The Sound Tribe Sector 9 began their 40 show winter tour in San Diego at the Belly Up Tavern on Thursday February 28th. The warm room was full of energy and anticipation as both the Tribe's fan base and musical prowess has been growing exponentially over the past year. Saxton, STS9's traveling DJ, had the decks spinning and smooth vocals pouring over the speakers as everyone got situated. The evening, (and tour for that matter) began with a relatively chill composition, "Ramone & Emiglio" which segued into a brand new down tempo song that no one had heard before. I was aware of about 13 new songs, and was certainly looking forward to hearing them. This first new song featured David Phipps with sultry keyboard work, and an ambient soothing feel. The show progressed, with high points, a didgeridoo sit in, and the ever enjoyable presence of the Tribe, and their fans, but never really reached the emotional and musical peak that the 9 is becoming known for.

The second set was more than enjoyable, as is every encounter with Sector 9, highlights being found in the middle with "Tap In," "Your It" and "Grow" but as far as this band is concerned it wasn't mind blowing. Now this must be taken with a grain of salt. Most musicians would be thrilled with a performance such as the one in San Diego, but for STS9, it was relatively average. Perhaps there was a little rust on the space ship as these five haven't had a show since new years, but again, it was far from disappointing, it just didn't kick into high gear. It seemed as though Phipps and drummer extraordinaire Zach Velmer weren't quite connecting and the overall feeling was just a little off. But I must say the energy was pumping in the Belly Up. People were stoked to be with the Sound Tribe, and Sector 9 was obviously excited to be with their people again. Whatever lack of connection amongst the band was made up for in energy and the pure joy of what they are creating every time they step out on stage. The sold out show ended with "Inspire Strikes Back" which seemed to send a bit of a message to all the heads floating North to L.A. for the following show.

The House of Blues was the next stop on the Sound Tribe's exploration of America. Again a huge crowd was assembled awaiting a taste of the 9. In contrast with the first show, the second performance was very tight, and polished. The Tribe was in L.A. and everything from the collared shirts on their backs, to the songs chosen, to the way in which they were played spoke to Los Angeles. The sound was very succinct, and the transitions seamless as the five men on stage seemed determined to show off their musical abilities to the at times standoffish, snobby, L.A. crowd. The set list creates images of a some what all-star show, starting with "Kamuy," "Circus" and "Movement." All of them played with a smooth touch, and attention to detail, but certainly not the most expansive versions I have heard.

In the second set the band broke out another new, relatively mellow, yet enthralling song, and Scott Miller again sat in on didg. The improv leading out of the deep resonating didg set up some wonderful interaction with David Murphy's heavy bass lines and Zach's always inspirational chops. Jeffree Lerner (percussion) and Zach had a top notch drum interaction with fists flying and beats bouncing off the walls. As the two stared into each others eyes you could almost see the connection as they managed to keep pace on a duet that seemed to grow in intensity past the point of comprehension. This sent the crowd into a frenzy as the faces on stage were glowing. The show ended with a short, groomed "STS9" and encored with "T.W.E.L.V.E." The "STS9" was indicative of the whole show, very tight, well executed, and a ton of fun but not exploding with over the top vibrations that the Tribe are being forced to live up to. I can truthfully only say this in retrospect. After the House Of Blues show I felt it was a sick show, and it was, but after seeing what would go down in Santa Cruz, I remembered why I drop everything that I'm doing and jump on board the 9 ship when they announce their plans.

The Catalyst was the culmination, the peak, the joy of life, the vibrations of love, it was SECTOR 9. With the kinks worked out of a tour opener, and the pressure of L.A. in the past, the boys landed in their home town to a more than sold out crowd, and blew the shit up! Sometimes you need a scale to judge things. As I indicated I felt L.A. was a really good show, and again it was, but when judged against a night like Saturday's in Santa Cruz you realize just what the band is capable of. Or perhaps you realize that you can't even imagine what they are capable of. There are no boundaries to what the Tribe can achieve. The love that flows between band and audience, between artist J Garcia and the sound crew, the entire entity is onto something truly amazing. It's something you can't quite put your finger on, it's more than just music, and far more than just a party. The music heals. The music makes you move, the music makes love to your mind.

