WARSAW AND STS9 | A MATCH MADE IN BROOKLYN

I have lived, now, in Brooklyn for a little over a year, so it is with little hesitation that I call this borough "home." So, Saturday night, I was a bit excited to know I was catching a "hometown" show at a brand-new-ish venue in Williamsburgh/Greenpoint Brooklyn in NYC. The band was Sound Tribe Sector 9 and the venue is the Warsaw and you can consider this to be a review of both the music and the environs - my baptismal introduction to both.

After making our way up through ultra-hip Williamsburgh with several loop arounds to finally pinpoint our exact location on the one way thoroughfares we found our target. No "corner of so-and-so's" or "x blocks south of Canal;" no brightly colored - red, blue, orange - subway lines to navigate... we were in Brooklyn.

The Warsaw is part of or the entirety of the Polish National Home (thus the fitting name). I'm not exactly sure what that means. I *am* pretty sure that my general fault-finding nature has little criticism of this wonderful room. The main entrance opens quickly into a short lobby which leads directly to the main room - a large ballroom; high ornate ceilings pocked with short chandeliers and a disco-ball centerpiece; large, almost-medieval paintings mark swaths of the walls interlaced with equally sized mirrors. The room is rectangular with no impediment for eye or ear from the entrance to the stage. The whiteness and newness of the walls give the unmistakable feel of cleanliness as do the not-yet-too sticky wooden floorboards. The boldfaced statement from the Fire Department declares that 400 can fit legally in the room - I am never one to have a good handle on the true size or capacity of a room so I''ll take the Fire Marshal''s word for it. In the back corner is what I would call a bar cart which I did not get on line for the entire night.

Near the stage end of the room is a well-guarded door that, at first glance, seemed to lead to someplace forbidden. Actually, behind this doorway is what makes the main space more than just a sparse room but, in my opinion, a killer venue through and through. The first portion of this back area is decorated with a handful of tables and chairs and, peculiarly, a stand selling pierogies and kielbasa amongst other Polish treats. In well-proximity to the door which is in well-proximity to the stage, many a patron was able to chow down on some damn-tasty pierogies while missing little of the music - even well into the early parts of Sunday morning. Attached to this little restaurant is a completely other bar with a full compliment of Polish and American beers which, shockingly for the casual NYC-venue patron, cost all of $3 (the highest you could possible pay for a drink was $5 which alone is a bargain at most Manhattan dives). A variety of vodkas were also in good supply, but I must lament - the whiskey selection was weak at best. When you ask what kind of bourbon they have and you get the answer of "Jack Daniel's... uh... Bushmill's..." (i.e. no real bourbon whatsoever) you know there''s a little work that should be done by the bar stockers. (I settled on my usual 7 and 7's, although a bourbon or two would have been nice). Surprisingly this was my ONLY complaint with the whole place - so my bringing that up is a disproportionate criticism to my general impressions of perfection. This back area is actually a completely separate bar in some respects - stretching back with tables, ample seating, a jukebox and even pool tables - you can enter this area without paying admission to the show (but, if so inclined, can get an idea of what''s going on on stage). Additionally, to the interest of many people - the security presence was scarce and friendly for the most part - once you were in the main space you were encountered by nary an employee of the venue. Bartenders were quick to help and happy to laugh at you when you mispronounced the names of the Polish beers.

I seriously hope that the venue will continue to book appealing (to me) shows and that people will continue to put a little more energy into their evening schlep and make it out to this place. I'm sure with time, if it provides the opportunity to return regularly, some sort of annoyances will be harvested... it is always that way with long-term relationships. But the Warsaw has instantly become my favorite venue in the metropolitan area.

Interestingly, the show on Saturday was originally booked for the Wetlands - before they were forced to close their doors. I couldn't help but think about how crowded and semi-uncomfortable that evening would have been, despite my love for the old haunt down on Hudson. Who knows, with the potential crowding and the geometry of the Wetlands main space I may never have had the chance to truly savor the music that I bore witness to on Saturday night.

I had read and heard so much about Sound Tribe Sector 9 - and most of it wasn't just glowing... the reviews were often essays recounting transcendental experiences invoked by the music these Californians offered up. Without having heard a note, my expectations were tainted - curiosity, excitement, and even a slight note of pessimism. Would I be "transported" or would I just be bored? Musical taste being so subjective and myself being so ripe with criticism - as much as I wanted to feel what previous reviewers had felt - it was certainly not a guarantee.

I am happy to say that the band did not disappoint. As little fault as I could find with the venue, even less I could muster for the music. Whatever potent potable I could not find at the bar was served up stiff and straight by STS9.

