Archive for October, 2010

Photo caption contest: Fear the beard

Monotonix (Photo courtesy of Giles Smith)

A long-lost image from Woodstock? One of grandpa’s vacation pictures from his time at Burning Man? Maybe a snapshot taken at a senior picnic gone horribly, horribly wrong? The choice is yours.

As part of the Northeast Underground’s inaugural photo caption contest, we are asking you the reader to submit your most creative captions for the picture posted to the right.

For the next week we will accept entries via our comment section before revealing the true story behind the image, as well as the contest’s winner on November 8.

Please, try to keep it clean folks. But most of all have fun. And check back soon to see if your submission makes the cut. Happy captioning!

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Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers pay tribute to late UMass band director at Northampton Show

Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers (Photo courtesy of Megan Baker)

When word first broke that UMass marching band director George Parks had died unexpectedly during a school trip to Michigan, one of those affected by the news was singer/ songwriter Stephen Kellogg.

While most popularly known as the lead singer of pop/ rock group Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers, Kellogg is also a former UMass student and marching band veteran.

During his time in Amherst, Mass. Kellogg not only got the chance to know Parks personally, but had also recently been negotiating with him to incorporate the school’s marchers into a concert to be played at the nearby Calvin Theatre in Northampton. Now, that show has been turned into a tribute to Parks with the marching band appearing as a special honor to their former leader.

The Underground recently got the chance to speak with Kellogg, and asked him about his thoughts on playing this special show, writing songs about girls, and what he remembers most about George Parks.

Q. Since the story of the Sixers first began in Western Massachusetts, do you feel any special kinship to the area?

A. Western Massachusetts has always felt like the home of the band and in many ways home to me. I haven’t lived there in some years, but I still recognize folks on the streets when I go to these places. A great deal of my family has its roots there too and some of the band still lives in the area, so no doubt it’s a special place.

Q. What are your feelings on playing a show where the group first met?

A. Excited!

Q. What if any influence do you have from your time spent at UMass?

A. Well in recent years UMass has influenced us by being supportive of us. I think I felt officially “old” when we were in Dallas last month and a big group of UMass alumni came out as part of the “alumni association.” It was the place where I made up my mind to throw in with the music career lot and it’s where I met two of the three Sixers whom have forever altered the course of my life…so I’d say it was a pretty influential place.

Q. Speaking of UMass, your upcoming show in Northampton will involve the participation of the school’s marching band as part of a tribute honoring the late George Parks. What memories do you specifically have of George, and how did the idea for this special show come about?

A. This idea was really Georges. When we shot the music video for “Shady Esperanto and the Young Hearts” last summer, it was George who pushed through the red tape to make it happen. After that he said ‘what else?’ he was that sort of guy, not one to rest on his laurels…so we started dreaming up a show, the where, the when, the how…one night John Sanders and Eric Suher suggested that the Calvin would be great and I was an intern at iheg when the Calvin re-opened in the late ‘90s, so that sounded like a thrill to me. I hit up George with the idea and he loved it. I still have a bunch of emails from George on my computer saying things like ‘this will be great…but we’ll talk later about the details.” I can’t yet bring myself to delete them.

Q. Music on television has certainly changed from the days when MTV was in its infancy. Now many listeners hear songs for the first time when they are played on their favorite television shows. What are your thoughts on this new way to hear/ expose fans to music?

A. I think it is what it is. Maybe I’m being nostalgic, but I prefer radio and even MTV, where it’s more about the music (as a way to consume the music I listen to). When there is a dramatic TV show cutting the song in and out it’s not exactly “ideal,” but hey this is what’s going on and I’m not about to say that it’s bad- it just is.

Q. And what are your feelings on having your song “Shady” used as part of the promotional campaign for TNT’s show “Men of a Certain Age”?

A. My previous answer notwithstanding, I’m totally thrilled to have the song being used here. I think it’s a great fit for a great show and I’m honored by the opportunity.

Q. Like many other bands, you have spent time performing for the troops overseas. What was that experience like?

A. It’s amazing to see the job our military has, amazing to meet those people and to be running across each other all over the globe…pretty wild. It only ups my appreciation for all that we have in America. It makes me want to be less cynical about problems and more focused on problem solving-helping the situation rather than always tearing down.

