Photo: Scout It Out Media
Pioneering live-electronic ensemble STS9 returned to the glorious confines of Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, CO for two thrilling shows on July 22nd and 23rd, making its annual sojourn to the famed venue. Presenting Walk The Sky, the third and final chapter in the band’s conceptual trilogy, the celebrated quintet delivered a pair of magnificent concerts that showcased a band embracing its past, channeling something boundless whilst confidently bouldering into the next frontier.
Soundtribe’s ambitious Red Rocks concert trilogy began with 2019’s Push the Sky and—after a pandemic-induced year off—continued onward with Sky World in 2021. According to press materials, the crux of the Walk The Sky concept “pulls inspiration from native myth and storytelling to deliver a show that is uniquely STS9.”
This band has always been connected to—and inspired by—the natural world, living organisms, ancient texts, and the primordial essence of creation. In its early era, it was crystal collections adorning the stage, floral artists and elegant dancers joining the players in performance, to co-create in the moment. The band’s germinal offerings were often influenced or inspired by the Mayan calendar.
Renowned for their study of the sciences and decoding stars, certain myths assert that Mayans may have even been space and/or time travelers. STS9 connects with the idea of interdimensional exploration; astrological themes are peppered throughout its songbook, and the band members clearly envision themselves as fellow cosmic adventurers.
Dating back to the late 1990s, the group’s nascent days in the fertile soil of Athens, GA, STS9 has cultivated and maintained a dedicated, opinionated, and fiercely loyal fanbase that remains the envy of many contemporaries. The throngs of Sector 9 kids have followed the group through various trials, tribulations, and triumphs it has experienced over the course of nearly a quarter century performing together.
STS9 has evolved considerably since those humble beginnings, becoming cutting edge artistic trendsetters, independent with tremendous staying power. STS9 at Red Rocks has long been tradition, consistently a centerpiece to the group’s yearly touring schedule. As such, Sector 9 injects a great deal of creativity and intention into the performances hosted in this marvelous sandstone cathedral. For 2022’s Walk The Sky, the group would unveil a focused, devotional pair of shows that completely satiated the revelers, rain or sublime.
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After a brief warmup set from Super Duper, the five members of STS9: guitarist/keyboardist Hunter Brown, keyboardist David Phipps, drummer Zach Velmer, percussionist Jeffree Lerner, and bassist Alana Rocklin, took their respective places and instruments, each dipped head to toe in all black outfits. A modest stage set placed the focus on the music and the moment, as the band performed on raised platforms, a sparse, pared-down visual aesthetic while the sun was still up.
The first night’s first set blasted off with a sweet version of “Once Told” that immediately took me for a ride back a couple decades. A beloved older composition that has been revamped a bit, this one included a searing outro jam that set the tone for the weekend. Another early highlight was an untitled instrumental that morphed into a take on Curtis Mayfield’s “Move on Up”, a thematic nod to Kanye West’s deft use of that sample on his hit “Touch the Sky”.
My preferred lane for this band to traverse is ferocious drum n’ bass, as STS9 was among the first to bring that style to the live band setting. This fantastic frame kicked down a number of old-school, blissed-out selections from the early days including “Move My Peeps”, “Kamuy”, and “GLOgli”, each rendition harkening back to the nostalgia of simpler, more innocent times.
Tribe’s second set on Friday continued with stellar readings of “EHM”, “F-Word”, and a luminous “Luma Daylight” that set the masses soaring into the night. Renowned STS9 lighting designer Tiberius Benson masterfully augmented the band’s soundscapes with his brilliant colorways, lush layers, and optical illusions that were enhanced exponentially by the gorgeous Red Rocks environs. Tiberius’ lightworks came to life after dark, doing their iridescent thing in the transitive nightfall of tourmaline.
STS9 collectively took some chances in its improvisational jamming, at times finding magical success, others mixed results. Several bliss peaks, with a couple of wrong turns too. The first night finished strong with a thorough exploration of “T.W.E.L.V.E.”, another classic Sector 9 gem that coincidentally clocked in at exactly 12 minutes and 12 seconds. The band returned to the stage for an inspired encore in “Phoneme”, delivered with a healthy dollop of pizzaz.
STS9 – “Phoneme” – 7/22/22
The STS9 community is well-known as leaders of the cottage industry of late-night afterparties that come together around show runs in different cities around the country. This Red Rocks/Levitt Pavilion engagement would be no different, as options were abound for the revelers looking to continue dancing till their legs gave out. Friday night’s late affairs included a two-hour throwdown from DnB/jungle OG LTJ Bukem at Ophelia’s, and the ethereal wizard Random Rab at Knew Conscious. Saturday night’s shenanigans saw Atlanta buzz-band HIVE MIND tear up Your Mom’s House ’til the wee hours of the Lord’s Day.
