The members of Sound Tribe Sector 9 seem to have a special affinity for the people of Lawrence, KS.
The band has made consistent stops in Lawrence since 2002, making it a stronghold of support in the Midwest long before their almost meteoric rise in popularity has had them in demand across the region over the last few years. They were part of the inaugural Wakarusa there in 2004, made a last-minute appearance in 2006 and would have played in 2005 were it not for the death of bassist David Murphy's grandmother.
But this time around marked a new achievement for STS9, as they moved up Massachusetts St. from their usual stop at the Granada Theater to the larger Liberty Hall. This move seemed inevitable given the success they have enjoyed. What came as a surprise to everyone, however, was that the Tuesday night show sold out right before show time.
The kids of Lawrence and the surrounding region had come out in droves to see the show, and the band did not disappoint, delivering a high-energy set that left the packed house little time to catch their breath.
Sector 9's sound has changed over the last couple of years, and the feel of their shows has changed along with it. The newer songs reflect a shift from a more laid-back, spacey, jazzy approach to a more in-your-face edge. STS9 is more of a rock band now than they have ever been, and their recent writing style reflects this, but they still make every effort to appease the older fans with rare bustouts and longtime favorites.
This show offered an excellent mix of these two facets of their sound, but maintained an air of the all-out funky, rocking throwdown dance party that Sector 9's shows have become.
The upbeat Tooth, a new composition, set the tone for a first set that emphasized the band's newer sound, with a heavier backbeat accompanied by keyboardist David Phipps' synth-rich melody. The old favorite, Grow, got the crowd fully into the flow of things with its slow-building, spacey jam.
The highlight of the first set, Abcees, gave the crowd a glimpse of the band's versatility and offered the best of both worlds, flowing from a funky dub sound reminiscent of the favorite King Pharaoh's Tomb, then building to a crescendo with a fast trance beat before dropping back into the funk and setting the crowd on fire.
The rest of the set went back and forth in a similar fashion. The slow, hypnotic bounce of the older Warrior was followed by the almost abrasive, slightly robotic drone of 1103. Surreality>EB showcased drummer Zak Velmer's reputation as a human metronome, his fast-paced jazz style accented by guitarist Hunter Brown's floating guitar line. The glitchy funk of One a Day sent the crowd into setbreak on a high note and set the stage for the second set.
Set two opened with a nasty double dose of the reworked Monkey Music and The Rabble, two songs which define the in-your-face funk style of the new STS9. The former showcased the band's ability to go from funk to trance and back at the drop of a hat, carried by the rhythm section of Velmer, Murphy and Lerner, who, along with a more distorted guitar part from Brown, have given the song a heavier edge in recent years, an update from the jazzier vibe of older versions. The Rabble followed that with heavy funk in the vein of the new fan-favorite, Aimlessly.
The pattern of alternating old and new continued with one of the band's workhorse songs, the danceable GLOgli, followed by the stop-start funk of Hi-Key, with Velmer relying heavily on his arsenal of cymbals and Brown using a tone reminiscent of seventies funk.
The rare Water Song was a highlight of the set, flowing from funk to hypnotic trance and back again, done only as STS9 can: heavy and thick in parts, while spacey and ethereal in others. You Don't Say followed with more slow funk, setting the stage for a wonderful change of pace to close the set.
Breathe In could be described as the quintessential Sector 9 song, and is very special for STS9 fans. Murphy gave a speech thanking Lawrence for supporting the band over the years and selling out their first show at Liberty Hall. It was only fitting that Breathe In come next, serving as the musical thank you to the crowd.
There truly is not a more uplifting song in the band's catalog. The first part provided a musical ebb and flow, the jam rising and falling as Phipps and Brown built and released tension along Velmer's backdrop. The second half began with a long slow build into a crescendo, carried by Phipps' beautiful piano melody. This piano is the essence of the song, and it remains constant as the rest of the band allows the song to build and disintegrate. Picture the tide of the ocean creating waves, which crash down on the audience only to slowly recede before building and crashing again.
Breathe In was the perfect end to a great set, and the old-school rock of 4 Year Puma gave the crowd a chance to let loose one last time before spilling back onto Mass Street, fully spent but still all smiles.
9.18.07 Liberty Hall, Lawrence
Set I: Tooth, Grow, Abcees, 1103, Warrior, Surreality>EB, One a Day
Set II: Monkey Music, The Rabble, GLOgli, Hi-Key, Water Song, You Don't Say, Breathe In
Encore: 4 Year Puma