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Published: 2005/03/01
by Chris Clark

Sound Tribe Sector 9 / The Perceptionists, Mr. Smalls Theatre, Millvale, PA- 2/16

After a three-night run through Colorado that saw the band sell-out the famed, 3,500-capacity Fillmore Auditorium in Denver and the Fox Theatre in Boulder, it was back to the Right coast and the steel city of Pittsburgh. Last time Sound Tribe Sector 9 came through town it was an off night of Phish's first tour back from hiatus, and the 50 or so people in attendance at Club Laga were more than excited to catch the blossoming flower that was STS9. This time around, STS9 had already sold out rooms in Chicago, Boulder and Denver, and were poised to take the Northeast by storm.

Mr. Smalls was the perfect setting for a show. A converted church boasting stellar acoustics and ample dancing room, Mr. Smalls was the choice fit for STS9-they must have done their homework. The Perceptionists featuring Mr. Lif, Akrobatik and DJ Facts One opened the evening with their distinct brand of politically and socially charged hip hop. Though the reception was lukewarm at best, they did a nice job of getting the crowd involved and energizing the room-what an opening act is there to do. Throughout 2005, STS9 has and will be sharing the stage with a slew of well-known and well respected acts, from Tortoise at New Year's to The Perceptionists to The Brazilian Girls. For 45 minutes, Lif and company did their best to energize a crowd that was noticeably there to see STS9.

As soon as the house lights faded and STS9 hit the stage, the audience's attention went to one place-the five nicely dressed guys onstage before them. Commencing the evening would be "Equinox," a song that continues to grow and get tighter each night out. Not a new song, but a reworked older gem, "Equinox" offers several sides to the band, from its light-hearted, smooth introduction to its raucous middle section to its drum and bass style conclusion. "Tokyo," the first single off of Artifact, the band’s recent studio release, dropped Mr. Smalls into a chaotic sound-storm as Zach Velmer’s head-pounding drumming collided with bassist David Murphy’s thumping bass lines. Clearly a defining song, "Tokyo" offered a true glimpse into the new direction of the band and the ultra-polyphonic sound they possess. Without hesitation, the opening keyboard-guitar interplay of "T.W.E.L.V.E." began to an already sweat-soaked crowd. This was one of the first appearances of this early STS9 favorite in quite some time, and it was thankfully soaked up. With an extended funk intro from guitarist Hunter Brown and keyboardist David Phipps, the energy gradually built until an electronic explosion that soon mellowed nicely into another Artifact track, "Possibilities." The remainder of the first set would stay on the mellow side, with a smooth "Mischief of a Sleepwalker" and an always welcome "Crystal Instrument" closer.

After some instrumental Dr. Dre at set break, STS9 returned for a set to remember. From the opening sample lines straight through the head-bobbing ending, "Once Told" energized the crowd of several hundred in Mr. Smalls just in time for personal favorite, "Gobnugget." Offering some of the funkiest chops STS9 has in their repertoire, "Gobnugget" pumped the theatre's walls with heavy doses of wah wah tinged guitar from Brown and an array of choice licks from Phipps. Everywhere around, a dance party could be seen, with faces smiling and sweat dripping. The energy in the room continued to rise as "Peoples," another new song surfaced. Displaying Phipps, Brown and Murphy on Apple G4 lap-tops and percussionist Jeffree Lerner and Velmer teaming-up on drums, "Peoples" presents new school STS9 at its finest. A stellar take on "MoveMyPeeps" with some inspired drumming from Velmer fed the crowd until a solid take on Bob James' "Nautilus" and the set closing progressive rock edge of "Be Pulse."

After a raging, hour-plus second set that showcased a mix of old and new STS9, the band returned for "King Pharoah's Tomb." Always a treat and usually a sign of a great show, this night's version was nothing short of extraordinary. They don't do it often, but when they drop into that thick, dub trance, STS9 can really bring it. In the last few years, Mr. Smalls was right at the top of my list of best STS9 Northeast shows, from the energy to the setlist to the playing, it was all there, and for that, I'm thankful.

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