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Sound Tribe Sector 9 & Dub is a Weapon, The NorVa, Norfolk, VA – 2/26

It was an easy guess that eastern VA would be getting its dance on when, before the opening band even hit the stage, about 20 people started doing stretches in the middle of the dance floor (a la the cover of Artifact) to get ready for war. Please believe that I’ve never seen a crowd so riled up at the NorVa as I did tonight, and I’ve seen a shit-ton of shows there. I guess the stars were just aligned.

Sometimes (rarely) the opening band’s just more enjoyable then the main. And I love my reggae (ska, roots, dancehall some dancehall and most anything dubbed out), so tonight could easily have steered that course for me. Since it’s so difficult to compare two stylistically different bands and call the better one out, when both are on par respectively, I’ll just say I really dug both; Dub is a Weapon left very little space for STS9 to screw anything up on their end though.

Dub is a Weapon dubs reggae with some Afrobeat influences, both politically/socially antagonistic styles. Not knowing who they were at first, I thought something was familiar about some of the guitar/horn deliveries ("Indestructible"), then I realized I’d seen the guitarist (Dave Hahn) with Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra before, Afrobeat’s current missionaries. Celebrated Jamaican percussionist Larry McDonald’s timing is correct and though it may seem trivial, he worked the triangle during "Rip Van Winkle" like I’ve never encountered; his hammer on/off technique hypnotized. He handled all of his percussive tools with knowing skill. "Fever’s" march epitomizes dub at war, the bass and percussion pulse with the assurance of a soldier’s heart and mind while horns and strings whip the air like the spiraled blue-grey smoke ascending in his wake.

I’d never seen STS9 in their staged glory (I’d heard some live shows and own two studio cds), so I was excited tonight, even though trance has never been my thing. Yeah, they’re not just a trance band, way better actually, but some of their grooves and melodies sure can drag like trance sometimes my minor gripe with their style. That said, I moved all night and really enjoyed the experience. The tangent-packed excursions mostly had me scrambling to keep up, which I always like in a band. It’s these changes and the focus to create and interact on stage that pedestals bands like STS9.

Another griping interjection from me: What I really didn’t like was realizing that many of their songs begin with and include pre-programmed clips on computers; it seems unnecessary with a keyboard player. Yes, studio wizardry is an art, but on stage it’s much easier to jump into a groove than it is to create that groove from un-metered scratch. Picking a song on the computer screen, letting the intro seep and jumping in when it’s your turn seems like taking the easy route to me. But hey, it’s not my call to make.

Zach Velmer’s drumming for "Twilight" garnered my attention early, the vigilant bassist David Murphy at a close second. Velmer’s pockets are tight and fracture into technically complicated splatters of snare and tom. The tensions grabbed at intoxicating lengths and the back swings were orgasmic. "Kamuy" was disco-dancin’ good times, muled along by Hunter Brown’s wa-wa tapped guitar, funk chucking and cyclic melody interpretation. Kudos to the soundpeople for actually mixing in the percussionist (Jeffree Lerner) audibly, not only during solos, whose lead directed towards a spaced-out funk exit. "ReEmergence" wound, re-wound and bore multiple timings and moods, David Phipps adding elegant keyboard melodies all along. "Somesing’s" swallowing bass twisted and swayed the crowd with its swing while cosmic effects spun their heads, very ATLiens (Outkast), in this high-energy first set.

"F Word’s" synth bass throbbed viciously into set 2. The creep squeezed juice from somewhere along the way, as all of their musical excursions do; Velmer managed between both his acoustic toms and synth pads efficiently. The music was rubber-band taught towards extravagant lengths, all the while interesting in its vibrations. "By The Morning Sun" was embellished with beautiful key and guitar harmonies, which soon annihilated across from the machine-gunning drummer. All of this thoughtful music translates to good times, but sometimes I felt like I should strike a yoga pose rather than dance, which is cool too. If I only knew some yoga poses! "Mischief," "Surrealty" > "EB" and, during the encore, "Blue Mood" were other second-half pluses.

There just isn’t enough of a difference among song deliveries to make song-by-song commentary necessary. Tribal/Trance/Funk bass grooves + computerized polymers + well-conceived, even if sometimes-schizophrenic, alterations of set melodies performed astutely + draw it out sometimes way too far, even for me = STS9’s formula. They do it without a hitch, but I won’t call myself a devotee just yet. Gimme another thoughtful show or two though, maybe a few more stylistic changes along the way (I hear you have to be on tour with them to really get it.), I could stumble into their quadrant and stay like the rest of their extra-devout fans dream of doing.

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