Saturday night at Red Rocks, the rains came down steadily for a couple of hours, starting just after a short opening set from Chrome Sparks. There were brief pauses between the intermittent deluges, but make no mistake, this evening was nothing short of sopping wet from start to finish. STS9 did not question the supremacy of nature, and proceeded to unspool a mystifying journey that mesmerized every soaked soul that persevered through the downpour.
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The first set contained a confident reading of “The Rabble”, and an electrifying “Squares & Cubes” that may have been the most impressive individual number across both nights, at least to my tastes and ears. “Sky High” was a continuation of the trilogy’s thematic concept, and a smart nod back to Atlanta, with the iconic Goodie Mob sample ringing out into the ether. The five selfless instrumentalists continued to prove that they are at their zenith when coalescing as one living organism, moving as one through time and space with purpose and grace. A mammoth “What is Love”, yet another dnb anthem from yesteryear, continued the string of fiery tunes from the golden era.
Yet it would be the final frame that left the biggest impact on just about anybody who had the intestinal fortitude to press on through the oppressive rains and winds. A small but sizable percentage of folks threw in the proverbial towel and departed at setbreak, so the band may have decided to reward those troopers who put their passion for Sound Tribe’s sound-art ahead of the need to stay warm or dry.
STS9 – Red RocksAmphitheatre – Morrison, CO – 7/23/22 – Partial
[Video: Josh phillips]
The second set was a scintillating experience, front to back. “Peoples” really delivered the goods, ominous dark dynamics with drum n’ bass mayhem to boot. But it would be a nearly-unfathomable bust out that had the remaining revelers roaring, weeping, and dancing jigs of unrepentant joy. “HB Walks the Sky Modular”—an updated interpretation of the embryonic “HB Walks to School”— has been on the shelf since 2015, and has only been played a handful of times in the band’s illustrious career.
We could hear both the innocence of Brown’s teenage jam band roots, and the modular evolution of the band’s sonic DNA here in the now frontier, all woven within a song that just about every STS9 fan longs to hear every time the band takes the stage. The euphoria was palpable in every direction, especially a young lady next to us named Danielle, raging the 9 in her birthday tiara.
After “HB Walks” lit up the rocks in pure collective ecstasy, the squad was all loosened up and levitating. Another huge highlight for this writer was the bombastic “King Solomon’s Tomb”, a colossal dub reggae banger that is also relatively-rarely performed and deeply beloved. A definitive juxtaposition between yardie soundsystem vibes and psychedelic improv jams, it’s maybe the most perfect potion of sonic alchemy in the Sector 9 canon. The detonation and execution of the mighty “KPT” felt downright physical; it was all the juice I could have possibly asked to fill my cup to the very brim as we rounded the home stretch.
The five musicians retook the stage together, and just before their final song, Zach Velmer stood atop his drum stool as is his custom, and profusely thanked the audience for taking this journey with them for three rewarding chapters. The group proceeded to once again reach back into the past for a glorious, meditative jaunt through “Jebez”, the perfect landing gear after two terrific nights and four phenomenal sets walking the sky.
STS9 – “Jebez” – 7/23/22
[Video: Curtis Brunet]
After two nights at Red Rocks, the band traveled to Levitt Pavilion for a unique afternoon celebrating The Day Out Of Time. The holiday is celebrated by over 90 countries worldwide and marks the day between the end of one year and the beginning of another on the 13-month moon calendar. Borahm Lee opened the festivities with a solo set, and STS9 followed with one of their patented Axe the Cables acoustic sets, chasing that with the intergalactic, all-improv Wave Spell session, and some “Frequencies”.
Setlist: STS9 | Red Rocks Amphitheatre | Morrison, CO | 7/22/22
Set One: Once Told > Untitled > Move on Up (Touch the Sky) > Move My Peeps, Kamuy, GLOgli > Feel It, Walk the Sky
Set Two: Sürge > EHM > F. Word > Luma Daylight, Get Loud, Shock Doctrine, March > T.W.E.L.V.E.
Setlist: STS9 | Red Rocks Amphitheatre | Morrison, CO | 7/23/22
Set One: Be Nice > The Rabble, Totem, Squares & Cubes, Be Pulse, Sky High > ReEmergence, What Is Love?
Set Two: GLASS-z13 > Peoples, Lift You Up > HB Walks the Sky Modular, Sky World > Oil & Water > King Pharaoh’s Tomb > Inspire Strikes Back