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Sound Tribe Sector 9

(25 Jul 2009: Red Rocks Amphitheater — Morrison, CO)

The word came down way back in January: Sound Tribe Sector 9 would return to Colorado’s legendary Red Rocks Amphitheater for a special “Day Out of Time” celebration on July 25, including a preceding show at the Denver Fillmore on July 24. Such events are not normally announced six months ahead of time, but the band wanted to let their close-knit community know something special was coming up, so mark those calendars.


In 2000, the band played a Day Out of Time show at the obscure 550 Barneveld Club in San Francisco to perhaps a few hundred people. Those in attendance knew they were witnessing something special. With multiple vibe rooms set up like a rave, Mayan galactic signature readings, street puppets and group Om chants led by the band before the second set, it was readily apparent that this was a band tuned into a higher purpose. To watch the band grow that vibe into playing the Day Out of Time for 9,000 people at Red Rocks has been to watch one of this decade’s most inspiring success stories.


The Day Out of Time, July 25 on the Gregorian calendar, is akin to the Mayan New Year’s Eve for the 13-moon calendar (which suggests 13 even months of 28 days each, equaling 364 days.) Correlating to the conjunction of the sun with the rising of Sirius, the brightest star in the galaxy,=2 0the Day Out of Time negates the need for leap years. Famed Maya scholar/prophet Jose Arguelles popularized the Day Out of Time concept, noting that it’s a day for celebration of a new paradigm where time equals art, instead of the de facto time equals money (those interested in learning more about Arguelles should pick up the new 2012: Biography of a Time Traveler by Stephanie South, a fascinating account of Arguelles’ mystical journey.)


Renewing the Day Out of Time celebration explains the extra festivities surrounding the weekend as the band turned the affair into a multi-day event filled with other artists from the band’s 1320 Records label, many of whom also contributed to the Peaceblaster: The New Orleans Make It Right Remixes album. The recent digital release features a variety of 1320 Records artists remixing songs from STS9’s 2008 Peaceblaster, with all proceeds going toward building new homes in a Hurricane Katrina-stricken area of New Orleans. With 30 tracks from a veritable who’s who of the electronic music scene putting their own spins on the band’s tunes, the release highlights the way those songs serve as templates for creative augmentation as well as the band’s ongoing dedication to socially conscious action. The combo of greater spiritual and socially conscious attunement, along with superb musicianship have made STS9 one of the most unique and compelling bands of the 21st century.


Saturday’s festivities were set to start at 4 p.m., with non-stop music all day as bands and DJs alternated between the main stage at Red Rocks and a second stage at the top of the mountainous natural amphitheatre. The eclectic lineup included Pretty Lights, Pnuma Trio, The Album Leaf, Flying Lotus, Nosaj Thing, Telepath, Daedelus and Bass Science. But the beautiful setting saw many fans content to hang out tailgating in the lots, in no hurry to enter the venue. A bit of drizzle threatened to dampen the proceedings, although it seemed Mother Nature would cooperate when the sun broke back through the clouds, bringing a collective cheer across the lots.


But just as STS9 hit the stage, the rain began again. The band seemed determined to try and bring as much heat as possible in opposition by opening with seminal crowd-pleaser “Tap In”. Zach Velmer’s beat, David Murphy’s signature bass line and David Phipps’ mystical synth worked like magic, getting the crowd instantly back into the groove. The strong energy level carried into “Beyond Right Now”, another perfect selection seemingly aimed at manifesting drier conditions. The band’s sound took on an almost otherworldly character, though Jeffree Lerner’s tight conga work kept the sound anchored.


The band switched gears with “Empires”, which starts out with a dark and ambient vibe, signaling that this show would have more ebb and flow than the previous night’s Fillmore barnburner. But the song moves into a strong sequence where Murphy’s dirty, low end synth lines pump up the groove, accented by tight wah-wah from Hunter Brown. The rain mercifully stopped, as the group tapped into a long jam band tradition of seemingly being able to control the weather.


