LA Weekly recently covered John Digweed’s performance at the Mayan, lamenting the poor turnout and sad state of club-land, while Sound Tribe Sector 9's performance at the El Rey Theater wasn’t even previewed in the LA Weekly’s or Los Angeles Times’ event guide. (To Times writer Steve Hochman’s credit, he has covered STS9 in the past.)

At least the eclectic KCRW made mention of the band or event? Right? Nope. Nothing.

While STS9 may have the ability to pack The Fillmore in San Francisco for a two-night run, Los Angeles is tinsel-town, home to the stars and those who idolize them. The live-music scene isn’t as big here, but thanks to bands like STS9, Particle, Subthunk and Orange County based Delta Nove, the post-rave and jam scenes are growing closer together. Something organic is happening here. Something positive that a simple label can’t fully describe, and no music label could imagine. Label is a bad word anyway.

Let me say that I don’t know the guys in STS9. I’d heard them on disc, but truth be told, this was my first live show. I wanted to see if STS9 were in fact worthy of the accolades bestowed by the jam press. Were they in fact, in a word, professionals?

The El Rey was filled nearly to capacity, but there was still room to dance. The security staff was much more lenient then usual in regards to dancing in the aisles that are on both sides of the main floor.

LA crowds are notoriously tough, or indifferent to the action on stage. Unless a hit song is in heavy rotation on KROQ, it can be challenging for a band to break through the heavy cloud of apathy and get the audience involved.

A crystal formation placed front and center glowed with light and radiated energy to those in the front of the room. A beautiful art-deco ballroom to begin with, STS9’s gorgeous stage setup added to the venues beauty and combined with the sunken dance floor, made this the perfect place in which to experience STS9.

On this night, STS9 eased into their set, but soon the room was spinning, with arms flailing and booties shaking. By "Moonsockets," a song I recognized from Interplanetary Escape Vehicle, the band had broken through and the energy in the room had swept everyone along with them.

Bassist Dave Murphy was wearing a huge grin by this point, his forearms rippling like an athlete, and he moved with equal grace. Keyboardist David Phipps was all business, all night, but the grooves he laid down expressed everything he felt within. Hunter Brown flashed an occasional shy smile to the party girls in the front, who were taken with his innocent charm and inspired playing. Zach Velmer did not disappoint, playing the drums with precision and power, but never overwhelming the rest of the music. In the far back, Jeffree Lerner played the congas, hand sonic and various other percussive toys to perfection. I attempted to pinpoint where each instrument ended and began, without much success, and in the end simply let my soul guide me and abandoned myself to the vibe of the Tribe.

Everything from their mannerisms to their positions onstage shows how unselfish each member is, content to let the music flow through them and not around them. Even their inverse "flying V" formation seems to draw the audience into a vortex of energy.

Add two artists creating beautiful canvases onstage during the show, inspired lighting, three Apple PowerBooks for Phipps, Hunter and Murphy to play with (Murphy also uses an Oxygen mini-keyboard) and you have multisensorial overload. Microsoft Word just told me that "multisensorial" isn’t a word, and confirmed it, but I’m going to use it anyway. If I were an adman for Apple, I would showcase these guys in one of those "day in the digital life" type commercials, as they use the PowerBooks in ways that even Steve Jobs would never have imagined – onstage during their show, on the fly and fully integrated in their set.

One of the most amazing things about STS9's two sets was how many new songs were included, and how good they were. They are forging a new path every night.

The multiethnic crowd was comprised of every age group and many familiar faces were present. It’s this community, brought together by a love of real music, not image, that is the lifeblood of the scene. The bands are rewarding us by leaving everything on stage. It’s a symbiotic relationship that is benefiting not just us, but our unsuspecting friends that we lure into coming.

I had many friends in town for the Washington State / UCLA football game and purposely lied to them about what was happening at the El Rey, simply saying it was a cool club with great music.

"This is like dance music, only performed live with instruments," one friend said, dressed in his club gear. "I can’t believe how good it sounds."

When the rest of club-land figures this out, the Tribe will be bigger, but with STS9 providing the positive energy, the experience will be just as good.

Forrest Reda
JamBase | Los Angeles
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[Published on: 12/16/02]

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