loose some pent up energy.

She followed that by sitting on a stool to give us the only ballad of the night, Bated Breath. It was pretty special to see her sitting still and just showing off her crystalline voice. She belted it out with reckless abandon as she slowly stood on the stool and looked over the crowd. No doubt her view was awash with the glow of smartphones. It seemed everything she did was worthy as being captured as not one punter kept their phones away for the entirety of the set. Instead of letting it annoy her Tinashe accepted it, at one point grabbing a phone from someone and filming herself. She’s 22 and she gets that this is what people do now. For the first time it felt like the mass of smartphones didn’t take away from the show. Instead it felt like a sign of appreciation.

As we got to the final moments of the set Tinashe churned out hit after hit. The drummer thrashed away at Turn Down For What while she and her dancers went hard to a recording of Rae Sremmund’s No Type. The biggest revelation of the night was just how perfect All Hands On Deck. The track is set to be the third single from Aquarius and last night it revealed itself as the most effortlessly delectable of the set.

Pretend and 2 On were always going to be the champions of the night and they were. A beefed-up Pretend saw Tinashe offer one of the more tender moments of the night with the dim-lit vibe of the song suiting the smokey atmosphere. As she directed the crowd to put two fingers in the air, the screams could’ve been heard from far down George St. Despite the tracks minimalistic instrumental, the melody is just so smooth with enough pop to direct the crowd to get down low. Tinashe spent the later part of the song hanging over the crowd lapping up all the love that was there for her in abundance.

As she left the stage she smiled and offered some words of advice about following your dreams. She’s a self-made star in every sense and she seemed to be taken aback by her transformation from making mixtapes in her bedroom to playing to a sold out room on the other side of the world.

Tinashe at The Metro Theatre: Gallery 
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REVIEW: Collarbones at Newtown Social Club | Return Album Launch

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“Collarbones are like the Beatles of my generation.” – Travis Cook’s t-shirt, 2015

Fresh from festival appearances at Beyond The Valley and Field Day and the release of their third album, Return, Collarbones hit the road and we were lucky enough to catch them on the first leg of their tour. Managing to make the first gig of the tour their first ever sell out- it was bound to be an electric and memorable night.

Sydney synth-pop trio, Yoke, kicked off the night sending the entire audience into a hypnotic trance. Frontman Kyle’s super smooth vocals could only be described as the perfect combination of Fergie and Jesus. Paired with perfectly woven harmonies and elevating synth and keys by Jules and Corin, Yoke are definitely one to watch this year.

The stage was more than warmed up after performing crowd favourites such as Pink Crystal Heart and Burden off their latest EP, Jabiluka.

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HTMLflowers is honestly my favourite person in the world right now. As he walked onto stage sporting a Mac, thick plastic-rimmed glasses, white tennis shorts, a black zip-up jumper and mad scientist hair – I had no idea of what I was in for. Flowers yelled “TWENTY FIFTEEN!” numerous times before breaking into his first track of the set, B4 THE INTERNET WAS BORN.

The energy that this dude brought to the room was incredible – everyone was reeled in by his experimental beats and hard-hitting lyrics. Flowers’ quirky antics and rhymes won the hearts and full attention of the entire audience.

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The reception of Collarbones as they walked on stage was intense. It was a sold-out show and Travis and Marcus were noticeably excited to deliver a collection of tracks including old favourites like Teenage Dream, Burnout and Hypothermia whilst introducing newbies from Return.

The boys began their set with the atmospheric and echoic Flush which sent a captivating wave over the crowd that settled everyone for a few minutes. The tranquil quickly vanished as they dropped Only Water, which was laced with heavy synth and a hook that will stay in your mind for weeks- it was clear this was a definite crowd favourite.

It’s clear that Travis has a knack of holding the audience in his palm as he layers element upon element, keeping everyone in suspense and waiting for the drop. In I Would I Will, I felt as if Marcus’ vocals were at times subdued by the power of the synth and Travis’ decks. 

One of their earlier releases, Die Young, lacked emotion from the pair and I felt as if this was the least gripping track of the night. Emoticon brought life (and a little RnB vibe) back into the duo and the crowd, with Marcus jumping around the stage and Travis head banging behind his decks. This was their latest single released off the album and caused the crowd to lose all inhibitions and control of their bodies. Following this banger was another, Turning. The electricity that flowed throughout the whole audience was evident as members of the crowd sang along with Marcus, “I’m not giving it up!”

No, Collarbones are not giving it up. They’ve embarked on a national tour, experienced selling out for the first time (the good type) and are on their way to conquer the world. This was a gig that Collarbones should definitely be proud of.

