Sound Tribe Sector 9 Fires Intergalactic Sonic Blast for Peace and Harmony
It seems Sound Tribe Sector 9 were destined to be part of the noble 21st century movement that carries the torch for peace through music.
The midtown area in the City of Angels was abuzz a recent Saturday evening with the intrepid jamtronica pioneers of Sound Tribe Sector 9 (STS9) in town to throw down an intergalactic dance party. The stars were aligned for a special night as the show would conclude the west coast run of the band’s 2016 winter tour. The group had been offering free soundboard streams of every show on the tour in deference to their legion of fans that clamor to hear the action as it takes place, but this show also saw the quintet partnering with Yahoo Live for a full pro-shot webcast that would beam worldwide and into the cosmos.
Locals were abuzz since the instrumental space funk troubadours had delivered a memorable performance in their previous visit to the venue in November 2014, where a “Gobnugget” second set opener segued into a bustout performance of the Grateful Dead’s “West LA Fadeaway”. What tricks would STS9 have up their sonic sleeve this time? The band’s chemistry has been renewed over the past two years with new bassist Alana Rocklin, who joined in 2014 after the stunning departure of original member David Murphy. Fans in Rhe Church of STS9 -- a Facebook group for those who see the band’s transcendent sound in a sacred light -- have been near unanimous in their sentiment that band chemistry seems to be coalescing more and more with each tour.
STS9 is only a year or two away from celebrating their 20-year anniversary and what a ride it’s been. The band relocated from their home state of Georgia to Santa Cruz around the turn of the millennium and soon became a mainstay in the San Francisco Bay Area music scene. The early shows at the Fillmore Auditorium -- rock’s most sacred temple -- saw the band developing a special scene with a genuine sense of community. The shows demonstrated a devotion to the notion that “Music is food for the soul”, as said a prayer the band would play as introduction to their classic song “Baraka”. The band was soon taking the show on the road, developing into one of the nation’s most innovative and dependable touring acts over the past 15 years. Their sound has evolved to incorporate advanced musical technology, yet the band never lost touch with the organic roots that always made them stand out in the electronica field.
Fans from around the galactic community were no doubt stocking in snacks and beverages like Romulan Ale or Pan-Galactic Gargle Blasters for the webcast. Local attendees had good options near the venue with the new Southland Beer taproom just a couple blocks south of the theater and the Beer Belly gastropub just a couple blocks to the north. Hence the fanbase was well lubricated by the time the 9 pm showtime arrived. STS9 heralded a special night by opening with the rare melodic bliss of “Forest Hu” from their 2005 Artifact LP, a true 21st century masterpiece. The band’s titular song “STS9” was an early highlight, a kinetic tune from the early days of the repertoire that seemed to have a little something extra. Drummer Zach Velmer -- the engine that powers this cosmic groove machine -- clearly had his mojo working while percussionist Jeffree Lerner added some stellar conga work to boost the groove higher.
“Shock Doctrine” started a theme that would see the band hitting on a number of their more socially-conscious tunes, with this one’s eerie psychedelia being a tribute to journalist Naomi Klein’s book of the same name. The 2007 investigation on “the rise of disaster capitalism” is a real eye-opener on the undemocratic and greedy manner in which the United States has used free market economics to exert hegemonic global control, from international incidents like the Chilean coup of 1973 to the post-Katrina rebuild of New Orleans. Here the band explored the song’s trippy sonic space in a fresh way with Rocklin laying down a fat bass line and Lerner adding some xylophone for extra texture.
The funky space rock of fan-favorite “Arigato” found the band continuing to experiment with an older song’s dynamics in a new way. The tune about a trip to the moon soared with guitarist Hunter Brown firing off tight staccato licks and keyboardist David Phipps adding psychedelic synths over the pulsing bass from Rocklin and tight beat from Velmer and Lerner. The sonic whole was now becoming greater than the sum of the parts as the sacred California tradition trailblazed by the Grateful Dead took hold with the music starting to play the band.
This set the stage for one of the tour’s most unique moments as the band carried the energy into old school favorite “Ramone & Emiglio” and then seamlessly segued into a first time bustout jam on Tupac Shakur’s uber-classic “California Love”. The sacred hip-hop hymn to the partying prowess of the Golden State drew an understandably excitable reaction from the fan base. The smiles on the band member’s faces indicated they knew exactly how well-received the jam would be and the band-crowd feedback circuit ignited with a collective surge.