Unfortunately, I find the music very difficult to describe. At this point, I have no inclination to find out the individual musician's names. They were all plenty talented enough, but no one stood out. This is certainly not a band about individuals or individual talents at all (much like my impressions of Widespread Panic in many ways, although the bands couldn't be more different - the two bands use similar bait to land completely different fish). In this all- group mentality here seems to be an infiniteness to their creations. Imagine yourself at a point in the universe (like on this planet, for instance) - you look out into space at zillions of stars and you feel like you are in the center of this vast infinity. But this same phenomenon is felt at every point - every star for as far as you can see is still at the center somehow. Thus does this music seem to have no center and no edges - no beginnings and endings, only a middle from which the perspective is one of a never-ending succession of notes.

I think it would be impossible to describe the music without using the term "layered." Each member lays down textured layers of sound on top of each other. For the most part they are building and building each layer upon layer. But as you entrance yourself in the sound, you realize that the music seems to both grow with each layer but that at the same time layers are being peeled off at an equal rate. In a sort of palindromic symmetry the music seems to wax and wane. But the symmetry is not perfect and there seems to be more growing than receding - more of a build-up in intensity than a retreat. Eventually a climax is reached but it is subtle. I could not tell implicitly where this point was - it was rarely a wail of guitar or a burst of drumming - but somehow everyone in the audience would sense it and a roar would ripple through the pulsating room, if only briefly. A truly strange and wonderful occurrence.

A wide array of tone and rhythm accentuated each moment along the way. Depending on the perspective you chose to take the music at any point might seem fast or slow, heavy or light, mind or matter. In a similarly confusing manner, it was difficult to figure out who was leading whom. Each member would lay into their groove, sometimes falling into it one at a time. Perhaps a song would begin with the congas, then guitar would add on top, then keyboards, etc. Each time this ritual would take place there seemed to be a threshold where you finally figured out where this song was going. But this would change as quickly as you thought you had a grasp on what was happening. The music would shift ever-so-slightly that you would barely realize it had changed at all. In this way it was very static - the songs seemed to persist in an almost boring (but somehow the furthest thing from boring my body and mind could imagine) repetitiveness. In this way it was also very dynamic - the songs seemed to constantly be changing. There was a certain tightness to the musicians crafting their art on stage - each knew when to hold down the fort and when to start to unfold.

I keep going back to those layers. Each kept laying down one on top of each other, but you couldn't really tell who was on top of whom. And when one layer was peeled off later on, what you expected to see underneath had changed - or was gone completely. The change was so slow that you barely noticed it, but it was tangible... like the spinning of the Earth - you can't really tell that it's moving at all, but eventually the sun moves from east to west although you've never, the whole day, actually seen the sun move at all. I wish I had a better way to describe it but I can think of no suitable analogy.

This is dance music - no doubt. Part of the ever-evolving techno-inspired genre that probably has a name that I am either too "east coast," too old or too sober to be hip to. Oftentimes this type of music is engaging in a physical sense first and foremost, appealing to shuffling feet, flailing arms and writhing torsos. Sound Tribe certainly is no stranger to the boogie... the show was a non-stop dance marathon fitting for the ballroom vastness of the room. Impossible drum beats, in concert with the texture of the percussionist, intermingled with flowing, fuzzy basslines to provide a heavy rhythm floor. Cosmic interludes of melody were esoteric and airy but had purpose and intensity - charging the neurons from ear to brain with little drama or flair... just a lot of energy. Then roles seemed to reverse as keys or guitar took a more rhythmic sense or the drums seemed to charge with melodic spiciness. Each musician seemed capable of handling all duties and even at times seemed to encompass them all.

There was a nice crowd, but still plenty of room for individual movement. The music would suck me in and my body moved without prompting - oftentimes reaching such a pitch that I was both hypnotized by the groove and also flailing at full tilt. This would last until I finally would bump into someone and snap out of the daze... only to repeat the process. Occasionally the band used samplings of sounds and voices. I didn't heed to much to the words of these callings, it was all a part of the music itself. At one point, I was certain that the word "Resistance" was repeated over and over. Not sure if that was the case, but by the way it came through the speakers I imagined in my head the finishing to the ultimatum... "...is futile." Dance music, for sure, the night truly pushed the limits of my physicality - sweating and sore and itchy from the surprising amount of exercise.

