It’s a warm sunny weekend in the Bay Area, weather befitting of a special event. STS9 are originally from Georgia, but the band relocated to Santa Cruz at the turn of the millennium and have delivered a string of memorable Bay Area shows over the years. These were enhanced by how a like-minded community of the same people grew larger and larger, yet with the same old friends turning up at each gig. The band’s Bay Area shows have come to hold a certain homecoming status over the years.
This isn’t just another homecoming though, not with the long-awaited arrival of the year 2012. STS9 sort of introduced themselves to the Bay Area with a “Day Out of Time” show on July 25, 2000 in San Francisco, in celebration of the Mayan New Year. The band’s name – Sound Tribe Sector 9 – was allegedly coined due to their interest in the natural timing frequency of the Mayan calendar. It was the ninth baktun of that calendar in which the Mayan civilization was at its peak, with pyramids displaying a still stunning grasp of archeo-astronomy.
The global metaphysical community has long been abuzz about the potential of a paradigm shift for society to a higher consciousness at the end of the Mayan calendar, this year’s winter solstice, December 21, 2012. How that might actually go down is anyone’s guess, but when a groovy space-funk-trance-dance band came along professing an interest in these natural timing frequencies and using music as a tool to a higher vibration, it just seemed to resonate. This weekend’s shows are billed as part of the band’s ongoing 2012 series of “Great Cycle Spectacles”, as the improvisational quintet honors their longtime affinity for the Mayan calendar. The band recently announced plans to ring in the solstice with a special set at midnight on December 21 in Tulum, Mexico as part of the Mayan Holidaze concert series (which sold out in minutes). Every show is now building toward that long anticipated moment, but living in natural time is all about appreciating the present, so fans have come from all over California for the band’s first shows in the Golden State this year.
Bassist David Murphy dropped a hint about what was to come earlier in the week, posting on Facebook about how the band has been working on some strong new material and an old favorite that hasn’t seen the light of day in awhile. This raises anticipation even further and there’s a festive vibe all around the Fox Theater on Telegraph Avenue. The strip has a number of inviting bars and restaurants, as opposed to the sketchier vibe that surrounds San Francisco’s Warfield Theater. The Dogwood up the street serves a tasty high-end “Old Fashioned”, chilled neat for the bourbon connoisseur, while the Fox itself also features a nice bar/lounge area that is lacking in most venues.
When the lights go down, fans are greeted by a disembodied voice offering greetings to both the people of Oakland and potential ET visitors from the cosmos. The voice offers a message presenting the imminent spectacle of sound as a token of good will and hope for Earth to join a community of galactic civilizations, as has long been speculated to occur circa 12/21/2012 by channeled messages from some of those alleged ET visitors.
The quintet proceeds to deliver a nearly three hour show, with their musical explorations enhanced by beautiful space images and an LED pyramid of lights that feature the 20 glyphs from Jose Arguelles’ Dreamspell interpretation of the Mayan calendar. The noted Mayan calendar scholar/prophet was the man who brought the 2012 concept into the mass consciousness in the late ‘80s by spearheading the global Mayan Harmonic Convergence event in August 1987, which he said signaled the stretch run to 2012. Arguelles left the planet in most untimely fashion due to illness in the spring of 2011, but not before parting with the Jedi-like words that it was now time for him to assist the shift from “the other side”.
STS9 have long been sampling some of Jose’s wisdom, such as a quote questioning the modern concept that time equals money, when a more harmonious society would be possible with a concept of time equals art. STS9 have been doing all they can to bring that idea into reality and it shows in the adoration from the audience. The peak of the first set occurs with the foreshadowed bustout of “TWELVE”, a beloved song not played in five years (an acronym for ‘time within an evolving living vehicle earth’). It’s a soaring high energy jam and the band and the crowd both bask in the fresh sound of an old favorite. Allegedly shelved because it was being re-written into the new “20-12”, the song may still be a work in progress but it crackles with bouncy electricity. The band follows nicely with their unique cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Shakedown Street”, much to the delight of the Bay Area crowd.
Later, the narrator returns to speak of a world with pleasures to win, and nothing to lose but the mundane. “GLOgli” finds the band digging into one of their rarer grooves, with some strong keyboard work from David Phipps over the propulsive breakbeats of drummer Zach Velmer, long the engine behind this interplanetary escape vehicle. Then the extra percussion from Jeffree Lerner boosts the groove vibe deeper still as the quintet’s collective x-factor gels. The energy is tapped right into a keeper rendition of the classic “Circus”, with Murphy and guitarist Hunter Brown driving a flowing multi-dimensional jam to close the set in stellar fashion.
The second set is shorter by design, but finds the band throwing down another solid hour of tunes to keep the dance party happening. The new “MOD” serves as a launch pad, with a guitar melody that sounds like Brown copped it from a Star Wars soundtrack. This seems appropriate since improvisational bands like STS9 are sort of akin to rebel Jedis here on Earth, fighting to bring sonic freedom to a music business that tends to frown upon it like Jabba the Hut scowling at Han Solo. “March” is another highlight, a tight groove that also conjures some of that rebel alliance vibe.
The narrator opens Saturday night’s show with another greeting to beings from far away and offers a message hoping that we can survive our current era so that we may live to someday solve our current problems and join a community of galactic civilizations. “This spectacle represents our hope, our determination and our good will in a vast and awesome universe. In Lak’ech,” says the narrator, closing with the Mayan greeting that means “I am another yourself”.
The band then goes for broke by launching the show with their go-to new jam from last year, “20-12”. It may share a similar vibe and tempo with “TWELVE”, but it has different elements and a soaring ecstatic sound that makes it a unique sonic vehicle of its own. The whole theater takes off and it’s definitely a treat to hear both songs in the same run. There’s no warming up here, just a band on fire from the start. “Evasive Manuevers” conjures that rebel alliance on the move vibe yet again, as does the epic “Inspire Strikes Back” at the end of the show. The latter song was perhaps the band’s first conscious nod to the Jedi religion, when it appeared on their year 2000 LP, Offered Schematics Suggesting Peace. It’s one of those compelling jams that never gets old and has been a concert staple ever since.
“Golden Gate” is a gem from last year’s When the Dust Settles EP that really comes alive onstage, with a blissful vibe that finds the audience falling into a collective groove, enhanced by Lerner’s masterful percussion. Another interlude features the narrator speaking of a cosmic point of view, and how we intelligent reflective beings are a rare species. The band then crushes “Arigato”, a dirty funk standby about a trip to the moon before closing the set with the trippy new “Vapors” and a gorgeous piano outro solo from Phipps.
The second set features the band continuing to play at a high level, with the energy surging time and again. The peak may be an 11-minute jam on “The Rabble”, a dirty groove of a rarer variety enhanced by synth psychedelia and a trippy counterpoint riff that sounds of alien origin. “Inspire Strikes Back” closes the show with the ultimate blast of positive energy, a song that always leaves an audience on cloud nine.
In the end, the two-night stand leaves one with the feeling that a new age of peace and harmony could indeed be just around the bend. The vibrational arts of tone scientists like STS9 have a healing power and can conjure such a positive collective consciousness. Music is the ultimate universal language, so if ET visitors are coming around to see what happens on Earth in 2012, they’ll probably be more interested in interacting with musicians and music fans than politicians and corporate titans. And that may just be the one of the keys to changing the world.