Q. And how was it performing in front of the Prime Minister of Israel?

A. I don’t think I could say Netanyahu is a SK6ERS fan in good conscience as I’m not sure we had his full attention, but he was certainly there and it was a day well spent.

Sixers (Photo courtesy of Megan Baker)

Q. How important is charity work not only to you, but also to the band? What is like having such a close relationship with the children of St. Jude’s Hospital?

A. The bottom line is that it needs to be even more important than it is. We have this amazing job and ability to reach people who nine times out of 10 would love to “make a difference.” St. Jude is one of the finest hospitals in the country and an inspiration to our band, so they are a logical place for us to focus our efforts, but it’s easy to get overwhelmed by one’s own concerns and fears…staying involved with the charity branch of what SK6ERS do helps keep our perspective.

Q. Also on the subject of charity, the members of fellow New England band State Radio are frequently noted for their pre-show activism. For example, the 5k the group runs before their annual Halloween show in Northampton is a fundraiser that raises money for a variety of charitable causes. Have you or your band ever thought about doing something similar? What are some ways you get your fans involved in charity work?

A. Chad (of State Radio) is one of my favorite people and a total inspiration to me and our guys. State Radio is amazing with their ability to bring their fans to action, and when you speak with them it’s evident that it all starts with the initiative of the band. “SK6ERS” causes tend to be a bit more domestic then international, but we’ve actually been involved in a number of “Calling All Crows” events and modeled our “Rellogg Foundation” after theirs…I’m not sure I could run five miles though, so we’ll have to find some other outreach ideas (joking…kind of).

Q. You seem to have a penchant for titling songs after women’s names? Is there any particular reason for this, or do you just naturally turn to songwriting when thinking “About a Girl”?

A. It’s funny you called me out on this! I noticed that for the first time this tour because a lot of the songs we have been playing this tour are the ones with girls names in the chorus. There are usually only one or two a record, but together, it can feel like I’m going through a black book or something. Even since the last record I’ve written a few more…I guess it’s one of ‘my things, but I will say this…the songs aren’t all love songs about ladies. “Mabeline” is about an undercover cop that busted one of my uncles for drug dealing, “Oh Adeline” is about faith, a (with love) teenage pregnancy and the family wheel…so if the name theme is consistent, they are pretty different tunes…do I sound defensive yet? Well played.

Q. Life on tour is a constant rollercoaster, full of ups and downs. How do you cope with that particular lifestyle?

A. I work with some of the best friends I’ve ever had. I mail postcards home several times a week. Eight years ago I hired my cousin Jessica to tour manage our band and it’s one of the best business decisions I’ve ever made-she’s been known to rub Bager balm on the guys temples to help us sleep. There’s no substitute for TLC.

Q. While on the road, do you ever feel like the situation you describe in the song “Lonely in Columbus”?

A. I do sometimes feel that way. I felt that way when i wrote that song-like the world is just not a safe place to be and too exposed-like a turtle with no shell. Thank goodness it’s not all the time.

Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers with openers Hoots and Hellmouth, and a special appearance by the UMass marching band, October 28, 8 p.m., $20, The Calvin Theatre, 19 King St., Northampton, (413) 586-8686, www.iheg.com/calvin_theater_main.asp.

For more information and tour dates please visit www.stephenkellogg.com.

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Better than you thought: 10 covers that work…no, really (part 2)

Ah, cover songs. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. When done properly, these tracks can take the best elements of a hit and mold them into a brand new creation. However, when done poorly these atrocities can rile up fan bases quicker than tour cancellations and “band hiatuses” combined.

Welcome to part two of our countdown for covers that are actually better than you thought they would be. While in most cases the original versions are seen as definitive, the songs on this list seek to open the discussion on which version listeners might prefer if given the chance. Enjoy!

“Hurt”

First released on Nine Inch Nails 1994 album “The Downward Spiral,” Trent Reznor’s sobering ballad about heroin addiction was never released as a commercial single. However, in 2002 country icon Johnny Cash found critical success by lending his years of experience to the song’s powerful message. Though Reznor admits he originally thought the idea of a remake was, “a bit gimmicky.” He has since changed his tune, and admits “that song isn’t mine anymore.”   

