Having just returned from my 11-day vacation in Japan, my brain is still a bit foggy due to the jet-lag, but I am still buzzing with the excitement from this very special experience. The following is a first-hand account of Sound Tribe Sector 9's first tour outside the North American continent to Japan. It is no doubt riddled with incomplete/inaccurate set lists, but I hope I can convey what it was like to experience 9 in some wildly different settings from those we are familiar with.

The band and the crew seemed to have thoroughly enjoyed their experiences from walking around the streets of Tokyo, meeting with Japanese fans, eating (with some difficulties, however), shopping, and giving stellar performances in three totally different environments.

The Sound Tribe arrived in two different groups on May 21st, one in the afternoon and one late-night. Improvisational painting artist J. Garcia also joined the tour on his own. It was big news for me that J was coming along. The band's hotel was located just few blocks outside the neon-blazing, people-flooded entertainment area of Shibuya's Center Area in Tokyo. Some members immediately hit the streets on foot, wondering around and checking out the scene, or rushing to sushi bars (no California Rolls or Spider Rolls there, not to mention rock n' roll), or browsing vinyl shops or whatever, exploring the chaotic side of Japanese culture that is truly a sensory overload for first-timers. It was nice for everybody to be able to stay in the area where practically everything was, and not have to drive or be completely lost in the huge maze of trains and subways. Well, Tokyo itself is one enormous maze in many ways.

The following day, May 22 was an off-day for the band to rest and adjust to the time difference in an attempt to be in as good shape as possible. But I doubt that they actually rested, as they couldn't stop themselves from wondering in Shibuya to explore the town. A few members had issues with food as even meatless dishes had beef broth and other things that they don't intake, but others seemed to enjoy various food, especially the sushi. During the lunch rush they went to sushi bars with interesting rules: (a) don't talk; (b) finish the meal within 20 minutes; and (c) order a minimum of seven orders. I wasn't familiar with such lunch-time rules at sushi bars, but the guys who experienced that thought it was really funny. They were excited about the number and the depth of collections they found at many record shops. Murphy said that he could find more record shops in Shibuya alone than the whole state of California, and that might as well be true. There are other districts like Shinjuku with equal or even more record shops within Tokyo. Murphy was also excited about seeing Dirty South record label from Georgia well represented in Tokyo. He saw four or five kids walking around wearing Dirty South t-shirts that he didn't even know existed. J. Garcia was so excited about being there that he decided to get a new tattoo with cherry blossoms blowing petals in wind. Personally I was just observing what the Tribe was doing. After living in America for so long and having been absent from my homeland, I too was taking in the scene, and sharing such special time with the Tribe made it than much more enjoyable.

The band continued their explorations in Shibuya the next day, finding cool shoes (there are also a plethora of shoe stores in Shibuya) though Zach found it was difficult to find a pair, due to his size being the most common. Jeffree picked up a new hemp shirt, Hunter got some records, and Steve made a couple of trips to Akihabara, the electric district that sells everything and anything to do with electronics.

This evening was their first gig in Japan at Aoyama Cay (pronounces ka-i), normally an ethnic restaurant in a fashionable uptown Aoyama district that holds about 350. Steve and Isaac were both busy setting things up. They were both excited and happy with the way Japanese counterparts worked with them. Murphy, Zach and Jeffree were out on the street checking out the scene and chatting with Japanese fans as they were coming into the basement venue. J. Garcia was setting up his canvas, which was made up of one-foot square canvases screwed together. The small room filled in quickly as the fans got off of work and hurried to the venue from all over Tokyo for the weekday show. There were also some fans who traveled from Hiroshima (300 miles), Osaka (200 miles), and Sendai (200 miles) for the special occasion!

Get this. There were EIGHT mic stands at this show.