[soundcloud width=”750″ height=”200″]https://soundcloud.com/collarbones/turning[/soundcloud]

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REVIEW: St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival, Melbourne

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For a festival that started with the humblest of beginnings, in a Melbourne laneway, it’s somewhat startling to see the event sold-out at $160. For the purpose of comparison, when Big Day Out raised its ticket prices to over $150 in 2012, the event failed to sell-out and forced organisers to offer two for one tickets in Sydney. So why does it work for Laneway? Probably because punters can see the heart that goes into the festival. Each year the lineup makes total sense, the venues are carefully picked and the experience is paramount. This year was arguably the festival’s greatest lineup, justifying every dollar of that $160.

If we’re going to chatter on a little more about the excellent lineup, might we add that at 3pm the Footscray venue was almost packed, a testament to both the festival and Aussie artist Andy Bull who pulled an excitable crowd. Despite the blaring sunlight, Bull captivated with his collection of melodically on-point tunes. Baby I Am Nobody Now proved early on his heighty vocal-chops while a cover of Everybody Wants To Rule The World kicked the crowd into full-gear. He may have been one of the more no-frills performers of the day, but with his keyboard at his side, he delivered perky renditions of Talk Too Much and Keep On Running.

A performer who captured the energy of Laneway perfectly was Chicago’s Vic Mensa who hyped the crowd into an absolute frenzy. Almost ignoring the blazing heat, Mensa’s DJ hyped the crowd up so much that by the time the rapper entered the stage they were bouncing off each other to every shuddering beat. Without an album to his name, Mensa easily entertained full the whole set traversing both traditional hip-hop and electronic styles. It takes an impressive rapper to effortlessly open a set with Wimmie Nah and finish it with Down On My Luck despite their obvious stylistic differences. Mensa was an absolute warrior on stage thrashing around the microphone stand, launching into the crowd and climbing on stage scaffolding. Never was there a dull moment, event when he took some time to showcase his vocals on slow-tempo numbers. The response to Drive Me Crazy which is all of a week old proved just how dedicated the crowd was.

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Sneakers were aplenty this year, both as a fashion statement and a measure of practicality. The Footscray site is beautiful but spread out and making it to the main stage directly after an act proved to be a workout. It’s why we only caught the end of the charismatic Mac Demarco, floundering about on the main stage. Thankfully, we were given a little more time to return to see his Mum, Annie Demarco, introduce British band Jungle like a pro. Jungle were last here for Splendour In the Grass but their on stage entourage was noticeably bigger this time around. The leading duo were dressed in a baseball outfit and an ARMY uniform, ready to bring the funk.

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And bring the funk, they did. With the extra band mates they were able to deliver a far more instrumentals-dense set, that added just that little bit more gusto to their performance. It’s nice to see a band that’s been touring for so long still show signs of joy and as such it was heartwarming to see Tom and Josh look to each other and smile when they realised just how far back the crowd stretched. Busy Earnin’ was the highlight of a brilliant set, largely thanks to a guest appearance by Vic Mensa who prolonged the song’s end and made us realise that we’d be happy for him to add a verse to every song today.

From one Brit to another, the crowd waded towards the main stage for FKA twigs. There had been murmurings for the Laneway’s previous that twigs was the one to see and it seemed those Chinese whispers had spread as a massive crowd turned out. As three (!!!) drummers took to the stage it was pretty clear that this one was going to be a rib cage shaker and it turned out to be exactly that. Twigs is probably the only solo performer who could’ve weathered the shuddering beats and somehow come out as the centre of attention. Her ethereal, slight vocals pierced above all else as she stalked around the stage like a beast searching its prey. The way she moves to the, mostly irregular, beats is utterly mesmerising. She understands fluidity in a way no other does. She hits accents with hearty force and in between moves like a gust of wind over water, extending limbs beyond the impossible. All of this comes together most evidently on Pendulum where she acts as if the drum stick is within her body, beating her around the stage. As she ends on Two Weeks, it all comes together. The voice sounds crystalline, the instrumental is full-bodied and she dances like a pop star who actually understands the artistic power of movement. Quite frankly it’s hard to remember a performer like twigs. She’s not weird, her friendly encounters with the crowd prove that, but she’s got a sharply artistic mind which she conceives with perfection.

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When the sun goes down at Laneway there’s always a strong sense that shit’s about to get real. And when you’re standing front-row at Caribou where the entire band is illuminated and the bass is shuddering through every inch of your body, nothing could be more true. Dan Snaith aka. Caribou was one of the older members of the lineup, but he’s as relevant as ever. His set melded together warm melodies with hard-hitting bass and forceful synths making his performance one of the more profound of the day. Set opener Our Love kicked the dance-vibes into gear while a mid set drop of Odessa raised thousands of arms in the air. He focused more on his most recent record Our Love more than anything else but nobody cared. The record is a knock-out and nothing proved it more than when he added an extra chorus to Can’t Do Without You and knocked the crowd-over with a rush of the most textured yet abrasive synths you’ve every heard.

