Sound Tribe Sector 9, Irving Plaza, NYC- 3/29
Having spent the entire week quite upset about missing both The New Deal/Herbie Hancock and Television (which I didn't even know about, imagine that?) shows, it is safe to say that I was pretty excited to see Sound Tribe Sector 9 at Irving Plaza. I had amassed quite a group to attend, with some high expectations for one of the more unique bands on tour today. Unfortunately for us, the band did something fairly remarkable before we even got there: They went on stage almost on time.
If you see music here in New York City, there is an assumption made, right or wrong, that bands won’t start on time. Obviously, last night this was not the case as STS9 took the stage at almost exactly 9:00 and played to 10:10 or so with not one of the twenty or so in my group in attendance. Now, some of you may be asking yourselves how anyone could possibly miss an entire set, and I’ve been asking myself the same question since. I have no answer to a question I cant believe I have to ask myself.
Anyway, the second set began at exactly 10:30 as the band took the stage to a modest cheer from the crowd. If you haven’t seen this band before, they are a five piece consisting of bass, drums, guitar, keys and percussion. However, this is not your standard band. The "band" Sound Tribe is definitely greater than the sum of the parts. Each member rarely steps out of place, choosing to instead "lay low" in a sense, allowing the song or jam to form itself, rather than be forced by one particular member. This was evident throughout the second set, as each song was neither a vehicle for any specific member to show off his chops, nor your standard "bring it down, bring it up, bring it down, bring it up" mentality that is in practice by several bands I see. Rather I equate their songs to a flat line, with several tiny fluctuations along the way. Sound Tribe have a truly remarkable ability to refuse to do anything that might not be for the g! reater good of the song (This probably comes from the band’s affinity for everything and anything spiritual, an interest shared by many of their hardcore fans. I cannot, and will not delve into this aspect of the band as I am still a little confused when it comes to this interest, however it seems to be working for them). This "minimalist" attitude can be found in no greater quantity than guitarist Hunter Brown. As a guitar player myself, I am in awe of his ability to not fall victim to any of the traps that prove the downfall of 99% of people who pick up the instrument. He plays with the other members of the band very well, never turning up too loud or playing too fast or too many notes. He is doing exactly what needs to be done. All night long, similar compliments can be laid on bass player Dave Murphy. His playing was in touch with the other members as he slapped the basslines that drove each song. Essentially, this compliment can be applied to the whole band. David Phipps, the professor on keys, has the responsibility in this band of playing lead, something he accomplished with a dizzying array of keyboards that allowed him to paint some beautiful soundscapes all night, much to the delight of the three quarters-filled Irving Plaza. Percussionist Jefree Lerner played his part perfectly as well, that is until the breakdown in "Kamuy" when he took a spectacular percussion solo that had the diverse crowd clapping and cheering very loudly.
And then there is Zach Velmer.
Already, he is known coast to coast for his drumming ability. He is clearly the most animated on stage and the most fun to watch. He has a great sound to his high hat and snare drum, which is important as he plays them on virtually every minute of every song. His fills and rolls are tight and concise and, more importantly, he has the ability to change the complexion of a song, something most drummers lack. And as much as I tried to watch each member, I constantly found myself coming back to Zack, as his constant head banging and drumming was bringing smiles to everyone.
I did, however, notice two things about the band. Unfortunately, in my opinion, this communal atmosphere that the bands plays under sometimes leads certain parts of songs to go on just a little too long without much change. By refusing to take control of a particular song, occasionally the group gets bogged down in a groove, albeit a fun, upbeat groove. However, this occurs infrequently from what I’ve heard of the band and is rarely, if ever, a distraction. Secondly, many of the songs I’ve heard from the band, either live or on disk, are devoid of many changes. Whether it be tempo, time or chord, changes appear to be few in STS9’s songs. Of course, the case can be made that the band is just trying to lay down a groove and go from there, something they do very well. But on "Inspire Strikes Back," one of the two encores on this night, the band featured some tight changes which left me wondering why they didn’t do it more often.
As the show ended, the band announced that they would be hanging out after the show at the merchandise booth signing CD's that people bought. Personally, I thought this was one of the coolest things I've seen a band do, a practice other bands should pick up on. Of course, the booth was mobbed and rightfully so. STS9 had once again come to New York City and entertained the fickle audience.