Here is my best attempt at the set list:

Sound Tribe Sector 9
Aoyama Cay, Aoyama, Tokyo, Japan

Set I
We'll Meet In Our Dreams
Tap In
King Pharaoh's Tomb

Set II
Ramone & Emiglio
...And Some Are Angels
What Is Love

Mischief of Sleepwalker

There were some not-so-tight moments here and there, which was understandable considering the physical condition of the band due to a 16-hour time difference, perhaps a bit of nervousness, a different environment, problems they ran into with food, as well as the sheer excitement of the overall experience. But regardless of these issues the Tribe of course had their usual amazing time performing their art. Overall it was a very exciting show, and for me personally, it was loaded with moments of greatness, and those loose moments seemed to come out around changes and segues. It was also very interesting to observe the responses and the reactions from Japanese fans. It was the first ever Sector 9 experience for the majority in the room. In fact, I can only name five or six people who had seen STS9 live previously. Yet they responded so well. They yelled their pleasure and approval at every change and break, much like dancers' responses at raves and dance parties. The Japanese fans listened well and deep. In fact, some band members commented on how pleased they were with the audience's responses, detecting how closely they were paying attention. Like any other band's visit to Japan (from what I have heard), it was a huge pleasure not having to deal with chatty crowds and drunks during the performance. The crowd just grooved, danced and listened. They do drink too, but they seem to know that they were there for music. Quite understandable, because the ticket was around 45 US dollars, pretty high price for the kids, and they wanted to make every moment count. It's only recently that a small flow of visiting bands has been established.

After the show, I walked to Harajuku station in a joyful daze, cooling off in the relatively fresh air after being surrounded by tobacco smoke for hours. WOW. Did it really just happened? My dream has just come true, the dream that Phipps and I talked about at High Sierra Music Festival in 2000, shortly after their incredible showcase stage set. Then I began to recall the feedback from the audience after the evenings show. In general, they were quite shaken by their new encounter with a totally new, unique, original sound - LIVE. Some did detect those loose moments, but they were looking forward to getting total satisfaction the following night at Differ Ariake.

The ten sets of CDRs with two shows from this past year's spring tour that I took with me were handed to my friends as well as people I had never met, hoping that the discs would enhance their first 9 experience and spread the good word. The fans were happily surprised to see the band members casually walking around the floor after the show, shaking hands with the audience, exchanging smiles and hugs, communicating with fans as much as possible over the language barrier. The Tribe's openness, being so casual and close, hit the hearts of the Japanese fans, who hadn't expected it.

May 24th. We switched hotels to one that was located near Differ Ariake, a bit outside of central Tokyo, to an area with large buildings of super-modern designs. The venue is usually used to host women's professional wrestling matches, a large hall that holds probably close to 2,000 people. The lack of the Mayan symbols, the huge crystals, beautiful organic life, and the overall decorative elements created by Saxton and Kaptain Harris that we normally see on the stages in America were compensated for by creative work by the Japanese organizer's staff. I felt that they studied Sound Tribe's live shows well and did their best to create the atmosphere that the band is accustomed to. As a result, the place was impeccably decorated with a sophisticated lighting system, hundreds of huge candles created by an artist named Jun that gave gorgeous effects, a few huge crystals that were borrowed from a gem store, and plants that covered the on-stage monitors. There was also an incredible sound system that made Steve, Isaac and everyone else drool in amazement. Steve said that they had sixteen pieces of specific audio equipment that I can't name; at The Fillmore, they only had four. The organizers and staff also loved J. Garcia's artwork from the previous night and they decided to display it in the hallway. Originally I was hoping that I could offer support for any language-oriented difficulties that might arise during the setup, but the Sound Tribe and Japanese staff worked so well together that I never got a single call. This was truly a great collaboration, and a pleasure to watch as it progressed. Art truly sees no barrier.

