Mitch Blum

Destroyer of Words

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Damn Kids Today Don’t Respect Juice Enough

June 17th, 2013 · Food

Nothing makes me crazier than when I see a kid (perhaps my own) take a giant cup and fill it to the brim with 44 ounces of orange juice. Don’t these kids realize that juice is a precious commodity? It isn’t called “liquid gold” for nothing, you know.

When I was a kid juice was a treat. On the rare occasion we were given a splash it would be served in a special glass – a juice glass – that was basically an over-sized shot glass. And it would cost at least $3.95 for the privilege. No one ever complained, however, because we knew how lucky we were just to taste the fruit of the branch.

I knew how hard juice was to extract because my grandparents in Florida had a hand juicer. And it would take 14 oranges, 20 minutes and a case of carpal tunnel just to get a thimble-full. Remember when people would bring those giant mesh bags of oranges home from vacation? That would produce maybe one glass of juice, if you were lucky.

Now kids’ll callously pour a year’s supply, take two sips and throw away the rest. If I see this about to happen I swoop in and rescue that juice like it was a puppy in a burning building, bellowing “DON’T WASTE THE PRECIOUS!” like some Semitic Smeagol.

My theory is that this is the unintended consequence of OJ Simpson’s stabby stabby episode. He didn’t just ruin his name, he ruined respect for juice.

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Movie Review: Man of Steel

June 15th, 2013 · Pop Culture

Our plan to see Star Trek was thwarted by technological issues so we settled on Man of Steel, a movie I had no real interest in seeing. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a hardcore comic book nerd with four long boxes of classic comics in storage, so I like superheroes just fine.

My issue was that they just released a shitty Superman reboot, but I guess the Brandon Routh version was 7 painful years ago. The trick with these endless reboots is that the ideas are tired so it all comes down to casting and execution. And this version was executed by Zack Snyder.

Zack Snyder, like Michael Bay, is the perfect director for 13 year old boys. Endless fight scenes linked together by a thin plot and perfunctory character development. The visuals were cool, especially the liquid metal type technology, but the movie was boring. I’m not saying that I want another emo Hulk movie from Ang Lee, but at least try to write something of substance.

Henry Cavill was a good Superman. I love Michael Shannon and he brought the crazy as always, but Zod was a cartoon. I love Amy Adams (for different reasons) but the relationship between her and Clark needed more set-up. And there were so many name actors stuffing the cast that it was distracting.

I guess the strongest recommendation I can give is that you should definitely see Man of Steel if the other movie you wanted to see doesn’t download.

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Blogging is Dead, Long Live Blogging

June 14th, 2013 · Blogging

When I first started this site back in 2006 the idea of people writing online was still fairly new and exciting. I’d write, you’d read and a bunch of trolls would remind me that I was an idiot. Everyone was happy.

Then facebook got popular, twitter took off and the energy shifted. Suddenly no one wanted to read long essays and it got harder and harder to find the time to write those 5,000 word treatises. So I wrote less and podcasted more, exploring another emerging creative platform.

But now I miss the golden age of blogging. I miss those ideas and words that just can’t be whittled down to a tweet. So I’m going to buck the trend and try my hand at something I never really did before: blogging.

Sure, this site has always technically been a blog. But I never treated it that way. My approach was always to write humor essays or music reviews as if I was writing for a book or a magazine and then post them here. I fancied myself to be a writer, not a blogger.

So I’m going to start blogging again for the first time. More frequent posts about anything I feel like writing. The only caveat will be the word count: 250 is my limit. Hopefully that will keep us both interested. Please join me on this magical adventure!

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Boston, You’re My Home: Essays about the Hub

April 16th, 2013 · Boston

When I was 15 my family moved from New Jersey to Boston. Almost immediately I knew that this was a special place and that I’d live here forever, or at least until they invented a warm weather city that had the same vibe and attitude as Boston*.

(*Obviously this is impossible, as the too-cold winters and too-hot summers are part of what makes Bostonians so delightfully full of attitude.)

The thing about Boston is that it’s different from everyplace else. Really different. In an age of homogenization, where cities are barely distinguishable from one another, Boston is Boston. Everything about the city is unique. That’s why every other current movie is set in Boston – because it’s a magical place, beloved by all.

As an emigre I know that I’ll never be considered a native New Englander, but at least that is a gift I have bestowed upon my children. Having learned how to drive here, that is a gift I bestow upon all of the people unfortunate enough to be stuck on the road with me.

Over the years I’ve tried to capture my love and affection for the hub in a series of humorous essays. Now feels likes an appropriate time to reflect upon the things that make Boston so special, so unique and my hometown.

“How to Drive Like You’re From Boston” explains how to survive behind the wheel in Boston.

“In Defense of Jaywalking in Boston” is my idiotic argument in favor of our most dangerous habit.

“Riding the Rails, Boston Style” is a public transportation primer.

“The Boston Cab Driver’s Quick Starter Guide” was not intended to get people mad.

“Hubway Bicycles: Urban Transportation Miracle or Devil’s Plaything?” rounds out my series on transportation.

“Strangers I Love: Jesus is Lord Guy” is a love letter to that guy, you know who I mean.

“9 Great Ideas for Filling the Filene’s Hole” was written after I got really mad looking at the hole.

“Fight Club Discovered North of Boston” is one of my favorites because a Globe reporter called me thinking I was serious!

“The Boston Sports Fan’s Guide to Choosing a Jersey” will probably earn me a beating one day.

“In Defense of Casual Fandom” is my spirited defense of “pink hats”.

And, finally, The Evolution of the Masshole.

Boston, you’re my home. Stay strong.


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Concert Review: The Black Crowes in Boston, MA, 4/11/13

April 13th, 2013 · Music, The Black Crowes

Concert Review:

The Black Crowes
April 11, 2013
House of Blues
Boston, MA

The first time I saw The Black Crowes was in the fall of 1990 at a small barn in upstate New York called Saratoga Winners. Back then we didn’t know much about our favorite bands. You’d read the liner notes, catch a blurb in Circus magazine and maybe hear some dubious gossip from other fans.