This elevated vibe would infuse the entire second set. The soaring jam on “Evasive Maneuvers” had the feel of the Rebel Alliance launching an attack on the Empire, segueing into a “Modular” improv jam more reminiscent of a triumphant party back on Endor or perhaps Saturday night’s late set at the Mos Eisley Cantina. The chemistry continued to flow as the band executed another perfect segue from “Kamuy” into Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit”, ultimately turning on a dime back into “Kamuy”. The ultra-funky “Rockit” jam was elevated by Lerner’s dynamic percussion for a scintillating polyrhythmic groove that ignited another phase of the sonic journey.
“Hidden Hand Hidden Fist” showed STS9’s socially conscious side again with a tune that invokes economist Thomas Friedman’s quote about how the hidden hand of American corporate exports from McDonald’s to Silicon Valley technology wouldn’t flourish without the hidden fist of the American military behind it. The band was clearly in an experimental mood as the song’s foreboding groove segued into an unusually funky jam that evolved further still to feature a tease on the groove of Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing in the Name Of”. This was more subtle than the full-on jams on “California Love” and “Rockit”, but band slipped it in like insurgent rebel spies under cover of the night.
The “Frequencies Peace 2>Frequencies Peace 3” sequence found the quintet blasting off again to explore time and space in the name of peace and harmony. The concept brought to mind STS9’s long time affinity for the natural timing frequency of the Mayan calendar and their 2012 “Great Cycle Spectacles” tour. That tour concluded with STS9 ringing in the new cycle of the Mayan calendar at midnight on December 21, 2012 on a beach in Tulum at the Mayan Holidaze festival, ushering in a new era for the Earth that late great Mayan prophet/scholar Jose Arguelles was sadly not around to experience after passing away in 2011.
But Arguelles’ studies into the metaphysical energies and synchronicities of natural time live on at his Foundation for the Law of Time site (Lawoftime.info), as well as in the music of STS9. In his classic mind-expanding 1988 book Surfers of the Zuvuya, Arguelles wrote that the Mayan calendar was an index that synchronizes Earth’s 3D frequency with the galactic 4D frequency and that 4th dimensional time is recreated or brought into being in the third dimension via the overtones of music, light and color. This equation would indeed seem to explain the metaphysical power of the San Francisco musical revolution of the ‘60s pioneered by bands like the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane, as well as modern torchbearers like STS9. Lighting wizard Saxton Waller had a spectacular array of psychedelic lights and colors swirling around the band all night and there are very few bands capable of putting these overtones together in a more transcendent style than STS9.
The band launched a big encore with a powerful rendition of “EHM”, completing their trifecta of socio-political songs with their epic tribute to author John Perkins’ 2004 book Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. The bold expose of how the United States cheats other countries out of trillions of dollars by sending EHMs to bribe and/or coerce national leaders into international debt deals that benefit the few at the expense of the many remains as timely as ever, especially with Perkins now publishing The New Confessions of an Economic Hit Man here in 2016 (in which he updates the non-fiction tale that reads like a spy novel to reflect how the “EHM cancer” has continued to spread including at home in the United States.) Velmer pounded the drums with an extra fury here as the band built the monster groove to one big peak after another.
Phipps and Brown starred on the second and final encore song “Pianoir”, a gorgeous tune that brought the evening’s sonic journey back to terra firma with their nimble piano and guitar melodies. The band exited the stage to great applause with Velmer the last to leave as he zinged a drum head like a frisbee up toward the balcony, where it drifted into the hand of a girl in the front row wearing the “Arigato” hat being sold at the merch stand. The priceless souvenir read “Much love, STS9” and was autographed by all five members, just another example of the good vibe the band had been pushing all night and indeed throughout their entire career.
Can the power of love generated through music ever overcome the love of power wielded by the war pigs of the world through their economic hit men and shock doctrines? Jimi Hendrix once alluded that it could and would thereby bring peace on Earth. Hunter Brown has cited John McLaughlin’s seminal “Peace 1” and “Peace 2” as some of his favorite music, so it seems STS9 were destined to be part of the noble 21st century movement that carries the torch for peace through music. If Earth does find its way to joining the galactic community in this lifetime, STS9 will likely be on the shortlist for ambassadors to Arcturus or the Pleiades.