The outdoor setting seemed to have the band in a more exploratory mood, playing around with different vibes as opposed to the straight heat that was conjured in the more intimate confines of the Denver Fillmore. But “Arigato” picked things up with a big groove that instantly got the crowd moving, with Lerner once again accenting Velmer’s strong beat in fabulous fashion. Phipps set off his arpeggiator for “Heavy”, catalyzing a psychedelic symphony behind the furious drumming of Velmer to close the set.


The second set


There was no tabling for Mayan calendar information as the band has done in the past, with the group seemingly content to let the music do the talking on this night. Perhaps the band hopes at this point that those curious about the deeper meaning of the Day Out of Time and Mayan calendar will take the band’s cue to seek that info out themselves (try www.lawoftime.org and www.tortuga.com). But the second set opens with a soundbite of Jose Arguelles questioning the modern concept that “time is money,” asking where that idea came from?


STS9 were all about time equals art as they threw down “Hidden Hand Hidden Fist”, an assertive tune from Peaceblaster which inherently questions the free market paradigm and its groove has become a sure winner. Brown’s licks elevate the groove, then Phipps comes in with another layer of psychedelia, bringing out Lerner’s percussion even more, as the layers blend into one artful sonic tapestry demonstrating the band’s collective vibe.


Lerner’s congas introduced “Rent”, a dependable up-beat groove that always gets a crowd dancing, followed by “What is Love”, with Murphy’s bassline leading the way. Topped by some spacey synth work from Phipps and phaser lines from Brown, the band created a superb groove that was one of the evenings finest. “Jebez” was another highlight, recalling the more organic sound of the band’s earlier years. Velmer’s drumming was swift and nimble, with Phipps’ bell-like tones ringing in between, as well as some melodic piano and Murphy’s exploratory bass, all worked together to elevate the assembled.


“The Unquestionable Supremacy of Nature” followed, almost inevitable considering the earlier rain. It’s a high energy jam, with some very psychedelic action on the LED screen. Murphy and Brown focused more on their synths than their axes, bringing in some crazy changes for a wild ride. The new “Atlas” brings a big sound with the synths providing a melodic and vast cosmic soundscape, calling to mind a galactic fleet of some sort as Velmer’s furious beat propelled the soaring sound. “From Now On” closed the set with a majestic journey that flowed into several big peaks, a vibe that seemed perfect for Red Rocks’ natural setting.


The encore opened with a rare cover of Board of Canada’s “RoyGBiv” which has become a fan favorite, but this was topped by an absolutely epic rendition of “EHM”, a tune that references author John Perkins’ “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man”, a bold indictment of the way Uncle Sam uses economic blackmail to twist the arms of third-world countries into doing America’s imperialist bidding. Phipps set a spooky mood on the keys, while Brown and Murphy conjured a huge groove, driven by Velmer and topped off by some truly “hetty” cowbell from Lerner. Seven minutes in, the song spun out wildly into absolute synth mayhem, Lerner still rocking that cowbell and the band coming together for one last turbo-charged monster jam.


Some fans said that STS9 playing Red Rocks for the Day Out of Time was without a doubt the venue’s best event of the year. Others suggested that the show was merely warming up the venue for the return of Phish that would occur the following weekend. But simply the fact that STS9 could even be considered for Red Rocks event of the year, with Phish due to follow, speaks volumes to how far the band has come. Their unique sound has been evolving throughout the decade as they endeavor to balance creative use of modern technology with the organic instrumental skills that few other bands can match.

Greg M. Schwartz has covered music and pop culture for PopMatters since 2006. He focuses on events coverage with a preference for guitar-driven rock 'n' roll, but has eclectic tastes for the golden age of sound that is the 21st century music scene. He has a soft spot for music with a socially conscious flavor and is also an award-winning investigative reporter. Follow him on Twitter at @gms111, where he's always looking for tips on new bands or under the radar news items.


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