Before that first show I only knew three things about the Crowes: the singer and guitar player were brothers; they covered a song by my favorite soul singer (Otis Redding); and they rocked. When I say “they rocked” I mean that they kicked my ass in a way wholly unlike any of the other musical options available at the time. On the airwaves we had terrible hair metal (pop/rock gussied up with self-indulgent guitar solos), the first strains of the grunge sound (a sludgy morass of punk/rock for depressives) and not much else.

Seemingly out of nowhere (or Atlanta, same difference to a northerner) came this band playing new music that sounded like the old music I loved. Some called it derivative. I called it a godsend. There was no one else at the time – including the classic rockers – making music that delivered that heady mix of blues, country and soul that I wanted.

That young band was a little sloppy, a little drunk and a hell of a lot of fun. They brought the energy and the crowd loved it. It was blues-rock with a danceable groove.

Here’s the funny thing about concerts – they haven’t changed all that much from the sock hops of the 1950s. The kids are just looking to shake their hips and have a good time. Even back in the ‘60s David Crosby and the Byrds realized that if they added a Beatle beat to a Dylan tune they could offer the best of both worlds – danceable music with real substance and meaning. Positive energy.


Consciousness awareness of a crowd’s energy is not a new thing. Jerry Garcia used to describe the feedback loop where the Dead would give energy to the crowd, the crowd would amplify and reflect that energy back to the band who would then feed off of that energy, elevating their performance to another level.

This feedback loop is so powerful that it can actually change the relationship between the crowd and the performer; instead of being a witness to the show you become a participant in the show. The show becomes a spiritual event. You live in the moment, lose yourself in the power of the sound and become one with the energy. Positive energy.


This brings us to Thursday night’s show at the House of Blues. Back from a three-year hiatus, the new-look Crowes reminded me very much of the original Crowes from 1990. You know, the Crowes that rocked hard, kicked ass, and kept the classic rock flame burning bright.

Returning to the stage are Chris Robinson (vocals, harp), Rich Robinson (guitar, vocals), Steve Gorman (drums), Sven Pipien (bass, vocals) and Adam MacDougall (keys), joined by newcomer Jackie Greene (guitar, vocals). Missing from the stage are former guitar player Luther Dickinson, percussionist Joe Magistro and the soul sisters. This is a leaner, meaner incarnation of the Crowes, in many ways reminding me of the late 1973 incarnation of the Dead sans Donna and Mickey.

From the opening strains of “Jealous Again” it was clear that we were going to get a high-energy, hits-laden set list. And while some long-time fans will complain, I say bring on, bring on. After 20+ years of refusing to play many of the songs that casual fans want to hear, it’s great that they’re finally delivering the hits.

Refusing to play your hits is not, in my mind, a sign of nobility or authenticity. I actually believe quite the opposite: it’s selfish to deny your fans the songs they love. Those songs are the precise reason why they love you. Every major act plays their hits. That’s part of the unspoken agreement between bands and fans – the fans listen to the stuff the bands want to play in exchange for getting the songs they want to hear.

And the thing about the Crowes is that they have a ton of great songs that people know and love.  In my group at the show we had the full spectrum of fans represented: from the diehards who have seen every tour, to the most casual of fans. Everyone loved the show and everyone knew just about every song played.

The effect this hit-heavy set list had on the crowd was obvious: they loved every minute of the performance. The energy was up all night – peak after peak. The room was on fire. The vibe was great. Everyone was singing, dancing and happy. What more could you ask for?


Chris Robinson sounds better than he has in years. No longer a rock and roll screamer, Chris has matured into a bona-fide soul singer. Contrary to popular belief he is not from the Otis school. Otis was more of a shouter. Chris’s phrasing is smooth – how he comes in and out of lines – and he reminds me of no less than O.V. Wright. It’s great to see Chris back in the front man role, smiling, dancing and blowing some mean harp.

Rich Robinson is beyond underrated as a guitar player. Whether laying down a heavy riff or delivering a stinging solo, Rich’s playing is fantastic. He’s the bedrock of the band. He has a gift for getting exactly the right sound for each song out of his instrument.

Steve Gorman is a monster behind the kit, as always. The ass kicking starts with his performance, drums you can feel as well as hear. Coupled with his partner-in-rhythm Sven Pipien, the bottom is heavy but it swings, the way it ought to be.

Adam MacDougall is one of the best – and most flexible – keyboards players around. While not featured quite as prominently as he is in the Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Adam can do it all. His solo on “Wiser Time” is a demonstration of his chops in action, as he goes from atonal jazz to slinky funk to space-like psychedelia in the span of five minutes.

Last but not least is the new guy, Jackie Greene. While still feeling out his new bandmates, especially in the transitions, his tone and feel are right on for the blues-rock Crowes. His tone is thick and substantial and his solos are full without crossing the line into the dreaded “shredder” territory. I can’t wait to hear where he’s at when he has 50 shows under his belt.

The nice thing about this slimmed-down version of the Crowes is their ability to pull-off multi-part harmonies between Chris, Rich, Sven and Jackie, negating the need for back-up singers (although creating the need for them to work up “And We Bid You Goodnight”).


Of the 19 songs played, 10 were from their first two albums – the ones that made them stars and established their image in the popular culture. They sprinkled all of their big hits throughout the show and filled out the set with lesser-known songs from the catalog and some covers.

As always, they managed to pick the right covers and elevate them to new heights. Their take on Traffic’s “Medicated Goo” was amazing, and somehow they pulled off the alchemic trick of weaving cheese into gold by inserting Deep Purple’s “Hush” into “Hard to Handle”. The closer “Oh Well” was great, very reminiscent of the 1999 version from the Jimmy Page era.

If I had to pick any nits, I’d recommend that they go back to the old arrangement of “My Morning Song”. The gospel thing is fun but this line-up would do justice to the classic version of the song. They also repeat the gospel breakdown in “Thorn in My Pride” so I’d keep those tunes separated.

I also love the idea of treating the encore as a mini-set for the diehards. Hopefully they’ll keep adding more deep cuts and obscure covers to close out the show.


I’ve seen a lot of Crowes shows over the years. I’ve certainly seen tighter performances. I’ve heard deeper cuts. I’ve dug into trippier jams. But I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen a crowd more engaged and energetic, at least not since the very early days.

