On September 5th and 6th history was made at Red Rocks Amphitheater. Fans and friends from all over the country descended on Morrison, Colorado for the triumphant return of STS9 (Sound Tribe Sector 9).
This year marked the bands 12th year in a row at the legendary venue and their 15th headlining performance. It was also the inaugural Red Rocks run with bassist, Alana Rocklin, who was recently added to the band after STS9 parted ways with founding member David Murphy. Murphy’s departure sent shockwaves throughout the community with numerous cancelled tour dates that not only angered fans, but left them heartbroken and unsure of the future of their beloved band.
It didn’t take long for STS9 to respond, and they did it in the way they know best: playing music with vigorous passion and raw, genuine emotion.
After a stirring inaugural performance at McDowell Mountain Music Festival the band continued to gain momentum as they made their way across the country and throughout the festival circuit. STS9 brought their signature, high-energy, electronic rock to Spring Back to Vail, Counterpoint, Beale Street Music Festival, Hangout Music Fest, Wakarusa, Electric Forest, High Sierra, Hudson Music Project, Chalice California, Moonrise, North Coast and Chicago’s House of Blues.
That’s quite the task for a band featuring a new bassist playing to one of the most devout and demanding fan bases in the scene. Alana stepped up to the plate with cool, collected confidence and knocked every performance and naysayer out of the park.
You could tell that band was settling into a new groove and reviving their chemistry as more songs began to surface that were played with an unmistakable sense of zeal and enthusiasm. Their scorching sets only got hotter as the summer went on and all eyes became fixated on Red Rocks. Rather than booking openers for the weekend STS9 announced they would start each night with an “Axed” (acoustic) set followed by two more electric.
What would commence is near indescribable, but we’ll do our best to illustrate the magical and mystical moments that were created that weekend.
As the band took the stage Friday evening the crowd erupted, pouring their love and admiration onto the members of STS9. From the first notes of “Lo Swaga” you could tell there was something electric in the air. The crowd went crazy for the “Kamuy” drum solo where Zach (drummer) and Jeffrey (percussionist) hammered away at the front of the stage, and the contagious smiles only got bigger as they covered Freddie Hubbard‘s “Red Clay” for the first time.
This was followed by a lovely rendition of “Glen Tells Kengo“, which was written for the movie All God’s Children Can Dance. The real gem of the first set was dusting off “Native End” which seamlessly segued into “ReEmergence” with floating melodies from David Phipps (piano/keys).
Hoots and hollers were heard throughout the crowd for those two rarities and even more screams of approval were heard when they played old-school favorites “Tap In” and “986 Ft Tall Trees“. When they finished with an axed version of “Unquestionable Supremacy of Nature“, which is known as an all out electronic banger, everyone knew that ANYTHING was possible. Zach jumped on a megaphone at the end of the set to address the ecstatic fans and was quickly overwhelmed with whistles, cheers and claps as the entire crowd emptied their lungs to voice their approval.
After a short break that seemed like ages to attendees the band reappeared to rampant roars of fanatic fans dying for more STS9. The stage and skies were set for the first electric set with lighting designer Saxton Waller at the helm of his grandMA2 lighting console with a host of new Clay Paky B-EYE K10s ready to be unleashed. These new light fixtures were absolutely stunning and they made their Red Rocks debut in the hands of one of the best lighting designers in the game. Saxton wasted no time putting these luminaires to work, ensuring that every single feature was utilized to create the dramatic and sensational lighting effects that he is known for.
“I’m using the K10s any way I can: every function they have, I use – wash mode for big-stage looks, beaming down without opening the prisms for small beam effects, rotating them and opening and closing the prisms for custom effects.” – Saxton Waller from recent article in LiveDesignOnline.com
The set blasted off with a smokin’ electronic rendition of “Unquestionable Supremacy of Nature” that had an extended ending with Hunter (guitar) laying down heavy teases from “Inspire Strikes Back“. They didn’t miss a beat as they continued into beaming, blow out versions of “Blu Mood“, “T.W.E.L.V.E” and “Grow“. Further raising the tempo and the spirits of the crowd they dropped into an epic DnB suite with silky segues between “New Dawn New Day” > “Surreality” > “EB“, which was immediately answered with a huge reworked rendering of “March” to close out the set.
Fans and friends alike exchanged hugs and laughs throughout the crowd as everyone geared up for the final installment of the night.
