It’s Halloween weekend in Austin, the third biggest party weekend of the year in the live music capital of the world (trailing only SXSW in the spring and the Austin City Limits Music Festival a few weeks prior). Many college towns boast of having a great Halloween party scene, but Austin’s may well be the best. The colorful freak show that takes place in the Sixth Street/Red River area on Halloween weekend is easily one of the greatest party scenes on the planet. STS9 learned this two years ago when they played Halloween night at Stubbs (a Friday in 2008).
The rock-tronica stalwarts were treated to one of the most festive audiences in Stubbs’ history and they responded in kind with a most memorable show, with bassist David Murphy proclaiming at the end, “I think we found a new Halloween town, this is nice… this is something, ya’ll know how to do this right down in Tejas.” Stubbs is one of the premiere venues in the nation to play at Halloween time, for there aren’t many other venues in party towns where you can play outdoors at this time of year and be assured of good weather. STS9 wound up playing ACL in early October last year instead of coming back for Halloween, but now they’ve come back to fulfill Murphy’s boast.
Halloween is on a Sunday this year, but STS9 wisely grabbed the Friday and Saturday night slots. Stubbs has a 10:30 pm curfew on Sunday, whereas bands can play until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. The Saturday night scene is also the peak of Austin’s Halloween mayhem, as it is in most college towns. STS9 set the stage with a hot Friday night show that had a decidedly old school vibe. The band left their computers on the curb for the most part and delivered a slew of older fan favorites like “Gobnugget” and “Monkey Music”. But they also showed the strength of their evolving sound, in the epic show-ending “EHM” (the band’s homage to author/insider John Perkins’ expose of US imperialism, “Confessions of an Economic Hitman”).
Many fans were in costume on Friday, but everyone is in costume here on Saturday and it’s quite the scene with superheroes, zombies, vampires, sexy goddesses and so much more. The party starts early as Murphy and guitarist Hunter Brown warm things up with a vibrant DJ set. They feature a tease revisiting the still resounding “EHM”, as well as another on “Beyond Right Now”, one of the highlights of that Halloween 2008 show. They up the ante when they pull on Friday the 13th-style hockey masks and segue into the theme from John Carpenter’s classic Halloween. Then the rest of the band comes on, also wearing the masks to kick off the show in top Halloween fashion. The band gets things grooving with “Metameme”, but it’s the spooky “Shock Doctrine” that really sets the tone. It’s another socially conscious song inspired by journalist Naomi Klein’s book of the same name, which exposes Uncle Sam’s global power play of disaster capitalism. The song has an eerie vibe appropriate to “invisible fascism”, but it’s also got a deep groove that has the crowd rocking. It’s another flashback to a highlight of that Halloween 2008 show that clearly still resonates.
The ultra-groovy “Crystal Instrument” keeps the dance party going before the band once again re-visits the 2008 show with “Hidden Hand, Hidden Fist”, hitting on the thought-provoking theme once again with another hard rocking tune from 2008’s Peaceblaster album. The combo of Zach Velmer’s hard-hitting drums with the polyrhythmic percussion from Jeffree Lerner, Brown’s aggressive guitar riffs and keyboardist David Phipps’ psychedelic synth work delivers a high-energy jolt. “Frequencies” spins on a new direction, offering a jazzy treat in the beginning with some great piano and bass interplay between Phipps and Murphy. This soon explodes into a smoking jam before the band ends the set with the epic “New New 4 U U”, yet another key flashback to the 2008 show. Back then the song was brand new, yet proved to be an instant classic and a highlight of the show. Here, the deep groove hooks the crowd from the start once again, before the song ascends through a wild sonic ride that now includes another “EHM” tease from Phipps before the raucous conclusion leaves the audience totally elated at set break.
“The Unquestionable Supremacy of Nature” launches the second set with another zany ride through a series of elaborate changes and all-manner of high-tech sonic tricks. But it’s all powered by the ever-propulsive beat of Velmer’s electrifying attack on the drums. “Evasive Manuevers” is a major highlight, keeping the party going with a stellar high-energy groove featuring psychedelic guitar from Brown on a jam that could have been the soundtrack to the Rebel Alliance attacking the Death Star. “Be Nice” is another treat, with Murphy’s counterpoint bass helping to twist the dance party into an even groovier direction. “Moonsockets (Part II)” offers something of a trick, mixing things up by taking one of the band’s seminal classics and skipping to the jam at the end. The treats keep coming with the newer “Atlas” from last year’s Ad Explorata album, again conjuring an epic science fiction vibe that might raise the roof if Stubbs had one.
The band closes the set with the ever-reliable “Aimlessly”, pumping up the energy once again behind multiple synth grooviness, sharp riffs from Brown and more dynamic percussion interplay between Velmer and Lerner. Murphy lays down some more jazzy bass riffs during the breakdown in the middle, before the band slowly but surely builds the groove back up into the main theme. It’s a triumphant ending to the show, with the crowd chanting “S-T-S-9” before the encore.
When the show ends, the party is still in full bloom. The fun continues during the walk down Red River and Sixth Street to the official after show party at the Parish, where Murphy and Brown spin once again. Just the people-watching during this walk is amazingly entertaining – Slash from GNR and Captain Kirk are seen exchanging notes, before Kirk moves onto a conference with Austin Powers and Duff Man. Then there’s more zombies, Hawk Woman, Bat Man, Frank the Bunny (from Donnie Darko); these are just a few of the characters seen along the way.
Govinda warms things up at the Parish, a down-tempo trance dance trio featuring some dynamic violin over psychedelic synths. Brown and Murphy don’t come on until about 2 am, but then proceed to rock the house with a variety of infectious sounds that keep the room moving and grooving. There’s a jam on Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” that ignites the crowd, and then later another on Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall”. A major crowd-pleasing moment occurs with a jam on The Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind”, recalling the classic ending of Fight Club, which the duo then segue into another reprise on their own epic “EHM”. It’s a great weaving of classic rock with STS9’s own sonic power, deep into the night.