That’s the beauty and the magic of this iteration of the Crowes – they’re selflessly delivering a performance that is exactly what the audience needs and wants from them.  I think my brother said it best after the show, “if they played a set like that every night they’d be selling out across the street at Fenway”.

Positive energy.


- encore -


I’ve written a lot about The Black Crowes over the years. Click here to read more.

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Kibbitzing About TV: Boardwalk Empire, “Margate Sands” (S3E12)

December 7th, 2012 · Kibbitzing About TV, Pop Culture

“Now You Know What Time It Is”

After last week’s episode, I read an article about Boardwalk Empire by some hipster douchebag who claimed that he was finally being rewarded for sticking with BE through two “confusing” seasons. The hipster douchebag went on to say that Season 3 finally helped him process the things that happened previously. He decided, in typical hipster douchebag fashion, to go back and watch Seasons 1 and 2 now that he “understood” how to watch the show.

This told me two things:

1. They’re called “hipster douchebags” for a reason.

2. The ratings for BE are lower than they should because this generation of spoon-fed, soccer trophy-getting, chest-shaving, Dave Matthews-listening dimwits are too ADD to follow anything that doesn’t resolve itself completely within 60 minutes.

“It’s too hard to follow all these characters.” Wah-wah.

“I don’t know who is real and who is made up.” Boo-hoo.

“I can’t remember more than one plot line.” Sniffle.

The writers, directors and producers of BE are classic storytellers who aren’t afraid to let one plot line dangle for a couple of weeks only weave it back into the fabric of the main story when the time is right. Why is this so challenging for people? Are you so over-stimulated that you can’t bear to have something that engages you for longer than the average status update? Time to put down the tablet and pick up a book, people. Maybe the next generation will be a little more thoughtful.

And thus concludes today’s Old Guy Rant. Now back to the show.

There is always some measure of satisfaction in season finales. You can argue that it’s not enough from time to time, but you must admit that there’s always some.

As Mitch and I have been saying throughout the season, Gillian had to die. Her death, like her life, was just another in a series of unfortunate events. Yes, she had to be killed to free Tommy. Yes, it was fitting that she got a taste of her own needle at the end. Yes, it made sense that a pair of self-destructive people like Gillian and Gyp had to enter the Thunderdome as two and leave as one. But, was it satisfying? Ultimately, yes. Although in that satisfaction there was also a little bit of sadness. As a heroin-addled Gillian admits to Nucky in her dying breath, “Those men did some very bad things to me.” And, implicitly, “It was all your fault, Nucky.”

Both are sad and both are true. As a result, Gillian fought for something she never had even up until her death. Control of her own life.

As Gyp said, “Somebody’s always gotta lose.” And that somebody was always Gillian.

The season finale also gave us the long-awaited meeting between two of the show’s most dynamic and ruthless characters. Al Capone and Chalky White are constantly eclipsing everyone else who appears on the screen with them. So, it was only fitting that every interaction between the two of them became a pissing match.

Side Note: Speaking of pissing matches, there was a preponderance of people whipping out their dicks to pee all over something in this episode. Were these symbolic gestures as in “It’s time to lay our cards and our junk on the table?” Or was it more of a “I’ll show you whose boss in a canine, alpha male sort of way?” Either way, I think I’ll be careful where I step the next time I’m in Atlantic City.

Chalky and Capone and their respective armies are at constantly each other’s throats throughout the siege. And they were supposed to be on the same side. There’s so much tension that Nucky releases them against Masseria’s retreating motorcade. There didn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason to this as Masseria’s men were no longer a threat and were merely on their way back to New York. It may have been a show of strength, but I think it was Nucky’s way of giving Chalky and Al somebody to kill besides each other. In fact, they part ways in grudging admiration of each other. Yeah, a little too pat for me.

Margaret’s denouement this season is almost as sad as Gillian’s. Her lover dead (and boxed), she heads to one of those secret doctors in New York a la Dr. Larch in The Cider House Rules to terminate her illegitimate pregnancy. Well-done by the writers to make it seem as though she were inquiring about a room to rent. That piece of misdirection made the scene far less maudlin than it could have been. I have been the most critical of Margaret’s character throughout the season, but it was moving to see her stand in the middle of the abortion clinic and admit “I’m lost.”

The internal struggle between her faith, her relationship with Nucky, her love affair with Owen and the well-being of her children as well as her position as the show’s moral compass have torn poor Margaret apart this season. So, I’ll admit to cheering a little when she turned down Nucky’s money at the end. It didn’t forgive everything she’s done, but it did make her a stronger player going forward.

Richard’s mission to spring Tommy was something that everyone saw coming. Yet, the actual act was so breathtaking that it still felt surprising. We know Richard is an expert marksman and we’ve seen him kill before, but he went full Rambo on the occupants of The Artemis Club. He killed them from near and far, from sneak attack to hand-to-hand combat. He plowed through that house like a howitzer. His coup-de-grace, the killing of the guy who had taken Tommy hostage, reminded me of that great scene in The Untouchables when Andy Garcia’s character catches the baby carriage at the bottom of the stairs and then kills the guy at the top of the stairs with one bullet. The shot of Richard and Tommy embracing through the splash of blood on the windowpane will, no doubt be studied by film students for years to come.

After handing Tommy off to Julia, Richard’s conversation with her father is touching. Mr. Sigorsky wants to help Richard work it out with Julia, but Richard knows that it’s over.

“He’s safe,” he says of Tommy. “That’s all that matters.”

As he walks down the Sigorsky’s front walk, Richard is exactly where he was when he met Jimmy two years ago.



Back in New York, Masseria and Rothstein’s little double cross on Lucky and Meyer leads to a circumstance where AR can bail out Nucky. I’m not sure what to think about AR playing Charlie like that. On the one hand, it shows Charlie that he can’t get around Rothstein. Ever. “He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake…” and all that. But, taking the heroin out of Lucky’s hands and putting it in Masseria’s seems like a zero sum game.

I’m pretty sure Masseria was already pulling away from Gyp after their little tete-a-tete at The Artemis. Joe “The Boss” knows that Gyp is does not have the control he believes he has. When Gyp can’t articulate his plans despite the loss of twelve of Masseria’s men, Joe checks his pocket watch and then adjusts the hands on the clock in Gyp’s office.