The members of STS9 had an interview with a magazine called Balance, which is a freely distributed info-mag based in Tokyo, circulated among the alternative music scenes with 20,000 to 30,000 copies per issue. Another guy also wanted to interview Steve and Isaac from a technical point of view. I had an opportunity to translate these pre-show interviews. As usual the band and the crew were relaxed, open, attentive and casual in responding to the questions - just being themselves. It was great to see Chuck Kurtz, Jane O'Toole and their friend Heather who have been living in Japan for a year. Chuck and Jane have been traveling the world for about one year, but when they learned that Sector 9 was headed to Japan they decided to leave Bangkok and booked a flight.

I didn't pay much attention to the other acts, but for those who know a bit about the Japanese band Boredoms one of its members was spinning before STS9 came on, and there was a pretty big crowd who came to see that DJ named Eye.

This was to be an all-night event. The band came on around 1:30am (this evening I saw six mic stands). The sound was huge and clean. I don't have a complete set list, but they played "Life's Sweet Breathe," "Inspire Strikes Back," "For My Peeps" (with a Japanese female vocalist improvising with a beautiful voice), "Satori" and a few other tunes scattered in for Set I.

The second set featured, "Jebez," "Kamuy," "Surreality > EB" and "Baraka." The encore coming out just before sunrise was "Grow."

The fans were responsive to the details tonight as well. They were dancing hard. The band wanted this show to be tighter and they did just that. "Baraka" blessed the Japanese kids in a way that they had never experienced, they probably sensed for the first time how good and light it feels to be emotionally connected and to be one with the band on the and the other fans around them. "It just feels sooooo good," a woman said. "Yeah, refreshing too, and my mind was so clear when I was dancing," said a young guy. The light effects were perfect, incorporating Saxton's vision into the band's performance. No one on stage got the spotlight, instead the lights were used to provided eye-pleasing atmosphere, and general mood setting. The hundreds of candles were just beautiful in a way that words couldn't describe. Besides the stage setup at The Fillmore, I have to say that this was one of the most beautiful and relaxing stage d├ęcors I have ever seen. I was floating in a cloud, though during the later hours my brain was swimming in the fog and while my body was feeling light, my eyelids were getting pretty heavy. But something was awake inside of me. We walked out of the venue just as the sun was coming up.

The Sound Tribe had to travel to Shiobara in Tochigi prefecture, about 150 miles from Tokyo after the Ariake show, on buses and vans. Many fans drove to the outdoor venue sharing rides to the rave party entitled Anoyo Lunatic Picnic. Others got on buses - or like Chuck, Jane, Heather and me - traveled on trains and buses. The venue was a natural park for families, located in the middle of mountains with fresh growth of new green leaves everywhere. It also had a hot spring bathing facility. We got there around 6pm. The program was well on its way: first the booming beats of psychedelic trance at the second stage, then a percussion-heavy improvisation unit called AOA. I was still exhausted from that morning's hard dancing and traveling. Instead of trying too hard to check everything out at the first Japanese-organized rave I have ever experienced, I met up with some friends and chilled before Sound Tribe's set. The air was very fresh and cool, then it turned chilly to cold later on. Not having to expect rain was a blessing.

Then DJ Eye got the crowd going after the sunlight was gone. Sometime during DJ Eye's set the candles were lit around the stage. Though not as many as the previous night, it still provided the same gorgeous, warm feel to the stage. There were laser beams shooting out from behind the stage over the roof. They hit the mountain side towering opposite of the stage. A small mirror disco ball was sustained by a crane right above the soundboard, reflecting lights from the ground level and projecting multi-colored spot patterns back on the bowl shaped grass field where the audience danced. The light effects at this rave seemed to have a theme, creating an organic-feel by projecting lights on surrounding forests and naturally shaped geographic shapes like the main stage.

The large portion of the crowd was there for the rave, mostly psychedelic trance. Obviously Sector 9 was an unknown element to the masses. When describing what STS9's sound is like, I had to be careful in using the word "trancey." That word "trance" or "psychedelic trance" to many of the people at the show is not what they can relate to. It's not a repetitive house or trance beat as they would assume, but music that can provide a state of meditation.

