Pillbox

STS9 entrances audience with two full sets

On Friday, jamtronica group Sound Tribe Sector 9 (STS9) performed at Stage AE, playing two full sets and a five-song encore that lasted until nearly 1 a.m. This stop, the second on the band’s fall tour, and their first full tour featuring new bassist Alana Rocklin, proved the band is reaching for new heights in their live show, and to great success.

Formed in Atlanta in 1999, STS9 has grown in the past 15 years to become one of the most celebrated live shows in music today, ranking among Pollstar Magazine’s list of top-grossing touring acts. Mixing live rock instrumentation with electronics, the band describes their sound as “post-rock dance music.” The band underwent a massive change earlier this year with the departure of founding member and bassist David Murphy. Many fans questioned the future of the band, as Murphy was considered an integral aspect of both the band’s sound and live performances. Rocklin, however, certainly proved herself during the band’s run of music festivals this past summer, and STS9 has actually begun transitioning between songs without stopping the flow of the music — an idea which had never occurred to Murphy.

Friday night’s show at Stage AE was a near-perfect exhibition of the group, with both sets spanning the entirety of the group’s diverse catalogue of sounds and genres. The first set was geared toward hardcore fans, with many down-tempo songs and extended jams. It included an opening of the grooving bass track “4 Year Puma” played into “F Word.”

Other highlights of the first set included “The Rabble,” a song that mixes elements of rock and dub-electronica to create a truly awesome live experience, and the set closer, “Circus,” which is often cited as the band’s signature tune — with good reason. The song is 10 minutes of pure bliss, with guitarist Hunt Brown’s fingers dancing up and down the fret board, eliciting tiny explosions of joy with each note. I strongly recommend looking up a recording of the band performing the song live — STS9 posts soundboard recordings of all of their concerts on the Internet for fans to download — if you’re ever looking to significantly brighten your day.

After a short set break, the band returned and played a second set that was much more evocative of their recent dive into heavier electronica. Songs such as “Golden Gate” and “World Go Round” with their funky grooves and cheerful tones, are staples of their festival performances. “When The Dust Settles,” with its low and droning synthesizers and digitized vocals, had the room feeling like a ‘90s warehouse rave — flashing, colorful strobe lights included.
The encore was a real treat, and included Annie Clark performing two songs on an upright bass as part of the band’s Axe The Cable segment — wherein they play without using synthesizers and other heavily-electronic equipment. Essentially, they play as a rock group. The band played through five songs, and were setting up to play a sixth, when the venue turned the lights on, making it clear that 12:45 a.m. was late enough.

One important thing to note is that in the first two stops of the band’s fall tour, they did not repeat a single song. A person I spoke to after the first set proclaimed that he’d seen the band four times in the past year, and had not heard a single song the band had just played live before. That just speaks to the amount of dedication and effort STS9 puts into their live performances and overall musicianship. While big-name tours, such as the Jay-Z and Beyonce “On The Run” tour over the summer may have grand production values, they’re not all that hard to pull off. It doesn’t take much of a performer to play the same exact show every single night, singing the same songs in the same order, and stopping at the same point to ask “(Insert city name here) how you feelin’ tonight?” It’s all one mass-produced product, like Domino’s Pizza, except it costs you about a hundred dollars a ticket for the nosebleeds. STS9, however, ensures that every slice of the tour has its own special flavor, and it’s this kind of commitment that creates a rabid loyalty in their fan base. STS9 fans, like the fabled Deadheads of old, travel far and wide to hit every stop of the tour that they can, because it’s always worth the journey.