“Now you know what time it is,” smiles Joe.

And with that, Rosetti is effectively on his own. The fact that Nucky cuts a deal with AR to get Masseria’s men out of Atlantic City seems superfluous. In my opinion, they were already gone. What it does do is give Nucky the opportunity to stick Rothstein with the Overholt Distillery, which is about to come crashing down courtesy of Andrew Mellon, Gaston Means and the lovely Esther Randolph. For a guy who plays “a shot to nothing” in billiards and admonishes against rushing into any deal, Rothstein sure jumped all over the information that “Giggles” Doyle gave him. I find it a tad hard to believe that AR didn’t see some sort of trap there. But, it was a convenient way to close the loop on the Mellon-Jess Smith-George Remus-Harry Dougherty circle. Though I have a hunch that if Rothstein can beat the rap on fixing the World Series, he can squirm out of a connection to a distillery in the sticks of Pennsylvania.

And so we come to Gyp and Nucky. One of them has to die and we’re all pretty sure it won’t be Nucky. But, again, Nucky gets lucky. Just as Richard took out all of Nucky’s would-be assassins at The Artemis, he manages to leave one would-be hit man alive in the basement. Magically, this man appears as Gyp is about to deliver his soliloquy on the beach. Just as he gets to the second verse of “Barney Google,” the happy hit man turns him into shish kabob.

As far as mafia deaths go, it ain’t no assassination at the toll both and it sure ain’t no guns blazing, nose full of coke last stand at the top of a double staircase. As charismatic as Gyp was, that was a real punk ass way to go…with your dick in your hand pissing onto the Margate sands.

But, it does answer one question for us. Is Nucky still half a gangster? My answer is yes. If you want to run the show, you have to do more than give tourists withering looks on the boardwalk. You have to get your hands dirty. Nucky did that when he killed Jimmy. Using a surrogate to kill Rosetti was a pencil pusher’s way out.

So, what kind of power will Nucky have when we next meet him? And what of Van Alden and Capone and Chalky and Margaret and all the others who have passed through our lives for the past twelve weeks?

I am content to let their fates simmer until next season.

I just hope the hipster douchebags can stand the wait.

- C.J. Kaplan


Once again, Boardwalk Empire concludes a season by weaving a masterful tapestry out of seemingly unrelated threads. In many ways this is the show’s core strength: juggling multiple characters, locations and plot lines and somehow getting them to intersect in an organic way for the conclusion.

This season we watched as Nucky’s ennui resulted in the loss of both his relationship to Margaret and the success of his business. Like CJ, I think it’s incredibly significant that the season concluded with Nucky ordering someone else to make the hit on Gyp Rosetti, as opposed to his decision to kill Jimmy with his own hands at the end of season 2. With Jimmy, it was personal and he needed to pull the trigger to prove that he was capable of being a killer. Of being a gangster. This season he learned the lesson that AR has been trying to teach all along – that it’s never personal, it’s always business.

Of course, it wasn’t hard to convince Tonino to stab Gyp in the back – he did have a strong personal motivation – revenge for his cousin’s death on the beach. Tim Van Patten did a wonderful job directing that scene, having Gyp gasping for breath, deliberately evoking his erotic asphyxiation scenes. Gyp died like he lived – greedily grasping and gasping.

On the other hand, I don’t think that Gillian is dead quite yet. Sure, she succumbed to quite a lot of lovely heroin, but the drug was meant to disable, not kill. Her scene in the hallway with Nucky was genius. Just like they successfully humanized that dummy Jimmy before his death, they reminded us that the evil black widow is just an abused little girl at heart. In one short scene we felt sympathy for a monster and were reminded of Nucky’s culpability in her sad state.

I suspect that Gillian will be back next season to look for her beloved Tommy. The tragic arc of Richard Harrow continues as once again he chooses virtue over personal happiness, rescuing the boy but sacrificing his last chance for humanity. How perfect was it that Mr. Sagorsky instantly recognized that Richard the soldier saved the boy, accomplishing what he couldn’t do for his own son. He invited Richard to come home, but understand why he couldn’t. Beautiful.

Richard’s massacre was perfectly shot – the best of the three violent set pieces (the war montage during the open and the Masseria massacre at the end were also well played) – and showed the interplay between violence (gangsterism) and persuasion (politicism). Nucky thought that he had to choose between being a politician or a gangster, but that was always a false dichotomy. Some of the big bosses win by the sword (Capone) and others will win by the pen (Rothstein). In the future Nucky will pave a third way – wielding both influence and violence, but exposing his hand in neither. That is the meaning of the final boardwalk scene and the abandonment of the carnation. Nucky the glad handler is dead, but so is Nucky the trigger-man.

But there’s still plenty of questions for next season: Gillian’s fate, Richard’s next move, Van Alden’s role in Capone’s organization, Daugherty’s political life, Margaret’s probable return, and the eventual show-down between Rothstein and Nucky.

Thus concludes another excellent season of a truly great show. And while I might not fully qualify as a hipster douchebag, I might re-watch these three seasons not because I have to, but because I want to.

Thanks for reading.

- Mitch Blum


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Kibbitzing About TV: Boardwalk Empire, “Two Imposters” (S3E11)

November 30th, 2012 · Kibbitzing About TV, Pop Culture


It’s funny that they decided to call this episode “Two Imposters” when there were two characters that proved themselves to be true to the man who counts on them both. Eddie and Chalky have, in sunshine and rain, cast their lots with Nucky. And never was that loyalty tested more than it was this week when Nucky’s entire world came crashing down.

As Chalky says, “Sometimes you have to lose everything to find out what you really need.”

This may have been my favorite episode to date. It was lean, tightly written and unsentimental. Margaret and her bullshit soap opera storyline were sent packing along with the children and other non-essential personnel. What remained were two generals (one with an actual general’s hat), one battlefield and no middle ground. If someone had just put a bullet in the back of Gillian’s head, I would have felt complete. But, we’ll get to that.

Gyp, at the apex of his power, goes on a full offensive—attacking a trapped and friendless Nucky from all sides. Why he didn’t just lay siege to the Ritz-Carlton and eliminate any chance of Nucky escaping, I’m not sure. Instead, Rosetti sent three nobodies to take out Thompson while Gyp introduced himself to the locals. What kind of general does that? In a war like this, you need to take out the other leader yourself and then stick his head on a pike and march it around town. Show the world who’s in charge now.