The energy and intensity of the band and their legendary lighting designer was raised yet again as they opened the final set with rippin’ renditions of “Scheme Reprise” and “Evasive Maneuvers“. The massive second set also included flawless versions of “Move My Peeps” > “Monkey Music” that set the stage for wicked adaptations of “When The Dust Settles” and “What Is Love?“.
Perhaps the most memorable moment of this set was when both the band and Saxton got REALLY out there for a gnarly, spacey presentation of “King Pharaoh’s Tomb” that took fans on an extraterrestrial visual and sonic journey. That artistic exploration was followed by an 11 minute “ABCees“, which had it’s beautiful ending restored. In typical STS9 fashion, the encore left fans yearning for more as they dropped the first “Somesing” featuring Alana and closed with a moving portrayal of “South of Here“.
The buzz and hype surrounding Red Rocks the following day was absolutely intoxicating as fans poured over the magic that went down the night before. Even after three monumental sets, there were still so many songs left to be heard from STS9‘s deep and diverse catalog. As the Sound Tribe family converged on one of the world’s premiere music venues it was apparent that something special and transcendent was imminent.
Everyone brought an incredible amount of heightened energy that was infectious throughout the parking lots and inside the venue as people prepared themselves for another night of beautiful, breathtaking bliss.
Saturday night opened with a cover of David Axelrod’s “Human Abstract“, and from there the dream set took off. After busting out “Pianoir” for the first time in years the band struck deep as they delivered an emotional, heartfelt version of “Baraka“. The beginning of “Baraka” was even more memorable as Alana played some of the original harmonics that precede the main hook of the song, which had many fans reeling with excitement as they recognized what was about to arise.
The feels didn’t stop there and the crowd went wild when they heard “Crystal Instrument” axed for the first time, which featured a tease of “Eyes Of The World” by Hunter and Phipps according to some. The heat continued to emerge from the band as they smoothly grooved between “Moon Socket” > “So It Goes” with such precision that only a band of this caliber can create.
The end of Saturday’s axed set is one that will rest in the hearts of STS9 fans for many years to come with exceptional, uplifting adaptations of “Equinox” and “Circus” taking the vibes to all new highs. STS9 refused to play it safe as they opened the electric sets with two songs off their forthcoming album (“Totem” and “Untitled“), which were followed by funk favorites “Wika Chikana” and “Gobnugget” where Alana showcased her prowess and power with serious bass-slappin’. The beautiful version of “F. Word” that appeared in between “Wika” and “Gobnugget” is also worth mentioning with all eyes locked on Hunter as he romantically serenaded everyone on the Rocks. They premiered another new track, “Only Light Remains“, which delivered a powerful message to fans about the new era of STS9 and then cruised into a soaring “Ramone & Emiglio“.
This was one of the songs where you could really see the band in their element, having a ceaseless conversation with their instruments and doing it with a furious amount of fervor. The end of the first set was absolutely sizzilin’ with a “Rent” > “Moon Socket” > “Rent” sandwich that had fans frantically jumpin’ for joy.
The final chapter of the weekend saw STS9 firing on all cylinders as they opened with their beautiful new tune “Click Lang Echo” that segued into a roarin’ “Inspire Strikes Back“. They were utterly determined to leave every ounce of energy on stage as they delivered captivating versions of “20-12″ and “Golden Gate“, a funk-filled “Four Year Puma“, an enormous “EHM” and a sensational rendering “Frequencies 2 > Frequencies 3“. Saxton was no different as he relentlessly triggered custom chases to each and every song and dazzled the crowd with crisp colors and grand gobo patterns.
Every member of the STS9 team was vibrating on the same frequency as the people in the crowd as the seamless exchange between the stands and stage continued to expand the power of the art unfolding before us with each magnificent moment.
The ending was nothing short of superb with an epic “World Go Round” that shot the crowd high into the stratosphere. We were quickly brought back to earth for a three song encore featuring beautiful piano solos from Phipps in “Luma Daylight” that immediately segued into their smooth, smasher “Tokyo“. The band closed out the unforgettable weekend with a tear-jerking interpretation of “Firewall” crafted with so much love and affection that everyone was rendered speechless.
The cohesion between Hunter, Jeffree, Phipps, Zach, Alana and Saxton was entirely mesmerizing and it translated into every detail of the art that they created that weekend. They left it all on stage and did it with vigorous passion and pure emotion, which is what created such a strong bond between the band and their fans. It’s that same connection that makes STS9 so special. You feel like you’re a part of the music; actively engaging with each and every band member as they bring it all to life.