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Caribou was always going to be hard to beat but if anybody was going to do it it’s Annie Clarke, better known as St. Vincent. A little like twigs, Clarke is otherworldly. As she enters the stage all her movements are clean yet a little alien. She shuffles about the stage as if she’s on a conveyer belt on Mars and also moves her arms about in a robotic yet beautiful motion. Essentially her songs operate in the realms of pop but live she brings a real rock grunt to them. She absolutely shreds on the guitar and despite her crisp look, she gets down and gets to work. It’s never more evident than on Birth In Reverse where she marries pop synths with a growling guitar, fusing for a massive chorus. Her voice is also crystalline for the entirety of the performance making quieter numbers like Cheerleader captivating. She deserved every bit of the Grammy she won today even if she herself couldn’t give a toss.

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Running down the hill to catch the final moments of American BANKS, we were immediately hit by a flurry of smoke and lights in which she waded around in her dark gown. There were rumours that she only wanted photographers to take photos of her left side and as such photographers were blocked from shooting from a certain side of the stage. She’s definitely got the songs, as brilliant closer Beggin’ For Thread proved, but the whole thing felt a little measured. That’s why it was so good to hear her let loose and say “Melbourne, this has been one of the best fucking shows of my life”.

On that point, BANKS’ sentiment was one that many of the acts echoed. Many were overwhelmed by not only the size of the crowd but the palpable energy which occupied every space of the festival. There was barely any rogue behaviour, rather just 12,000 plus who appreciated good music and showed their appreciation respectfully. Every year Laneway reminds us why festivals aren’t dead. They just need to be treated and attended with love.

GALLERY: St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival Melbourne

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REVIEW: Mac DeMarco at The Hi-Fi, Melbourne

Maccy D jammed out to Salad Days to kick start the Converse/Vans convention at The Hi-Fi on Tuesday night. Kicking off the night with one of our favourite tunes from this gap-toothed dreamboat made it a solid start to the set. The energy from this band is that of a wild child teenage escapade, with tantrums from members and Mac climbing and jumping into the crowd from the venue mezzanine. When Mac’s bassist left the stage during the gig, he was soon to be replaced by The Murlocs‘ bassist; just another pleasant Mac Demarco surprise!
We’re so glad Agnes Demarco, Mac’s adorable mother, was there to introduce the gig because she is the best and is the older, female version of Mac. What a fam.

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REVIEW: Raury At Oxford Art Factory

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If you haven’t heard of Raury Tullis, a.k.a Raury, then get yo shit together, man.

His Sydney show at The Oxford Art Factory on Monday night opened with a great set from relative newcomers Milwaukee Banks. With the venue filling up fast, the Melbourne based duo were well received, delivering some pretty chilled out electro hip-hop vibes. The guys were awesome; vocalist Dyl was as good as the recordings, and had so much energy I couldn’t get a photo where he wasn’t blurry. Many of the punters weren’t familiar with the tracks, but there were some good comments going through the crowd, and Van Gogh, their collaboration with Andrei Eremin, was a definite stand out.

After a longer wait than was comfortable, Raury finally entered, engulfing the audience with a sonic onslaught, complete with rock star entry and Michael Jacksoninspired prancing. His hat and mic stand were used as a prop for some pretty dynamic moves. There were some sound issues, but Raury took it in his stride like a seasoned performer.

He then went into Higher, his track with SBTRKT, which was a big favourite with the crowd. The only drawback was that there was a backing track of the original song playing, with Raury rapping a harmony over his own vocals, and then running out of breath, leaving his backing track to pick the rap up.

Raury’s confidence and charisma belied his tender age, not failing to impress with a high-energy show while adoring fans looked up in awe to the stage, and leaped at the opportunity to touch the rising stars’ hand. Unfortunately the crowds’ energy didn’t match the performance, but this didn’t seem to dissuade the self proclaimed Indigo Child, who populated his set with motivational anecdotes between songs.

Things got a super preachy after Super Fly, with Raury encouraging his audience to follow their dreams, saying that money doesn’t make you happy. Cigarette Song was probably the most popular track, spurring on a hearty sing-along from the crowd.

Lost Souls saw Raury fronting the band with the acoustic guitar, with a spiritual atmosphere created by the audience waving lighters and iPhones along to the track. The show ended with God’s Whisper, with the song getting another play when the call for an encore was met, cumulating with a mighty water fight using water bottles supplied by the band.

Raury gave a wonderful, powerful show with the only drawback would be that there were not enough quiet moments interspersing the loud, majestic performance, leaving my ears fatigued by the end of the show.

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