Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Sound Tribe Sector 9 This Thursday

Sound Tribe Sector 9 is playing at The National in Richmond, VA this Thursday and I feel like it might be time to go see them again. STS9, or Sector Nine (the name I first came to know them as) is a band that I saw well over 20 times between the years of 1999 to 2003. During those glory days they were always among my favorite bands to see live and I still have dozens of live shows on CD that I collected through kind trades during that span of time, although it’s been over 10 years since I’ve stepped into one of their shows.
STS9 back in the goodle days, circa 2000
I first saw Sector 9 on 5/22/99 at Wilmer’s Park in Brandywine, MD as part of the All Good Festival. They were the first band out that Saturday, and for an unknown band with a lunch time set they were really impressive. Other standout performances along the way include Tulagi’s in Boulder, CO (in the year 2000); the 2001 High Sierra Music Festival in Quincy, CA; Starr Hill Music Hall in Charlottesville, VA on 4/1/02; and STS9’s own Harmonic Convergence event in August 2002 at Deerfields near Asheville, NC where it all seemed to come together.

STS9 then (12/5/02) music starts about about 2 minutes in

My cynical, skeptical, and atheistic self was not always aligned with STS9’s new age philosophies, with references to the Mayan calendar, heady crystals and frankincense.  It was quite easy to make light of these asides, although I will admit that it did at least add to the band’s mystique early on...and if it fueled their creativity then more power to it.

What I was really drawn to was the guitar playing of pigtailed Hunter Brown - organic and restrained, melodic yet minimalist, ego-free, anti-soloing.  He's not technical, and he doesn't shred - thank Jah - but the purity of his tone will get you every time.  In fact, when I first got a tenor banjo one of my intentions was to learn some of Hunter’s melodic lines on that 4-string instrument! (A goal that 8 years later I can finally begin to realize). 

Of course, my appreciation was also on STS9 as a whole.  Being instrumental and relatively unique, it wasn't easy to categorize them.  The best thing to do was to just dig the music.  The main observation being that they could consistently take what seemed like a very simple idea or piece and slowly build it up to something transcendent.

There were elements of 70's jazz fusion such as Mahavishnu Orchestra, mixed with 90's techno and an association with the jamband scene.  But if you put your ear to the ground there was also a perceivable connection to the most divine of roots reggae, the pureness of the chants of Mongolian monks, and the authenticity of Indian snake charmer music.  Without getting too colorful or grandiose, at times you could feel the winds of our human ancestors blowing through STS9's platform of indigenous musical zeitgeist.  Or maybe it was just the sage they were burning?
STS9 in 2014
I faded from the Sound Tribe scene just as they were relying more and more upon laptops, samples and other electronics to further their sound. My shying away was not a result of this change, but more in parallel to it, as I'm sure they had valid artistic reasons for pursuing this technology as a means of composition.  As fast as you can say "click, lang, echo" here it is 2014 and they now have a new bass player Alana Rocklin and from what I can tell, a renewed focus on the use of their “traditional” instrumentation (guitar, bass, piano, drums, percussion) in the making of music. 

STS9 now (9/6/14 Red Rocks)

The year is not 1999 and I’m not 25 years old anymore (and neither are they) but maybe it’s time to check back in with old favorites STS9 by harmonically converging upon one of their shows on this Fall 2014 tour as they swing through a nearby city!

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