See Nine Inch Nails original here:

See Johnny Cash make the song his own here:

“Last Kiss”

Some songs age like a fine wine. And a rarer few receive the privilege of being covered multiple times to varying degrees of success. Such is the case of songwriter Wayne Cochran’s 1961 work “Last Kiss.” While not a hit during its initial release, J. Frank Wilson and the Cavalier’s would take the track to the top 10 in 1964. Then thirty-five years later, Pearl Jam lead singer Eddie Vedder stumbled upon a copy of the song at a garage sale and encouraged his band to record their own version as a charity single. The song would again reach the upper echelons of the Billboard charts, but more importantly would also help raise almost 10 million dollars for the Kosovo relief fund. Not bad for a tune that what was originally intended as a “tragedy song” novelty.

Hear Wayne Cochran’s non-hit here:        

Hear J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers’ 1964 version here:

See Pearl Jam’s 1999 rendition live here:

“Wonderwall”

Though never able to match the level of success they had in England, the Brit poppers of Oasis broke through to American audiences with the third single off their second album “What’s the Story (Morning Glory).” Even years later, “Wonderwall” maintains an enduring level of popularity, and is one of the most covered songs in recent history. However, perhaps its most notable rendition is by alt-country singer/ songwriter Ryan Adams. Even the track’s original writer, Noel Gallagher, has taken to performing the song in Adams’ style, and the tune has been used by numerous television shows to heighten the melancholy of certain scenes.

See Oasis’ Britpop classic here:     

Hear Ryan Adams’ melancholy remake here:

“Ms. Jackson”

Covering a song by hip-hop icons Outkast seems like a Herculean task for an alternative rock group. Andre 300 and Big Boi push so many boundaries that any track in their catalogue is bound to be seen as uniquely them. However, Australian garage rockers the Vines pull it off by keeping things simple. Musically, this means trimming the song down to just its chorus and bridge and ditching extra instruments for a steady acoustic strum. While not as frenzied or psychedelic as some their other efforts, live versions of the tune still provide a slow burn for audience members taking it easy between rave ups.

See Outkast’s video here:

See the Vines cover live here:

 “Billie Jean”

As one of the singles from the smash album “Thriller,” Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” was a chart-topping hit that redefined the dance/ pop genre in the ‘80s. Then in 2007, former Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell recorded the track for his solo album “Carry On.” Though radically different than the original (including the removal of the definitive bass line), Cornell’s version was praised by critics for its “bluesier, more pained and impassioned feel.” The Los Angeles Times even called the rendition a “grim, spooky take,” and concluded that “Jackson’s mega hit [survived] the stunt translation.”

See Michael Jackson’s classic here:

See Chris Cornell’s version here:

Did your favorite make the list? If not, list it in the comment section. One can never have enough covers. Who knows? We just might have to compile a part 3. Stay tuned…

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Better than you thought: 10 covers that work…no, really (part 1)

Photo courtesy of thehitman-cthemusic.blogspot.com

We have all been there. While listening to the radio, we hear the first strains of a familiar melody and think to ourselves “I know this song.” Then, as the minutes slowly pass we start to question the validity of our claim.

The music sounds close, but something is amiss. Either the chords aren’t quite right, the beat is topsy-turvy, or hey, wasn’t the singer of the band originally a guy? Suddenly, it hits us. We’ve been listening to a cover, or an alternate version of a track we know and love.

Before anger and frustration set in, we give the song one last chance. Okay, this new group didn’t screw everything up. At least the lyrics are the same. The new take on the chorus is pretty clever. And wait, we actually…gulp…are starting to like this version. It really is better than we first thought, and one day may even find its way into our listening rotation.

The following list is made up of covers (in no particular order) that, despite their unorthodox origin or seemingly impossible execution, still work as decent songs in their own right. Let the nitpicking begin. But before you start slinging mud, give a listen. You just might find a new favorite in the mix.

