By: Eric Giambrone
Standing in line outside Gates Concert Hall at the University of Denver, neither I nor any other fan had any idea what to expect from Sound Tribe Sector 9’s first-ever acoustic show on December 29th. Over the past ten years, Sound Tribe has been perpetually evolving their collective sound, which has never failed to remain completely unique and unsurpassed in the live music community. However, it is the opinion of many Tribe fans (including myself) that the band has come to rely too much on their laptops and other electronic equipment, as opposed to the instruments that make them great musicians.
As disappointing as this progression may be for many fans, it certainly made the Axe the Cables acoustic show that much sweeter. Immediately upon walking into the opera house and seeing all the “dressed-to-impress” Tribe fans, I had a strong feeling that it was about to be quite the mystical evening. To say the least, I was not disappointed. At any other show these days, the usual stage setup is, from left to right, Zach (drums), Murph (bass), Lerner (percussion), Hunter (guitar), and Phipps (keys). For the night at the opera house, the band changed it up and instead were set up (left to right) Phipps, Hunter, Lerner, Murph, and Zach–a nostalgic throwback to their old stage setup. This was also the first time I had ever seen Murph and Hunter sit down on stage. As opposed to the distracting LED visualizer screens which have formed the backdrop to the band over the past six months or so, the stage on December 29th was adorned simply, with only a single color-changing screen and 9 Chinese-style lanterns that gently changed colors over the course of the show. The lighting design further allowed for the show’s emphasis to be on music rather than technology.
The band opened the show with “New Soma” and “The Following”. At that point, Murph greeted the crowd and explained that “this is how we make music. We sit around and play like this… contrary to popular belief.” I certainly was not under this impression, but was glad to hear that they still conceptualize and begin producing their new material using actual instruments and add in the electronic element later. The band then played several songs from a movie soundtrack that they were working on. I assume they were referring to the ReGENERATION documentary that has yet to be released. Some of these songs were recognizable, some were not, but all were beautiful. To end the set, the band played an extremely lively version of “Lo Swaga” that was comparable in energy to any electronically-assisted version of the song I have ever heard. While people were sitting down throughout most of the show, this jam was certainly one among several that got people up out of their seats.
While the first set definitely started the night off right, the second set was what I really wanted to hear. The band started off with an incredibly dope version of “Kamuy”, followed by equally impressive versions of old goodies “Equinox” and “Satori”. The band then welcomed up to the stage Dominic Lalli, versatile saxophonist of The Motet, Big Gigantic, and other projects. While Dom was sitting in a private booth directly to my right during the first set, he now joined Tribe for a graceful version of “Between 6th and 7th”. When Dom left the stage, Tribe then went on to play old-school gem “986 Foot Tall Trees”, followed by a slowed-down version of “Moonsocket”. Murph prefaced “Moonsocket” by saying that everyone would recognize the song eventually but that it may take a minute to identify because of the different time signature. This is exactly as it played out, as the beginning of the song was unrecognizable for at least a few measures. The second set then wound down with spiritual versions of “So It Goes” and “Breathe In”, also both older favorites.
Before the entire band came back onto the stage for the encore, a solo crew member walked onto the darkened stage and placed an extra chair. At this point, no one knew exactly what trick the band had up its sleeve. When Tribe retook the stage, Murph picked up an acoustic guitar and sat down next to Hunter. While this was surprising, what was even more astonishing was when drummer Zach Velmer, who was jamming on his drum set as hard if not harder than usual during the show, picked up a bass guitar and sat down to the right of Murph. Without any drums, the altered STS9 then encored their epic inaugural acoustic concert with a perfect show-ending “Life’s Sweet Breath”. In typical style, Murph then thanked the crowd and boldly stated that “we could get used to this.” For anyone who joins me in feeling that the band has become too electronic as of late, let’s hope that they do get used to it and continue to play the occasional acoustic show at venues across the country.
12/29/09 Gates Concert Hall, Denver, CO :
Set 1: New Soma, The Following, Dem Be, Re:Stereo, New Untitled Song, Approaching, Glen Tells Kengo, From Now On, Lo Swaga
Set 2: Kamuy, The Fog, Equinox, Satori, Between 6th and 7th (ft. Dominic Lalli), 986 Foot Tall Trees, Moonsocket, So it Goes, Breathe In Encore: Life’s Sweet Breath