This is also brain music. That is what I believe separates Sound Tribe from some of the other bands (which I will refrain from naming) that they are certain to be lumped with (at least the ones I've heard). Like shifting to different points in the universe, I felt content dancing my ass off right up front and then drifting to the back to just listen the seeking friends to touch base then to the bar to get a drink then back to the front. From the back for the room, all the energy used to manipulate my body in sorry uncoordinated movement bundled into my brain leaking out into my skull only to provide enough momentum for the ubiquitous head bob. And although I seemed to move light years in this musical universe, I still felt as if I was smack dab in the middle of whatever it was that was going on on stage - looking into infinity in all directions. Indulging my brain in the comprehension of the music.

Oftentimes I think of this music - electronica/techno/whatever-you-want-to-call-it - as this electronic manifestation of musical art, and my first mental image is of fractals. I must have read that somewhere or had someone tell me, in a daze no doubt, that that is what they imagined, I do not want to claim that I discovered that analogy. Sound Tribe certainly creates a fractal music - something with an almost mathematical beauty - where each portion can either be sonically magnified in or out to present an equally engaging pattern - where each tiny curl in the picture contains a new picture completely. Each "song" (I imagine that there were actual songs with breaks between them - that these were largely composed sections with sections for some level of improvisation interspersed... if only because this is my experience with the music I enjoy in general... in reality, I have no idea where songs began and ended) seemed to mimic the entire show. And if you zoomed the other way ("in" or "out" depending on your perspective) you found that each section, even each moment mirrored that same pattern - like twisting computer generated colors. As far as I could understand, this pattern had this sort of layer peeling and unpeeling nature to it that I described before. Seemingly symmetric each way, but in retrospect easy to realize that the general impetus was to build and build. And thus each section seemed to grow and ebb in some preordained but difficult-to-grasp- on-first-listen manner, which lead to each "song" growing and ebbing.

In turn, the show itself took on this theme in macro. The show began in a very light, mellow manner. Sort of a melodic, flowing beauty that made way for a more boogie-inducing intensity. The energy would fall back and forth between ass-shakers and head-bobbers but each time it would fall back to a more quiet, slow-paced time it was always a bit more energetic than the last retreat. By the time they got to the second set, the high moments were off-the-hook glorious climaxes and even the restful moments had this sweaty, ecstatic nature. The encore was the ultimate climax - as each section and each song had eventually brimmed to the point of a physical/mental unity of pure, orgasmic energy to some level, the show itself seemed destined to follow suit. We could only hope at that time that we had "zoomed out" to the lowest magnification - that we were indeed viewing the entire pattern for what it was... either that or we had "zoomed in" to the limits of our mental resolution - we could make out no detail finer than this ultimate expression of the music. I don''t think I could have taken much more. The whole show, like each song, had this admirable "constructed" feel to it - which I am very fond of. For all I know, this is the way all their shows are - perhaps down to each note. For all I know, this was the worst show they''ve every played. It doesn't matter to me - not at this moment.

Lastly, this is spiritual music. The words were sparse - both spoken and for one song, rapped by a guest, seemingly from the crew/entourage. But the message was clear without lyric or proselytizing. The music was a communal expression. Not only of the five musicians who displayed their greatest individual talents by being a part of the whole, but also of the melding of technology and humanity; of the music and it's audience; and of the audience members itself. The stage was littered with crystals and other artifacts that had the effect of turning this innocent hall in Brooklyn into some sort of temple of higher meaning. Usually, the northeasterner in me would decry such stuff as hokum. But without the urging from anyone but the music - lyricless, flowing, communally perfect - the message was each person's to make on their own. The events of our lives seem to sharpen in such circumstance - particularly true for those of us in NYC... from the company for our friends, to the closing of the Wetlands to the tragedy of our city to the crisis of our nation... fractal symmetries and twisting, incomprehendable patterns at every level and magnification you care to concentrate on.

The rapper who came up and "did his thing" at one point in the first set claimed that Sound Tribe Sector 9 was "transcending time." I would have to say that the opposite is true in some regard - this is music that is constantly in the present tense, a music for right now whenever that may be. But that isn''t to say that the experience isn''t transcendent. The only other words spoken from the stage that I recall were a plea from the bassist to "think positive" and "have fun." Those were two things I had no trouble doing with this band in that venue.

Although it is selfish in light of the spirit of the music, I seriously hope that STS9 will make coming to NYC a habit on a regular basis - I know I am not alone in my enjoyment. Like so many musical experiences I have, I can't understand how seeing (or even listening to) these guys has eluded me for so long. Perhaps they will return to the same venue, although I predict they will be able to fill larger rooms in the near future. Come back to NYC - come back to Brooklyn - come back to the Warsaw. Brooklyn.

Aaron Stein
JamBase | Brooklyn
Go See Live Music!

[Published on: 9/24/01]

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