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Published: 2004/10/01
by Mike Greenhaus

Sound Tribe Sector 9, Irving Plaza, NYC- 9/18

While more and more trance-fusion acts aspire towards indie-rock with wide-eyed admiration, for years Sound Tribe Sector 9 simply dug deeper into their crystals and new age ethos. So it seemed a bit odd for the Georgia-bred sextet to favor skin-tight turtlenecks over tie-dye t-shirts in their recent downtown New York advertising campaign. Yet, in a way, it's only fitting. Sound Tribe's skill is its ability to construct live electronic suites, not free-flowing, manic jams. Never comfortable with its jamband label, Sound Tribe is a rare band of post-hippies who carry Haight-Ashbury's peace and love message, as well as its experimental soundtrack.

Perhaps perceived as a bit cult-ish in our modern America, Sound Tribe's communal vibe is their defining quality, but, also an entity impossible to brand. So Sound Tribe Sector 9 still seem to be searching for an identity—-a disconnection from their jamband brethren.

But judging by their three-and-a-half hour Irving Plaza performance, STS9 has simply changed its marketing approach, not its well-patented sound. Returning to Irving Plaza after recent spots at smaller New York clubs like the Roxy and BB Kings, Sound Tribe's party-night performance oozed with a level of excitement that only surfaces at "Big Saturday Evening Shows." While not quite sold out, Irving's dance-floor remained packed throughout the night, filled with Manhattan's usual jamband denizens. And, until just after twelve-thirty, STS9 succeeded in creating a danceable atmosphere which was both inviting and carefully layered. Unlike their electronica peers the Disco Biscuits and the New Deal, Sound Tribe Sector 9 favors mood over melody. Sure, the instrumental sextet shares a flair for synthesizers with their kindred spirits, but STS9 see the world through an idealistic set of eyes. Case and point: Instead of coming across as a cheesy novelty, the crystal-shakers employed during "Orbital" added a sense of wonder to STS9's earthy soundscape.

Draping their stage with crystals, plants, and the occasional laptop, Sound Tribe's clutter consciously detached audience members from band members as performers and, frankly, compositions from distinct songs. With a team of artists perched on platforms around the stage, Sound Tribe truly offered a multi-media experience, albeit an organic one. Building the night's opening number, "The F Word," from a simple series of bass-riffs and computer loops, Sound Tribe continued to mold their sound, using Jeffree Lerner percussion to touch-up their melodic compositions. Alternating between bass and laptop, David Murphy acted as the evening's chief scientist, leading his band mates through the melodic segue between "Evasive" and "Kamuy." With a new, perhaps definitive album baking in the oven, Sound Tribe Sector 9's mosaic of drum and bass, jazz, and break-beat is slowly defining its own hooks and signals, cueing cheers for an increasingly nomadic crowd.

While their decision to jump headfirst into a Brooklyn-style photo-op seemed like a promotional blip, Sound Tribe's style has developed a harder, more driven element. Largely driven by Zack Velmer's lead drumming, STS9 click with a forceful precision, evidenced on "Tokyo." In fact, STS9 find their most success when Velmer and Murphy link rhythmically, focusing the group's crystal-fueled energy, as evidenced by "Vibyl" or the elongated encore "Moonsockets." Though he offered a few ripe solos, guitarist Hunter Brown spent much of his performance looping his hooks through a laptop, disconnecting his guitar-lines from their traditional function as lead instrument. Thus, Murphy's melodic bass acts as a de facto lead instrument, mixed just a bit louder in the group's collective stew-of-a-sound. When Murphy is on, Sound Tribe is on. And, on this night, Murphy shined particularly bright.

Six years since the Disco Biscuits fused electronic-beats with jam-fusion, the "jamtronica" is its own, fully functional genre. With synthesizers and computer loop parts fully integrated in modern music, STS9's defining quality is no longer that their electronics, it's how they choose to integrate their tools at any particular time. While Lake Trout and Brothers Past refashion themselves in a post-Radiohead era, and the Disco Biscuits and the New Deal's tour dates become more sporadic, STS9 are the true torchbearers of the electronic jamband scene.

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