Seldom does a band ‘reinventing’ itself lead to such overwhelmingly positive results. After nearly a year under their belt in their latest touring incarnation (following the sudden departure of founding bassist David Murphy) with classically-trained new member Alana Rocklin, STS9 seems to have quickly regained a commanding presence as a musical force to be reckoned with.
At around 10:15, the band took to the stage at the repurposed church-turned-music venue, underneath STS9’s largest, and perhaps most impressive, production rig to date. With no projections or those sometimes-distracting platform LED’s filling the stage, all-star lighting designer Saxton Waller once again illuminated the special space from the floor to the very high ceilings, adding an essential and visually stunning accent to the impeccably performed night of music.
Describing STS9’s sonic style is as difficult as it ever has been. To simply state that they are pushing themselves in a more improvisational, organic and markedly less synthesized direction would be an understatement. The presence of an acoustic bass onstage came early on in the set and Rocklin’s deft touch and talent was on front-and-center during the seamless opening segment of music that breathlessly ran through “Epirus” > “New Dawn, New Day” > “Surreality” > “EB.”
“New Dawn, New Day” is one of the new songs the group has democratically built from the ground up – the tune provides a solid glimpse into where STS9’s sound may be headed from here (once a new album is laid down). Starting with a simple vocal overdub, the mid tempo song developed nicely as a cohesive and thoughtfully-composed piece of music with no member taking the spotlight before a aurally perfect segue into “Surreality” that made it sound like the two songs have been joined together in a live setting for years.
The reappearance of “Native End / Re Emergence” on recent setlists has been well-received and the Artifact-era STS9 revved up the crowd before the sonic journey that is “Scheme” propelled the tune to new heights (definitely worth a relisten or two). Set one closed on the heels of more frenetically-paced fare like “Abcess” > “Monkey Music” and the newer “When The Dust Settles” before the band exited the stage, leaving fans at set break raving with giddy excitement over what had already unfolded. After a set one as good as this, the rest of the show was pure gravy.
Things went in a funkier direction right out of the gate in set two with the reimagining of another older tune “Love Don’t Terrorize” that had a slap-happy Rocklin playing off Hunter Brown’s robust funk riffs before going into a dub-filled “Potamus” jam. There no longer seems to be much a script as the band digs their heels in to play an older tune as evidenced by the show-highlighting 18+ minute “Rent” segment to close out set two.
Generally speaking, electronic bands don’t close out on an encore with a true blue jazz tune but that’s just what STS9 did on Saturday. As a finale, STS9 chose to take on Freddie Hubbard’s “Red Clay” after running through “Metameme.” The closer again featured Rocklin on standup bass and guitarist Hunter Brown swirled the band through an effortless and free-flowing take on the tune to cap off an unforgettable show.
After a decade of keeping tabs on the band and catching local shows and festival sets here and there, Saturday night (my first seeing Rocklin on bass) left me as excited for the future of STS9 as any other period. There is a palpable buzz around this band and where things are at the moment. The possibilities for this improvisational beast at the moment seem as boundless as ever and I for one and looking forward to seeing them yet again in 2015 and beyond.