“Bad Romance”

Originally the lead single from pop trend-setter Lady Gaga’s third EP, “The Fame Monster,” this track received a gothic overhaul by 30 Seconds to Mars on BBC Radio 1’s Live Lounge. While Gaga’s version traded mostly in ‘80s hooks and beats, Jared Leto and company heightened the song’s doom and gloom with moody piano chords and surprisingly soulful singing.

See the Lady Gaga version here:

See 30 Seconds to Mars take here:

“Faith”

First entering the public consciousness as the top-selling single of 1988, George Michael’s “Faith” was given a foul-mouthed update in 1997 on Limp Bizkit’s debut album “Three Dollar Bill, Yall$.” While not quite matching the success of the original, the track did answer an important musical question. Namely, when you think Wham, who is the logical choice to cover one of their solo members’ hits? If you said Fred Durst, congratulations. You’ve just won a sailor hat made of purple felt.

See George Michael’s version here:

See Limp Bizkit’s version here:

“Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)”

For MTV fans in the ‘80s, few images were more jarring then the Eurythmics’ Annie Lennox strutting across the screen in man’s suit, complete with cane and close-cropped orange hair. While Lennox’s gender-bending look turned more than a few heads back in the day, the queen of synth-pop had nothing on provocateur extraordinaire Marilyn Manson. The gloom-rocker’s slow-burning take of the original hit would not only turn up the level of menace, but also would give Manson his first taste of worldwide notoriety. Sexual harassment and Satan worshipping would soon follow.

See the Eurythmics’ original here:

See Marilyn Manson’s version here:

“Beth”

A sincere ballad from rock giants KISS? Yes, it’s true. In 1976, Gene Simmons and company unleashed their highest-charting single ever with this sweet ode to a loved one from the road. More surprising still, the song hit the charts again in 2010 with a version sung by the cast of Fox’s hit show “Glee.” While there was a bit less make-up and hair present in the remake, the sentiments remained the same. Although, I’m pretty sure rooting for the school bully and head cheerleader to stay together is not exactly what Peter Criss had in mind while writing the original.

See KISS go unplugged here:

See the boys from Glee sing here:

“I Will Survive”

From disco anthem to snarky rock kiss-off, “I Will Survive” is a radio staple across multiple genres. While written from the perspective of a narrator getting over a breakup, the song has also been used to fuel empowerment and inspiration for anyone who’s down on their luck. Interesting sidenote: Cake’s cover is original singer Gloria Gaynor’s least favorite version. Why? The use of profanity. Oh well, if only there was some music for John McCrea and company to play to get over the bad news…

See Gloria Gaynor’s soul-power original here:

See Cake’s version here:

Check back to see what other tracks made the list in part 2 of our countdown. Coming soon!

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Meet the Jims: Binghamton’s brand of young, loud and snotty

Live in the Basement (Cover courtesy of The Jims)

First forming under the grey skies of Binghamton, N.Y. in 2007, the Jims may very well be the great apathetic hope of the city’s underground music scene.

With witty song titles like, “Don’t Catch Cancer,” “Danny Bonadouchebag” and “I Just Wanna Fuck You,” the group appears to be just your average young, loud and snotty punk band. However, upon closer inspection repeat listens reveal that this is a group that knows its music history, or at the very least, their own twisted version of it.

While eschewing popular musical styles like emo or phony metal posturing, the most clearly identifiable influence on the band is punk rock forefathers the Ramones. Much like the venerable legends of CBGB’s, many of the Jims songs come in at barely over a minute and are filled with the kind of simple melodies that would not be out of place on an old AM radio hit. They even share the Bowery legend’s little seen soft side with songs detailing subjects like high school crushes, and “The Girls at R-bee’s.”

Elsewhere, political incorrectness reigns supreme. Taboo issues like rape, drug abuse, and death threats are all given turns through the Jims skewed world view and come out sounding like vintage hardcore jams from the early ‘80s. Still, the band never strays far from their pop leanings as evidenced by the almost hummable “Pedestrian,” and “Fell in Love with You.”

Do it for the Kids (Cover courtesy of the Jims)

As a live act, the Jims are reminiscent of little kids who have ingested far too much sugar. They are all high energy, pausing only long enough to count to four and start the next number or ask the audience for more cough syrup. All three members take turns flailing about, seemingly out of control, but seldom missing a note. And even if they flub a chord or two, their enthusiasm often rides roughshod over the mistake, quickly rendering it a moot point.