I spent most of the evening after the show asking people what songs they played. I could place a few but for the most part I was consumed by the sounds. And for me, that is the sign that something truly monumental has occurred. When I can mentally travel, leaving the land of set lists and transitions, friends and venues I enter a land of bliss, a place I am only able to visit when the music is simply perfect. I was pulled into the Sector 9 vortex and wasn't released until the following day. They began the show with the best "Monkey Music" I have ever heard, and never let up. I found myself wondering what guitarist Hunter Brown has been eating because he has continually stepped up his game to the point of jaw dropping amazement. Since the Fillmore shows back in November I really started noticing the improvements. Throughout the new years run in Colorado and into this tour he has truly developed his style, and plays with such confidence and funky grooves, that at times I can't take my eyes off him.

The Sound Tribe truly reached lift off at the Catalyst. It was amazing. A mid first-set "Moonsockets" played to perfection with a few new alterations was the one that grabbed the entire crowd, and got the sweat pouring. As I looked around I could feel the vibrations as people were getting loose!

The crowd weren't the only people getting loose, the band was opening up, and expanding, yet remaining intimately connected to one another. I realize this sounds like somewhat of a contradiction in terms to be both loose and tight, expansive and connected, but Sector 9 IS somewhat of an anomaly. They certainly escape classification, and are changing the way many of us see music.

Part of the whole Sector 9 experience is exactly that, an experience. Not a show, not an excuse to party, but an interactive, all involving experience. With the incorporation of artists, a slick light show, educational information at the merch desk, enough positive energy to get them back to their home planet, and perhaps most importantly a group of vibrant, interesting, engaging and wonderful fans, the night takes on it's own identity. As the music moves on, wrapping around the crowd, bodies begin to move and interact, as people flow amongst one another, the mental journey begins. The music is designed to evoke feelings, and inspire positive reactions. The band is unlike your average band in so many ways, but most amazing might be their lack of ego. It is not about them. It isn't "hey look at us, we're fukin dope!" It's about creating energy, it's about giving the people on the dance floor something to take home with them. It's about giving the world mental food to help nourish its self.

But it all comes from the music. And at the Catalyst the music allowed all of the other aspects to shine. As I mentioned I can't quite seem to put a set list together, but I'll tell you that the second set "Baraka" opener pretty much set the course for enlightenment. From there we entered a full on freakout dance party with, appropriately enough "Dance." This was the match that blew the roof off the Catalyst. From there the night seemed to swirl around itself, I don't know what happened, but I know I grew. I recall hearing "What Is Love" and a really sick "Drone," and another new song, but all of this is fairly insignificant. The music was so heavily steeped in improvisation that the songs were taking on new life. The Tribe delved into the dark mysterious areas similar to those that Phish used to swim in, (while never sounding like the countless babies that Phish has spawned) yet they always seemed to counter the heavy segments with light swooshing, therapeutic keyboard manipulation by Phipps. The show ended with a nod of the hat to legendary dub producer King Tubby with "King Pharaohs Tomb."

The performance was one of the best Sound Tribe (or any band for that matter) shows I have seen in quite some time. The band achieved their goal by inspiring and elating the crowd. You could see the glow on the faces walking out of the club. You could hear the joy at the parties that followed. STS9 didn't just come in play a show and leave, they left a piece of the experience with everyone who showed up. It's still the topic of conversation amongst my friends, and only furthers the desire to see the Sound Tribe again. I hope they continue to reach more people and cross more boundaries. The love they produce and ideals they stand for are exactly what the world needs. Long live the Tribe!

The Kayceman
JamBase | Thrill Valley
Go See Live Music!

[Published on: 3/5/02]

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