“The king is dead. Long live the king!”

But, Nucky has the wherewithal to take out two of the nameless assassins and then finally eliminate the third gunman after a game of Knock-Knock-Who’s-There? Of course, this small victory comes with a huge price. Eddie Kessler takes a bullet for Nucky, as we always knew he would.

As Nucky and Eddie limp toward Chalky’s place, Eddie begins to babble in German. What we learn later is that he is repeating the opening stanza of Rudyard Kipling’s “If,” a poem that along with Tennyson’s “Ulysses” makes every tweed-elbowed English professor weak in the knees.

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:

Those are the lines Eddie keeps repeating, but it is the last stanza (which he never gets to) that shows how Kessler really feels about Nucky.

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

We’ve seen Kessler dress Nucky, tie his shoes and even spoon-feed him. He has performed these functions not as a servant waits on an employer, but rather as a father dotes on a son. And, if we know one thing about Boardwalk Empire, it’s that when you strip away everything, this show is about one thing and one thing only:

The relationship between fathers and sons.

So, Eddie sees Nucky as a son. But, how does Nucky view Eddie? How telling is it that Nucky doesn’t even know where Eddie lives or if he has a family? Like a child who believes that his teacher lives in the classroom at school, Nucky seems to feel that Kessler exists only in Nucky’s limited world.

And, for me, that makes Nucky Imposter #1.

On to Chalky’s house where Mr. White has a decision to make. With Nucky and a wounded Eddie helpless in the back shed with Chalky’s would-be son-in-law and Gyp at the front door with 25K and an open hand, Chalky could easily have lifted the latch and stepped aside. With the way Nucky has treated him recently and in the past, nobody would have blamed him. But, Chalky stands his ground. He stiff arms Gyp and runs an end around with Nucky, sneaking him out the back door to the safety of young Will’s place of employment. Chalky is offered money at several points during the episode, by both Gyp and Nucky, but money is not the reason for his unwavering support. He’s pledged his loyalty to Nucky and his word is the sum of his net worth. Chalky is worth a million.

So, who is the other imposter? Is it Lucky? Maybe. As poorly as he played that drug deal, it may be. Seriously, haven’t gangsters learned by now that anytime somebody says they’re from Buffalo they’re either a cop or a government agent? I mean, how many times does this have to happen? Now, Charlie was an easy mark. Even as Meyer is realizing that Rothstein was right to wait on the drug trade, Charlie Looch is going off half-cocked to do a deal on a rooftop with two guys he’s never met. No wonder his nickname is Lucky. There’s no way he ever would have gotten as far as he did on the strength of his brains.

Is the other imposter Gillian? Hard to say. We’ve never really known who the real Gillian is. She’s so damaged and twisted that it’s impossible to know if the rational part of her mind even exists or if it checked out long ago. Her treatment of Richard is despicable, but not out of character. The one good part of Gyp occupying her bordello is that she’s forced to allow people to have sex in the parlor. This eliminates her fantasy that she’s running a health club and not a whorehouse. Now that Richard is effectively a soldier of fortune, we can expect some sort of resolution to the Richard-Julia-Gillian-Tommy imbroglio very soon.

No, I suspect that identity of Imposter #2 is revealed in the episode’s spectacular final scene. Nucky finally gets help thanks to a big assist from Eli (another guy who stepped up and showed his loyalty). Al Capone rides into town like a man on a white horse or, in his case, a black sedan.

“We’ve been on the road for 18 hours,” says Capone. “I need a bath, some grub and then we’ll talk about who dies.”

There, my friends, is the real deal. Not half a gangster. Not a sex-crazed megalomaniac. Just a straight-up, badass commander-in-chief.

Which means that Imposter #2 is Gyp Rosetti.

So, it turns out that the Two Imposters are the opposing generals. Seems fitting to me. After all, haven’t we learned time and time again that all generals are imposters in one way or another?

Until next week.

- CJ Kaplan


While I almost always agree with my esteemed colleague from Needham, this time I think he’s shooting too low. Yes, on the surface level Boardwalk Empire is about the relationships between fathers and sons. Whether we’re talking about Nucky & Eddie or Richard & Tommy or Al & Johnny almost all of the relationships between male characters have a paternalistic element to them. But I think the show is really about the BIG father-son dynamic in the world: the relationship between God and Man, or more specifically, the relationship between righteousness and actions. Can a good man do bad things?

That’s why Margaret is such an important – albeit annoying – character on the show and why I know she’ll be back: she personifies the struggle between right and wrong. Her conscience and her desires are constantly at war. She desires, she sins, she repents, she forgives, she rinses and repeats.

In season 1 we watched Nucky metamorphasize from politician to gangster. His struggle was to try to hold onto his innate sense of self as a good person while committing increasingly bad acts. And while it’s never easy to squeeze a camel through the eye of the needle he somehow pulls it off: Nucky becomes half a gangster while still trying to be half a mensch.

In season 2 the balancing act can no longer be sustained, as brother turns on brother, father turns on son and commandments are broken like so many bottles of bathtub booze. The sins of the fathers and the sins of the sons have a much higher cost. Margaret quite literally tries to buy penance by gifting the blood money to the Church. Nucky’s payment is somewhat higher: his soul. Pulling the trigger on Jimmy turned him into a bad ass, and a bad man.

This season has seen our characters reveling in the seven deadly sins: Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Envy, Pride. They’re sinners who deserve their gruesome fates, seemingly beyond redemption. And yet all is not lost for Nucky. Eli’s forgiveness, Eddie’s love and Chalky’s loyalty are giving him a glimmer of hope in the face of all that he’s lost.

My predictions for the finale:

Death for Gyp & Gillian.

Redemption for Nucky.

Humility for Meyer.

Victory for Arnold & Al.

Jail for Lucky & Daugherty.

Peace for Richard & Tommy.

Booze for all.

Giggles for Mickey Doyle.