Unfortunately, the one aspect of their act that the Jims do not share with their heroes is perhaps the most telling. While the Ramones were an industrious band that toured ceaselessly and recorded frequently, the Jims appear to have very little career ambition. Their gigs are infrequent, sparsely attended, and what few recordings they have are more a plea for extra cash than true artistic statements. Yet, even amidst their best efforts to hide it, glimmers of true talent continually bleed through the band’s lackadaisical appearance.

See the video for “Rhianna Got Punched in the Face” here:

Perhaps they are a symbol of the times – true cynics for the cyber age, thrashing about on stage because they can’t find anything better to do. We should all be so lucky.

For more information on the Jims and future tour dates please visit www.thejims.net, or follow the group on Facebook and Twitter at www.facebook.com/wearethejims and www.twitter.com/wearethejims.

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Don’t call it a come back: Ecstatic Peace releases reinvent grunge for a new era

Jesus Stole My Girlfriend single (Art courtesy of Violent Soho)

For music fans growing up in the early ‘90s, a casual spin of the radio dial often ended in one of two outcomes. While many listeners tuned in to hear the last gasp of hair-metal (Winger anyone?) or the latest hit by Michael Jackson (what, too soon?), lucky audiences were treated to an abundance of long hair and flannel from the Pacific Northwest.

This influx of Seattle-based music, more commonly known as grunge, was a watershed moment for alternative radio, responsible not only for introducing the world to an electrifying crop of new bands (Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, etc.), but also for managing to wipe America’s collective palate clean after a decade’s worth of auditory abuses (Stryper, Whitesnake, anything by Europe, etc). Now today, with modern music once again seemingly mired in artistic ineptitude, Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore seeks to repeat the revolution.

Armed with a pair of releases on his Easthampton-based label Ecstatic Peace Records, Moore hopes to give fans, “the real deal,” whether it’s in the workingman’s rock of Boston’s own Black Helicopter, or the high-powered punk snarl of Australia’s Violent Soho. Though the bands themselves may differ – in sound, origin, and even age – each remains, “their own thing, deep and distinctive.” So, without further ado, let’s get to the music.

Photo courtesy of Black Helicopter

Since first hitting the clubs in 1999, Black Helicopter has released three full-length albums through Ecstatic Peace. The latest, “Don’t Fuck with the Apocalypse,” (with cover work by underground artist Raymond Pettibon) is a grinding slab of down-tuned delight that somehow manages to straddle the line between indie-faves Pavement and sludge-originators the Melvins. Lyrically, lead singer Tim Shea slips seamlessly from tales of nostalgia (“Golden Days”) to historic treatises (“Invasion of Prussia”), and even dons his best Stephen Malkmus impersonation for the jaunty “Record Player.”

While the group’s speed leans more toward a plod instead of a flat-out run, there is no denying the member’s chops. Riff after riff cuts sharply through the air, and the throb of “Boston’s most Albanian rhythm section, Zack Lazar and Matt Nicholas,” pushes each track continuously forward. Such a steady diet of meat and potatoes rock may not be for everyone, but those who risk a second bite will find plenty to fill them up.

See the band perform “Pickle Jar” here:

Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum, the Australian youth of Violent Soho take the fight to a variety of demons on their self-titled debut. There’s no issue of speed here. Almost every song sprints headlong into a rousing chorus with the assistance of a bevy of power chords and pummeling drums. Lead single, “Jesus Stole My Girlfriend” is a fierce, fist-pumping sing-along that comically chronicles the occurrence of losing a loved one to the forces of religion. Elsewhere, the bouncy bass intro of “Here Be Dragons” gives way to Cobain-esque screams before culminating in a call for a full-on teenage riot.

See the video for “Jesus Stole My Girlfriend” here:

Indeed, rebellion is a common theme on the album. Repeated mentions of a separate generation and failing systems pop up frequently. Nowhere is this angst more clearly vocalized than in the straightforward line of “fuck you fuck you, / I can’t trust you,” on the track “Muscle Junkie.” Still, even though it is not the most politically correct record you’ll hear this year, there is no better music to scream along to while stuck in traffic. Trust me, give these lads some time and you’ll likely see your source for the anthem of a new age.

