Words by: Brian Bavosa | Images by: Dave Vann & Dino Perrucci
STS9/Umphrey's McGee :: 07.24.08 :: Roseland Ballroom :: New York, NY
Following the success of last year's "D.U.M.B." tour, which found progressive jam-rockers Umphrey's McGee swapping headlining spots with trance-jammers The Disco Biscuits, the Umph has recently embarked on a somewhat similar pairing with hotter-than-a-pistol Sound Tribe Sector 9. STS9 recently released their latest studio effort on their own 1320 Records, Peaceblaster, which juxtaposes two words as different as STS9's instrumental, dark electro style and UM's lightning quick guitar solos and singing. This past Thursday, the two bands rolled into New York's Roseland Ballroom for a night full of music with at least a little something for everyone.
Upon entering the Roseland, one could barely walk through the front door without feeling the moisture being sucked from their body. Hotter than a sauna full of alcoholics trying to expel the toxins of the night before, this venue was well over 100-degrees down on the floor with barely any room to move anywhere in the building, save the upstairs balcony, which was barely occupied and reserved for VIP's.
STS9 hit the stage first for the "opening" slot, and set the mood with new cut "Shock Doctrine," featuring an explosive, outer space sound. Stretched for well over ten minutes, the show was off to a cooking start, and I even saw a few people pass out due to the heat - both onstage and off - before this number, which features a haunting hook and dirty, slamming bass riff by David Murphy, was through. As Murphy says in the band's bio regarding the new album, "America is this beautiful, incredible place, but it has a dark underbelly. And even on Peaceblaster's most ethereal songs, there's a darkness that reflects what's going on in society — it ain't all bad, but it ain't all good." The same could be said about the scene in the club. While there were plenty of innocent, happy young fans bouncing about, there were almost as many seedy, dark characters lurking in the shadows.
After the fan favorites "Inspire Strikes Back" and "Hubble," another track off Peaceblaster, "Oh Little Brain," popped its cerebral self up. Relying on a very simple, easy to grasp melody, this song is light and fluffy, reflecting the ethereal sense of the album that Murph was mentioning before. Guitarist Hunter Brown took more of a backseat role for this track, with drummer Zach Velmer, always the backbone of this band, kicking hard. As vicious as Velmer was at points, it was his gentle side that allowed the crowd to tag along like little kids on a pony ride. Immediately after the new song, "Beyond Right Now" showcased their dark, infectious beats. Another well placed new tune, I expect big things from "Beyond" as the tour stretches on, and the song stretches its reach, much like a lunar eclipse enveloping the sun.
|Zach Velmer - STS9 :: 07.24.08 :: NYC by Perrucci|
Closing the set with "1103," "Yes-No" and "Hidden Hand, Hidden Fist," I swear Roseland was about to blast off. "Hidden Hand" was a sure highlight of the set, a delicious break-beat concoction of shoulder-crunching dirtiness, distorted, razor sharp guitar licks and piano fills pushing our heads to the ozone while Velmer's hypnotic, filthy drum beats give the feeling of diving to the depths of hell. The ending of the tune breaks like the sun defeating the clouds on a rainy day. STS9 has proven, time and time again that they are the real deal, and the addition of the Peaceblaster material only adds to the light-meets-dark personality of their music.
After a break that saw a nice chunk of the crowd clear out due to the temperature, Chicago's golden boys, Umphrey's McGee took the stage to the thunderous applause of the many underage fans who had sweated out Sound Tribe's set up front. Opening with the guitar-laced "JaJunk" and reggae swoon of "Higgins," the crowd was energized and ready to rock, despite the heat and 11:30 p.m. start time for the "headliner." A spirited "Soul Food I" showcased bassist Ryan Stasik, while "Ocean Billy" finally slowed the breakneck tempo to allow Joel Cummins (keys), Kris Myers (drums) and Andy Farag (percussion) to make a noticeable contribution without being completely drowned out by guitarists Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger.
|Umphrey's McGee :: 07.24.08 :: NYC by Vann|
Just as STS9 sets the mood better than just about any other act out there, UM comes from a different school of thought. No, not Notre Dame, but rather the school of guitar rock that slashes your face and burns off your ears. Bayliss and Cinninger are undoubtedly talented when it comes to the chops department, but oftentimes lack cohesion as a unit. The same can be said for the band. Every time they seemed to find a groove, they were more concerned with picking up the tempo or blazing a new guitar solo than with actually keeping the listener's attention - something of the utmost importance in a venue hotter than the fires of hell.
"Got Your Milk (Right Here)" > "Jimmy Stewart" was a very good combo, with the former focusing on vocal harmonies and - gasp! - soaring guitar solos, and the latter involving all members on a somewhat equal level - something that often doesn't seem to happen in UM. By "Syncopated Strangers," the remaining crowd that had not passed out managed to catch a loose groove that had me imagining it was a cool breeze blowing through my hair. Capping the night off with a soaring version of "Rocker Part 2," the second part of the "JaJunk" sandwich, Bayliss thanked the crowd for sweating it out with them.
Regardless of if you dig the thick grooves and glitched-out sounds from the Tribe or the slash-and-burn technical prowess of the Umph, with this double-bill it's hard to keep the heat from melting the walls.
Continue reading for more images of STS9 and UM at Roseland...