The sky was clear and the near-full moon rose and provided a bright light over the field that looked over the green valley forest and the mountains. Breathtaking.

The band started their two-hour set (without a set break) with a "Movements" that seemed to go on forever. Some fans had trouble dancing to the drum & bass, as they have been mostly dealing with full-on four-beat trance music, though they were familiar with drum & bass from various sources. "STS9" followed, and around this time the crowd was in a peaceful, "trancey" state, yet responding to all the subtle changes and they kept swaying with the sweet groove. Next was a new song that sounded very fresh and I am sure that will be worked out and evolve as they play more of the beautiful tune. Then something new that I haven't heard before came along. From there "Evasive Maneuvers" became "Kamuy" then transformed into "T.W.E.L.V.E." which was sick. I don't know where "Kamuy" came from. It wasn't a long "Kamuy" and was almost a tease. Then it flawlessly flowed into "T.W.E.L.V.E" and kept on going outbound from there. "For My Peeps" caused one young girl next to me to whisper in my ear, excited and amazed, "Listen to that shit! Drum & bass without drum machines! Live, real drums and percussions doing drum & bass, LIVE!" I responded to her "Yeah, isn't that cool? They can go on for thirty minutes with that if they wanted." Her eyes just popped out as she rushed to her friends to talk more about it. "Frequency 2" > "Frequency 3" had the crowd funked out; this version was actually pretty sick, too. Its finale sequence took us higher and higher, many of the fans waving their hands reaching out to the moon. "Satori" gave us a chance to take a breather and put us in a calmer state. But "Moonsockets" launched us back toward the moon. No encore, but after a long two-hour set in such a gorgeous setting, everybody seemed to be satisfied.

Maybe because this was a rave party or because we were so far from Tokyo, but there were only two sets of mics this evening. The party organizer allowed recording only during the STS9 set, and their initial claim that they would allow no recordings might have discouraged tapers to make the trip also. So it was a kind gesture and respectable understanding on the organizer's part.

It was my first real experience to see shows in Japan. In general the fans crowd around the rail, but it's not jam-packed. There is usually plenty of space and room to maneuver. Another nice aspect is that nobody seemed to cut in front of or rush by you. When people do go by, they always motion "sorry" or "excuse me" in a Japanese way with small bows, and some seem genuinely apologetic to bother others - very polite. Mostly they don't chatter, and if there is talking a simple, kind glance is enough to make them realize that their chatting voice is high and they stop. Very nice. No "I paid to get in here too, so I can do whatever I want" attitude. But they still rage in their own way, by looking at the performers, listening and dancing emphatically. Overall, the Japanese crowds provide a very pleasant show-going and music-appreciating atmosphere.

I do believe Sector 9 will tour to Japan again. The whole band and crew are so into it, not necessarily about Japan but being in other cultures. They loved it. I hope that this tour provided some visions for the Sound Tribe to evolve even further.

A small number of bands have visited Japan so far. There seems to be a flow that is gaining momentum. Trey Anastasio and his band will be in Japan this August, so will the Jazz Mandolin Project with Jon Fishman. String Cheese Incident, Karl Denson's Tiny Universe and Galactic will be in Japan for the Fuji Rock Festival in late July. If you want to experience your favorite bands outside the US, there will be chances.

Thanks to the band and the crew who were so open and kind to the Japanese fans. Thanks to all the Japanese fans who were equally as kind to Sound Tribe Sector 9. Thanks to Chuck, Jane and Heather for being there. Thanks to Phat Leaf, and the organizer of Organic Groove events. They provided such beautiful settings and great support for everyone.

When I first greeted J. Garcia at the hotel in Shibuya, he told me, "I just had to come with my favorite band, to a place where the language is totally foreign and incomprehensive to me, to do what I love the most." How true. For me, it was wonderful as a fan to hear live music, dance, and meet good people in my homeland.

Taro Tsuzuki
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[Published on: 6/7/02]

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