For more information on Black Helicopter and Violent Soho, as well as future tour dates, please visit www.myspace.com/blackhelicopter and www.myspace.com/violentsoho. For updates on other Ecstatic Peace artists and releases please visit www.ecstaticpeace.com, or follow the label on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Ecstatic-Peace/103991356302633.

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Grand Band Slam Winners Preview – Triple XXX

Photo courtesy of Triple X

To conclude our weeklong series of articles previewing winners for Grand Band Slam 2010, the Underground decided to go hardcore. Luckily, the members of Valley-rockers Triple XXX were up to the job.

Though the group first formed in the late ‘80s, turbulent band relations led to an eventual break-up in 1990. Then, 20 years later video surfaced online of the original lineup in action at a nearby venue. This footage acted as the catalyst for a band reunion of sorts, and now complete with new members Dave Hall and Gina Andia the group is ready to bring “arena rock” back to clubs across Western Massachusetts.

Band name – Triple XXX

Category won – Rock

Members – Gina Andia (Lead Vocals) Dave Hall (Guitar and Vocals) Jake Torrey (Bass) Mike Duquette (Drums) John LaValley (Guitar & Vocals)

Q. What town(s) does Triple X call home?

A. West Springfield, Westfield, and Chicopee, Mass.

Q. What year did the band form?

A. Originally 1988, the current incarnation September 2009.

Q. What is your favorite thing about being a musician in the valley? Biggest complaint?

A. Favorite – The people, we have had soooo much support from all of our friends, it’s just amazing! Complaint – Not enough clubs anymore, we’ve seen the demise of some great rooms in the last two years, the recession has taken its toll on the local “Live Music” scene.

Q. Tell us about your best and worst gigs.

A. Best gig – Friends of the Sanders Benefit at the Knights of Columbus on Page Boulevard in Springfield. In August we got the opportunity to share the stage with some of the Valley’s most talented musicians (Bad Magick, Two Suffering Bastards, and Highroller) and help make a difference for an incredible family in their time of need.  Worst gig – Luckily I’d have to say that we have yet to have a “worst” gig. I would say our most recent gig was the toughest, both Gina and myself were incredibly sick, but we got through it. We have been very blessed to have the support we have gotten over the last year!

See video of Triple XXX at the Dawn of Hope Benefit here:


Q. What can fans expect at/ from one of your shows?

A. The unexpected. We will cover anything! You never know what’s going to be on the setlist next. We like to play stuff that you never get to hear in the clubs. And no genre is safe. We’ve gone from Pat Benatar to Megadeth to Judas Priest to Pink. Also, we are trying to re-create that “arena rock” feel in the clubs. Big light shows and production, strobes, and smoke et cetera.

Q. What was the last record you bought/ listened to?

A. Mike Abdow’s (Aquanett) “Native Alien,” hands down the best CD I’ve purchased in a long time.

Q. What other Valley band (or solo artist) do you like or look up to?

A. We like them all. There is so much raw talent in the Valley, I’m surprised that we don’t see more artists signed out of this area more frequently.

Q. What has been your biggest/ weirdest “rock ‘n’ roll moment”?

A. Hmmmm, we haven’t really been around long enough for anything really interesting. I will say that the coolest “rock ‘n’ roll” moment to date would have to be sharing the stage with the guys from Bad Magick and Two Suffering Bastards at the “Dawn of Hope” Benefit, then watching ourselves on TV40 News later that night! That was pretty interesting.

Q. What’s your favorite venue to play? Least favorite?

A. We love any room that will let us make noise in it. You got a deck, patio, gazebo, broom closet we’ll play in it!

Q. Do you have any advice for other Valley artists or musicians who are just starting out?

A. Be true to yourselves, and keep it fun, above everything else it should be fun. No gig is too small/too big. Give every gig 110% whether there are three or 300 people.

For more information and tour dates please visit www.facebook.com/pages/TRIPLE-XXX. And don’t miss the group on stage at Grand Band Slam 2010.

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