- Mitch Blum


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Kibbitzing About TV: Boardwalk Empire, “A Man, A Plan…” (S3E10)

November 21st, 2012 · Kibbitzing About TV, Pop Culture

“Run Like Hell”

I’m in a Pink Floyd sort of mood today. Fall always does that to me. As soon as the leaves turn, I find myself listening to The Wall and Dark Side of the Moon with increasing frequency. So, when Mr. Kessler wakes Nucky up at 4am to tell him that there is a delivery, I couldn’t help but think of the lines from “Run Like Hell.”

And if your

Takin’ your girlfriend

Out tonight

You better park the car

Well out of sight

‘Cos if they catch you in the back seat

Trying to pick her locks

They’re gonna send you back to mother

In a cardboard box

Seems to apply to poor Owen Slater, whose only crime (outside of all the murder/hit man stuff) was lousy decision-making when it comes to women. Margaret has her moments, but Katie is relentlessly hot. And though I’ve been highly critical of this storyline, I’m sorry to see Mr. Slater go the way of the Pooka. Although I did loathe the revelation that Margaret is pregnant with Owen’s baby. Way too soap opera-y for Boardwalk. Leave that crap to The Young and the Restless, BE writers. It was enough that Margaret and Owen were planning to run away together, you didn’t have to throw a baby into the mix. (Did anyone else find it amusing that Margaret got a diaphragm after the Pooka was out of the barn, so to speak?) But, more importantly, with Mr. Slater gone Nucky is more vulnerable than ever.

Owen was ultimately done in because Charlie and Meyer ran like hell to Masseria after Arnold Rothstein turned down their heroin deal. AR’s billiards analogy “a shot to nothing,” or a “safety” as we used to call it when we played 8-ball on our basement pool table, proves why Rothstein is always one step ahead of everybody else. “Deals will always wait,” he cautions, “and fools will always rush in.”

Lucky and Meyer, a couple of fools, trade information in exchange for the deal and Masseria (no fool himself) continues to run the whole show unopposed. Nucky is now no more a threat to him than Eddie Cantor is to subtle comedy.

It’s funny that both Nucky and Dougherty run to Gaston Means to get rid of Jess Smith, a man who had a nervous breakdown at a Boy Scout jamboree. While Means manages to extort money from both men for the same job (in advertising, we call this “double booking”), it turns out that he doesn’t even have to pull the trigger himself. Jess does the deed for him. I did enjoy seeing a cornered Means try to prattle his way out of being shot while never losing his 5-star vocabulary or finishing school elocution. Now that’s a pro.

Nucky sends another man running to Tabor Heights under the guise of cutting a deal with Gyp Rosetti. Gyp, however, is far more interested in learning the ways of the sea from sons of fishermen. (Question: If you had ever seen how Rosetti operates, would you ever, under any circumstances, offer up information that might make him appear uneducated on a particular subject? Neither would I.) The similarities between Gyp and a rogue wave, two entities that inflict rage and destruction without warning or pattern, is lost on the man himself. Watching Gyp kill people in newer and more horrifying ways is getting a little old even for the most bloodthirsty viewer. We get it. Gyp is a functioning sociopath. Inventing different ways for minor characters to insult his intelligence and turn themselves into cannon fodder is a redundant effort. And, frankly, this week’s beach golf bludgeoning didn’t advance the story at all.

Al Capone, on the other hand, is a man who knows how to use violence to his advantage. Maybe that’s why he is arguably the most famous gangster in history while Gyp Rosetti is someone only a pretentious writer could have created. Al could have simply killed Van Alden after catching him aqua vitae-handed. But, Al uses the opportunity to gain information about his north side rival O’Bannon. Al and Gyp do share the “cat who likes to play with a mouse before he kills it” trait (Gyp with his shovel, Al with his fork and blueberry pie) except that Capone’s threat of violence is far more menacing than Rosetti’s tangible act. Al will now use NVA to advance the turf war in Chicago. And thank goodness for that. I couldn’t stand to lose Owen and Nelson in the same week.

Chalky runs to Nucky with a plan to replace Babette’s with a high-end jazz club similar to the ones that are flourishing in Harlem. Nucky dismisses him far too quickly and is in danger of losing his last key ally. “You ain’t the only one whose been thinking,” Chalky warns. I wonder if Nucky would have been so hasty if he had known about Owen at that point.

And finally, Richard has the inevitable run-in with Mr. Sagorsky who can’t stand to see his daughter dating what he calls “a side show freak.”

“Would you pay a dime to see this?” asks Richard removing his mask with one hand and strangling Sagorsky with the other.

For a guy who doesn’t usually get more than two-dozen words an episode, Richard has uttered some of the most memorable lines in the series. I will always root for Richard no matter what he does.

Until next week, I think I’ll go for run. (Not really. I can’t stand jogging.)

-       C.J. Kaplan


“How to Get A-Head in Business Without Really Trying”

It looks like I owe Nucky an apology. Last week I chastised him for focusing on Gyp Rosetti when Joe Masseria was clearly the real problem. This week, Nucky apparently came to the same realization and sent Owen and Agent Sawicki on an assassination mission. Unfortunately for the home team someone forgot to draw up an actual plan of attack. What happened to the ruthlessly efficient IRA man Owen Slater who could kill someone while peeing in a bar?

Nope, the new Owen is full of half-baked schemes. He inexplicably chooses naggy Margaret over hot nanny Katie, while pretending to propose to Katie. Was that really necessary Owen? Then he plans to kill one of the biggest gangsters in NYC by walking in the front door of a public bathhouse. That’s the whole plan? Just walk in with your gun and start shooting? You, Sir, deserved to die.

Unlike the little sailor boy (not Tommy) who taught Gyp all about rogue waves and was given the Creepshow sand burial treatment in return. Gyp must have a hell of a benefits package in order to retain his workforce. Seriously – who would work for that lunatic?

One man who knows how to work it is Gaston Means, getting $40k from both Daugherty AND Nucky for pulling a Kevorkian on poor Jess Smith. I wonder if that ruins the case against Daugherty, taking out Remus, but saving the AG.

Good news for Richard this week, who managed to get a little action under the boardwalk after assaulting his girlfriend’s drunken father. She’s a keeper Richard!

Since dropping Van Alden in Cicero at the end of last season we’ve been waiting for the meeting of Van Alden and Capone. Aside from a little fork in the face I’d say the two of them hit it off pretty well.

