Sound Tribe Sector 9 (STS9)
Saturday, Oct. 8, 2011
3 stars (out of 5)
Sound Tribe Sector 9's music is a recipe that could've been cooked up by Ticketmaster execs: "For a good time, mix Trey Anastasio's guitar tone, half-a-dozen congas and bongos, huge LCD screens, various electronic instruments, large live-music venues and substance(s) of your choosing." Depending on the last ingredient added on Saturday, STS9 either created an amazing sensory experience or simply provided background music to a people-watching extravaganza.
Like the albums of Eliot Lipp (who recently visited The Mousetrap), the Santa Cruz five-piece's music is good to do stuff to (e.g. work at the computer, do your dishes, get your freak on). And like Lipp's music, STS9's is best enjoyed live. Unlike Lipp, though, STS9 has a massive tribe of followers — jam-band and electronic-music fans — who easily fill up cavernous spaces like the Egyptian Room. The thing about a band like STS9 is that most people attending their shows dig the music deeply, in spite of it not being particularly exceptional.
STS9 started their first set around 10 p.m. (after opener Archnemesis) with the laid-back funk of "This, Us," which flowed into the electro jam "Tooth" and the heavy riffs of "Beyond Right Now" - all of which gave the colors of the rainbow a chance to shine in STS9's light show, likely appreciated by a club kid who looked forlornly at his broken glowstick that had somehow splattered on the floor as the band started.
STS9's live sound rides up-and-down-and-repeat waves that dabble equally in downtempo segments, breakbeat dashes, hip-hop kicks and Phish- and Pink Floyd-influenced licks. They do all this well enough, but so many elements combined don't necessarily offer good reason to form a personal bond with the band's music: melodies aren't memorable enough, beats aren't bangin' enough, and overall, the experience is more vanilla than the finer-honed flavors offered by others who focus a little more on a lot less.
Vocals are generally absent, save for shouts of "How you doin', Indy?" and "Thanks so much y'all - so awesome!" - which is fine; plenty of good music goes without. But with STS9's sound exemplifying a coherent vibe more than exemplary musicianship and songwriting, the strength of STS9 seems to lie simply in that they're a live band doing what one good DJ typically offers a crowd.
STS9 is kind of like a fusion restaurant: instead of excelling at any one cuisine, they offer a buffet of sounds prepared well enough to give a wide swath of people what they crave. With so many live-music choices in Indy lately, though, STS9 didn't offer anything new. The light-and-LCD show, whose graphics looked straight out of the early 90s, was bested by that of both Foster the People and Cut Copy; the show's intimacy couldn't match that provided by Eliot Lipp; and musical proficiency was better demonstrated by the technically quaint Shellac.
In an interview that aired on public radio this summer, Jimmy Buffett implied that his flock of Parrotheads was an unforeseen consequence of making music that simply sounded good to all kinds of people - he never planned to have a following of drunkards. Similarly, the popularity of STS9's shows is a formation of a somewhat heterogenous mixture of people combining into a mass in need of something to groove to. For this, STS9 deserve credit: The people-watching experience offered by STS9 is second to none (save for Girl Talk's orgies of absurdity). One guy in flip flops did the cha-cha while his friend waved a toxic-looking glowstick overhead as if anointing with a fairy's wand. A couple's outfits debated monetary standards: The gentleman's dollar-bill-print suit argued for U.S.D., while his gal's gold-lamé disco-ball dress fought loudly for the gold standard. And people such as the slinking, glowstick-ensconced gentleman wearing a "FUCK BITCHES CURE CANCER" shirt provided yet more visual stimulation.