By Matthew Cremer
Photos by Cremerica, Inc. Photography
When the quintet of STS9 casually emerged from backstage inside the hallowed caverns of Red Rocks amphitheater Friday evening, the buzz of the near capacity crowd seemed to have some extra pep in its colorful step. Like something special was possibly about to happen. Apparently there was some kind of anniversary? Or was Christmas (or Hanukkah for my Jewish friends) coming a little early this year?
As each member took their respective spot within the interplanetary space vehicle better known as the Sound Tribe Sector 9, the weirdest thing began to transpire for me. Just before the first notes of each song were released upon the Sound Tribe faithful, I knew exactly what they were going to play – before it happened. It’s funny how life works out that way sometimes. True story.
Starting off with “Musical Story, Yes” and then flowing right into “Better Day” and “By the Morning Sun,” (I totally called these songs) the trio blended effortlessly into a well-oiled, amorphous medley of sorts. Being that each could be considered relative needles in a haystack, this certainly was not your ordinary blast out of the gate. A rather strong opening statement indeed. Not to mention, I could sense that the folks around me had already been worked into a fine creamy lather. This only intensified as the band began to dig in even more with a semi-sprawling and punchy version of “Tokyo” that served as the first flagpole of sorts for the night.
As the premonitions kept coming and my official set list batting average remained at a stellar 1.000, we were then treated with yet another proverbial diamond in the rough. With an ultra super duper rare “ART I FACT” (has this even been played live before?) being thrown into the mix, the pre-emptive Christmas (Hanukkah/Kwanza/Whatever floats your boat) gifts just kept comin’ in extra hot and steamy. “And you get a ‘Native End’ and YOU GET A ‘RE-EMERGENCE!!!!” Sweet Jesus, when would it ever end? Then, before I could even collect myself, they took it upon themselves to unleash a longer drum & bass infused version of “Peoples” without any forewarning whatsoever. The nerve of these people! Since I personally had not been graced with it in about eight years, the cup of child-like joy had already runneth over for yours truly. Even though it felt like a certain female vocalist’s live presence might’ve been missing here, the band launched right into “Glogli” before I had a chance to ponder much of anything more in life. Being the next cosmic anchor holding down the mothership, it soon developed into an ambient-esque jaunt that dang near every gleeful person in attendance pissing their collective pj’s at this juncture. (On a side note, the set was brought down gracefully with a “Tonight the Ocean Swallowed the Moon” that showcased Alana Rocklin on the upright bass.)
During the set break, when looking over my scribbled song notes, it occurred to me something was definitely up. The progression of music was eerily similar to this one album. No, not Takin’ It to the Streets by The Doobie Brothers. But was STS9 really that clever? I mean, sure, Zac Velmer’s untamed mane was a bold statement unto itself and may or may not have been from the 20th century, but could the band have actually devised such a devious strategy in advance or was it an elaborate coincidence? Was I really a true set list whisperer? One way or another, after an unsuccessful attempt at procuring free nachos and a Coors banquet debacle with my newfound psychic superpowers, I opted to not let anyone else in on my filthy secret.
Starting off the second stanza, the night continued onward ho with “Forest Hu,” another rarity that transcended the confines of the album, carrying a free flowing bravado. With an onslaught of more repertoire familiar nuggets such as the sawtooth wavy goodness of “Somesing” into “Trinocular” and the always suave AF “Vibyl,” Sector 9 didn’t leave anything on the dance floor. The three tunes each brought their own methodical bursts of focused, tightly wound energy, yet contributed to an overarching wave of momentum that thoroughly whirled the audience into a frenzy. Being bestowed with one high-five after another from rando’s aplenty, there was no shortage of celebratory exuberance on hand. But did they know what I knew? Or maybe everyone else was in on it too, but had secretly conspired against me? As tempting as it ‘twas to start up an impromptu “They’re playing Artifact” game of telephone, I chose to not blow the jig. Besides, I’d reckon all these people were far too high to conduct such a coordinated effort anyways. But where was I? Oh yes. The gang rounded out the set with a “Possibilities” that opened into an oh-so-refreshing jam as well as a “Peoples” reprise that brought an extended intro and an inspired jam of its own. As much as it would’ve been delightful to throw a monkey wrench in the cogs with something I didn’t see coming from 10,000 miles away, the “Music, Us” was ultimately the only way to fully uncover the secret portal for all to gloriously behold and rub across their bodies. But if this was the culmination of a certain album then what on Earth could they possibly encore with?
After spending about five minutes de-flocking his flock of seagulls (which is no easy task, mind you), Mr. Velmer stood high atop his drummer’s throne with a message to the enraptured crowd. Although a bit of a blur to me and there was rambling involved, it went something along the lines of “LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE.” He was very excited, I tell you. And I think it was safe to say – the feeling was pretty dang mutual.
We were then treated with two songs off the secret album beginning with “A” that somehow, some way didn’t make the final cut. The first being “Real & Imagined” followed by a triumphant, life-affirming “Breathe In” that sent the jubilant congregation full cup runneth into the starry after glow. To aptly put the icing on the cake, I recall a curious gentleman standing next to me saying, “How the hell am I supposed to go home now?” Hey look, guy, I might be a set list whisperer, but I don’t have the answers to everything. Nor am I in charge of your ass, which leads me to my final thought.
If ever there was a time to celebrate something very, very unique and oh-so-delightfully-special – this was it. And crazy as it may sound, it hasn’t always been for everyone. To each their own though. Sometimes I truly feel sorry for people who either don’t know about this blissful configuration of electronic space wizardry or can’t get on board with it for some odd reason. One cannot force these things though. Like the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t convince it to take a test drive in a highly synthesized intergalactic Ferrari on steroids. Truth.
Maybe folks might realize one day they’ve missed out on 20 years of pure, unadulterated magic. Maybe one day they’ll be lucky enough to step inside the one and only Sound Tribe Sector 9. You know, maybe the riff-raff will figure it out eventually. Who knows Then again, what’s wrong with keeping a secret for another 20 years?
Set 1: Musical Story, Yes, Better Day, By The Morning Sun, Tokyo, Artifact, Native End > ReEmergence, Peoples, GLOgli, Today > Tonight the Ocean Swallowed the Moon
Set 2: Forest Hu, Somesing, Trinocular > Vibyl, 8 & a Extra, Possibilities, Peoples Pt. 2, First Mist Over Clear Lake, Music, Us
Encore: Real & Imagined, Breathe In