So the table is set for Van Alden to switch to Team Capone and I’m still predicting that Harrow will go work for Nucky (he can take Owen’s cube at the office). Surprisingly, Lucky and Meyer threw their lot in with Masseria after being frustrated by AR’s patience.

I’m sensing a pattern with BE where Nucky hits his nadir in episode 10, setting the stage for an improbable comeback in the season finale. Once again it seems like Nucky has few options and fewer friends (why piss off Chalky now?) but I suspect that things will work out well in the end for him, Maggie and Baby Owen.

- Mitch Blum


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Kibbitzing About TV: Boardwalk Empire, “The Milkmaid’s Lot” (S3E9)

November 17th, 2012 · Kibbitzing About TV, Pop Culture

“The Rhinoceros is Waiting for the Train”

I love the fact that Richard gets Tommy’s drawing when nobody else does. It speaks so highly of Richard’s character. To the world, he is reticent, almost creepily so. But, the fact of the matter is that Richard doesn’t waste words. He is so thoughtful that when he speaks it is only after he has carefully considered what the other person wants to hear. His judicious responses are in sharp contrast to a concussed Nucky’s wild ramblings.

Nucky is seeing double and hearing a constant ringing in his ears while he convalesces in his suite at the Ritz-Carlton. I feel you, Nucky. I once split a bottle of Night Train with a friend right before sitting third row at a Metallica concert. My head wasn’t right for nearly a week. Nucky’s concussion is clearly messing with his memory. (Although Roger Goodell stopped by to say that HBO is exercising every caution to make sure Nucky is okay before taking the stage again. After all, the league cares about the safety its actors first and foremost.) Nucky’s shakier moments are filled with images of Billie and flames and hummingbirds. But, when he’s lucid he’s smart enough to know that he needs to get rid of Gyp. And that he can’t do it alone.

Curiously, Nucky’s instability finally causes Margaret to become a real mob wife. When Nucky asks her to stay for his conversation with Eli and Owen in which he describes in graphic detail what he wants to do to Gyp, Margaret comes to terms with her husband’s true occupation at last. And even though she and Owen are plotting to run off together, this is as much character as Margaret has shown the entire season. It is she who steels a weakened Nucky before his meeting with the other bosses.

“You need to go and take care of your business,” she tells him.

Good for you, Margaret. You may live most of your life in denial, but for once you were a stand-up guy.

As for those cowards who joined Nucky in his office, their reluctance to help him seems very short-sighted. If Gyp is controlling the shore and the only route to the city, they’re going to have a hard time running their bootlegging operation at a profit. As the sole supplier, General Gyp sets the price. And that’s not good for anybody’s business.

Side Note: Gyp in the tri-cornered hat at the end was priceless. Now that he’s retaken Tabor Heights, Rosetti is at the height of his power. Masseria, using the stone analogy, tells Gyp that he might make a good general. In time. Never one to wait for anything, Gyp anoints himself (Napoleon style) commander-in-chief. I suspect, though, that if Masseria had told him he’d make a good engineer, Gyp would have shown up in a Choo-Choo Charlie hat. I wonder if the general’s hat will clash with the dog collar. But, that’s a discussion for another time.

Richard acquits himself well at the Legion Hall with Julia. With her help, he turns his fellow lodge members’ scorn and condescension into actual applause. And even though his night ends with Gillian blaming him for Tommy walking in on his prostitute/babysitter in the act, he’s finally realizing that he can be happy.

A couple of things about this sequence of events:

1.    Does Tommy only have a closet full of sailor suits? Seriously. It’s the only thing we’ve ever seen him in. Who is he? Pop-eye?

2.    Shame on those other working girls for setting up Tommy to walk in on Josephine and her client. Even if it was more out of hatred of Gillian than animosity toward Tommy. What ever happened to hookers with hearts of gold?

3.    Gillian, you’ve officially sunk below Margaret on the despicable scale. If you don’t want your grandson to hang out with whores, don’t run a whorehouse.

When Richard wakes Tommy and asks him if he’s all right, Tommy says that he wants to go home. Just like the rhinoceros waiting for the train. Tommy is the rhinoceros. You are the Egg Man. I am the walrus. Koo-koo-ka-choo.

And last comes the takedown of Remus, who is apparently living like Jay Gatsby in a house filled with marble fountains and giant birdcages. I really enjoyed Remus pleading in his third person affectation, “Remus kept the receipts.” And then Esther shooting back, “Well, then Randolph wants to see them.” The only thing that would have made this better is if the King of Third Person Self-Reference, Rickey Henderson, had been tapped to play Remus.

“George Remus just wants to play ball. George Remus is the greatest. George Remus had a teammate like you once in Toronto. Or was it New York?”

Until next week, Kaplan is done writing.

- C.J. Kaplan


You’re crazy, my friend, Gyp Rosetti-crazy, if you think Rothstein was wrong to abandon Nucky. AR is a businessman. He already (rightly) chastised Nucky for ignoring his business while mooning over Billie. Now Nucky calls a meeting (against Eli & Owen’s counsel) with every major gangster in the tri-state area when he can barely stand or utter a complete sentence? Why does Nucky deserve to be the capo di tutti capi? He doesn’t have the muscle to take down Gyp and he’s not bringing the political protection anymore. Nucky is just lucky that Chalky didn’t show him how his Daddy builds bookshelves.

AR sees the big picture. Nucky is worried about Gyp when the real issue is Joe Masseria. The only reason that Gyp feels empowered to wear that snappy tri-cornered hat is because of Masseria. You take care of Masseria and the Gyp problem will solve itself. Without Joe’s muscle all Gyp has is a snappy suit and a lot of loud sisters. Tabor Heights isn’t the problem – Little Italy is.

But why focus on the negative when love was in the air? Seeing Richard get some action at the American Legion Hall was truly one of the sweetest scenes of the whole series. (“Hrrm…scrapbook finally coming true…”) and I’m totally on-board with Margaret and Owen making the plan to split town. For an episode that was rife with bad decisions, that’s a damn good one.

