STS9 1.23.16

Showbox SODO
Seattle, WA

Words By Coleman Schwartz
Photos By J. Scott Shrader (J. Scott Shrader Photography)

STS9’s long-anticipated return to the Pacific Northwest took the band up to Seattle for a Saturday night throwdown. After stellar performances the previous two evenings in Portland and Eugene, fans were eager to see if the band could continue their upward trend in the Emerald City. The show had originally been booked at Showbox Market, an 1,100-capacity venue in the heart of downtown Seattle. After a quick sellout, the decision was made to expand the capacity by moving the event to Showbox SODO, an 1,800-capacity venue in Seattle’s industrial district. This move was met with ample backlash from fans, who expressed concern about SODO’s location, acoustics and low ceilings.

Luckily for the fans, the band and their crew went the extra mile to ensure that these potential issues were mitigated (aside from location). Lighting Director Saxton Waller did have to use a smaller rig than for previous shows on the run, due to low ceilings near the stage, but he skillfully setup his onstage disco balls to extend the show vertically. His performance, as usual, was beyond impressive. The room was mixed outstandingly, and I never encountered the poor acoustics that had everyone so worried before the show.

From the moment they began with “Vapors,” it was clear that this would be a remarkably high-energy show. This song built the intensity slowly before peaking out, then quietly transitioned into the bouncy funk of “Only Light Remains.” Bassist Alana Rocklin jumped out to the front of the mix, setting the perfect stage for guitarist Hunter Brown’s beautifully simple circular riff. The band then paused before starting off “Tap-In,” which featured a Rocklin-driven build to a massive peak with keyboardist David Phipps creating a chaotic, circus-like sound on his synthesizer. The song was concluded by the band tipping their cap to Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir,” with the synthesizer part coming back in over the top.

“MOD” contained a tight improv section, spurred on by frenetic drumming from Zach Velmer. This man has boundless energy and a clear love for his work, as evidenced by the smile plastered to his face. The band’s jamming doesn’t involve a lot of solos, focusing instead on great full-band interplay with Velmer acting as the glue holding them together. They next went into “Shock Doctrine,” which absolutely blew my mind. This song features extensive electronic contributions from Phipps, Brown and percussionist Jeffree Lerner (master of both the handsonic and the chimes), and served as an amazing juxtaposition to the more typical jam-rock sound of “MOD.” It was so impressive to see a band navigate both ends of the spectrum with this type of efficacy.

“Blu Mood” saw the band more focused on guitar-driven funk, before the spoken-word intro to “Totem” came in. This tune features Brown playing concise, danceable licks on guitar, which is exactly what this band needs. It provides space for their talented rhythm section to operate in the spotlight, and enables him to devote some of his attention to samples and other, more textural elements. “Totem” served perfectly to wrap the audience around the band’s collective finger, before they dropped into an instrumental cover of David Bowie’s “Fame,” a tribute to the late musical genius. The crowd positively erupted with joy, and it was wonderful to see so many people paying their respects by dancing and having a great time. We had been eagerly awaiting the Bowie tribute during previous nights of the run, and it was delightful to see the band knock it out of the park like that to close the first set.

My first highlight of the second set was definitely banger track “EHM.” This song features heavy synthesizer wailing from Phipps over neat ambient samples. It is an adventure in dynamics, ranging from relaxing ambient music to something you might expect to hear in a packed-out nightclub. The “Hidden Hand Hidden Fist,” that followed featured a driving jam that was propelled along by Rocklin and Phipps, with Brown taking a backseat. The band used the next song, “March” to get extremely trancey. Velmer kicked up the tempo and allowed the band’s electronic side to run wild, as the crowd moved along.

“Mischief of a Sleepwalker” saw the band return to a guitar-based sound, at least initially. The song eventually worked its way into a spellbinding downtempo electronic jam that was fleshed out over a few minutes, before they worked their way back to complete “Mischief.” “Scheme” followed, which reminded me of break music and pushed the energy level over the top. The set-closing “Inspire Strikes Back” saw Rocklin put on an absolute clinic. She is one of the most talented bassists I have ever seen, with her perfect pocket playing and phrasing. As the band finished the song, the crowd screamed for more. The band rewarded us for our enthusiasm with not one, but two encores.

It was an awesome experience to finally see STS9 perform their own two-set club shows on this run. I had only seen them at festivals prior, and it is fun to see them in an environment where they have more time to setup and get everything perfect. Every member of the band had their impressive moments, and their balanced contributions allow seamless navigation of the waters between jam-rock, livetronica, g-funk, trance, and even trap music. They fit into the scene by eschewing all labels and truly doing their own thing; bridging together fans of disparate musical genres for a raging good time. There is truly something for everybody at their show, so I would recommend bringing along an open mind and giving them a try when they are in your area!

Set One: Vapors, Only Light Remains, Tap-In, MOD > Modular (Improv) > MOD, Shock Doctrine, Blu Mood, Totem > Fame*

Set Two: Glogli, EHM, Hidden Hand Hidden Fist, March, Mischief of a Sleepwalker, Scheme, Inspire Strikes Back

Encore: Poseidon, When the Dust Settles Reprise

*David Bowie cover

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