Aside from the escape plan, Margaret confused me this week. It doesn’t seem in character for her to support Nucky after learning, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he’s a murderer. Obviously Nucky was confusing Margaret for Billie throughout the episode (hence why he let her stay in the room while discussing business – Billie’s his gangster moll) and that played into her decision, but as a good Catholic she would not condone or encourage murder.

In retrospect, I think the Billie story arc turned out to be a good one. It established Nucky as being a little fat and lazy in his business and Billie effectively drove a wedge between Nucky and Margaret, rekindling her affair with Owen, and setting up runaway story. I don’t believe for a second that Margaret will actually leave (Nucky needs her moral counter-balance) but one can always dream. The only problem with the Billie character was that they rushed the beginning of their relationship. He was too in love with her too soon. If they stretched out the set-up a little more I think it would have been even more effective.

I’ve also come full circle on Gyp. Similar to Nelson Van Alden’s character development, somehow they’re able to push a character to mustache-twirling levels and pull them back at the last minute to make them somewhat believable but wholly enjoyable. And you’ve got to love any show where Nelson is only the third craziest character (behind Gyp and Gillian).

I always appreciate a show that can make the mundane seem terrifying, and that birthday party had me on the edge of my seat.  The tension reminded me of the “Fly” episode of Breaking Bad. Walt – don’t tell Jesse about Jane! Enuch – don’t stab Emily with the cake knife!

In closing, I think I’m in love with Randolph. ‘Nuff said.

- Mitch Blum


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Concert Review: Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Paradise Rock Club, Boston, MA, 11/8/12

November 10th, 2012 · Music, The Black Crowes

What more can be said about the Chris Robinson Brotherhood? Or more specifically, what more can I say about the Chris Robinson Brotherhood? After all, I’ve already spilled a ton of virtual ink reviewing both of their 2012 albums (Big Moon Ritual & The Magic Door) and one of the shows I’ve attended (11/19/11).

And yet I feel compelled to write more about the CRB because they deserve the attention. Sure, they sold out the Paradise Rock Club, but this a band that should be selling out the Orpheum. I guess it’s time for us music nerds to accept that rock music has really become a niche genre, like jazz or classical, appreciated by a few but ignored by the masses.

Well, for those of you who still care about real music performed by genuine artists, here are some reasons why you need to check out the CRB:

The Singing: Having seen Chris Robinson many, many times over the last 20 years I have to say that he’s in great voice these days. Whatever he’s lost in range he’s gained in phrasing and confidence. His voice was incredible last night on every single tune. It’s most noticeable on the covers, with his “Do Right Woman” rivaling both Gram’s and Aretha’s versions and his “Tom Thumb’s Blues” elevating Dylan’s composition greatly. Of course, originals like “100 Days of Rain” and “Star or Stone” also highlight his instrument.

The harmonies, a secret weapon of this band (and underemphasized on the LPs), were spot on as usual. Neal Casal is one of the best in the business (playing the Chris Hillman role), occasionally doubling Chris’s lines for maximum impact. Muddy Dutton does a great job with the high harmonies. And when Adam MacDougall jumps in for the a capella breaks it’s just perfect. Singing is often a weakness for rock bands – particularly for jam bands – So it’s a real treat to hear a band that can consistently nail the vocals.

The Sound: I’m doubling down on my theory that the CRB are psychedelic rockabilly band (but not a psychobilly band – big difference!) Before there was rock music there was rockabilly. It was the earliest fusion of country and blues. It featured a driving rhythmic beat and a clean finger-picked electric lead guitar with slap-back echo. CRB still features the chug-a-chug-a beat courtesy of George Sluppick, but the psychedelic aspect is achieved by replacing the Scotty Moore-style guitar with a more Jerry Garcia-esque sound from Neal. Throw in Muddy dropping bombs on the bass all night long and Adam’s trippy work on the Moog and Hammond and you’ve got something that sounds new and classic at the same time. Non-album tracks like “Try Rock N Roll”, “Jump the Turnstile” and “Meanwhile in the Gods…” really bring that psychedelic rockabilly sound to life.

The Vibe: When I go to a show I don’t really care if the band talks to the audience or not. I’m there for music, not comedy or pandering to the locals (“Hello Cleveland!”), but I do think that a show is enhanced when it appears like the band is having a good time and wants to be there. Like Phil Lesh always says, there’s a connection between the band and the audience, a infinite loop where the positive energy is reflected from the band to the audience and back to the band. Last night you could tell they were having a great time.  Watching how much Chris loved Adam’s long spacey solos, like during “Vibration & Light Suite” gave the feeling that there was no place he’d rather be, which made the audience feel the same way.

The Dead: Speaking of Phil, the Dead are still strong with this band. Aside from Neal’s Garcia-like tone, they somehow were able to transform “West L.A. Fadeaway” from a piss-break song into a monster (admit it, “West L.A.” was always a piss-break when the Dead played it). Also, there was a new arrangement of “Mother of Stone” that I’m absolutely convinced was built on top of the rhythm line from “The Other One”. Come to think of it, they should probably work “The Other One” into the rotation.

The Arrangements: Including “Mother of Stone” there were three New Earth Mud songs in the set (also “Sunday Sound” and “Silver Car”) and all featured different arrangements that perfectly fit the players in the CRB. It’s instructive to compare Mud versions to the CRB versions to get a sense of the evolution of Chris’s sound. Also getting a radically different arrangement was “Tornado”, perhaps the best Black Crowes b-side, which went from being a great country-folk acoustic number to a funked up reggae tune. (I’m not saying that it was better than the original version, but it worked quite well.) The CRB has a gift of taking songs – whether originals, covers, or old Chris tunes – and making them sound fresh and perfectly suited for their sound.

The Value: Not that it should matter, but tickets, including fees, were $33. They played for 2 and a half hours. I spent more money on Schlitz tallboys than I did on the show. The Stones are charging $750 for good seats at their 50th anniversary shows. I’d rather see the CRB.

If you’re a fan of great music – especially if you’re a deadhead – you owe it to yourself to check out the Chris Robinson Brotherhood. The songs are strong. The covers are great. The playing is exceptional. The vocals are tremendous. Most of all, it’s a real good time.


Chris Robinson Brotherhood
08 November 2012
Paradise Rock Club
Boston, MA

- Set One -

- Set Two -

- encore -


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