The Scene: I arrived a few minutes late to The Fillmore on the last brisk Saturday night of the year anxiously awaiting the experience of crossing off one of my bucket list of musical acts. Showing up late to a show like STS9 puts you smack in the middle of a wild bunch of fans. Some of these fans are purists, trying to perfectly time their entrance through the doors right when the band gets rocking while others had perhaps spent a little too much time at neighboring Colfax establishments and were more than ready to get the wheels spinning and warm their cockles by the fire that STS9 is known to bring.
STS9: The five-man Jamtronic crew took the stage and manned their jam battle stations in front of the Mayan pyramid themed LED screen backlighting as the crowd screamed their appreciation. STS9’s 3 night New Years runs have become a welcome tradition in the Colorado music scene and their devoted followers, like many in the jam band community, understand how to have one hell of a time but also know how to temper the excitement for night one of three with the sense that the best is yet to come. Average concert goers may have been content with the screen as the sole element of the lighting rig, but if you’re a fan of STS9 you know that the lights are an integral part of the spectacle. They used the screen sparingly early on, leaving the lights on each corner of the pyramid as generous amounts of fog swirled in the air.
The first set was littered with wondrous musicianship and rhythmically driven versions of Jazz, Blues and Funk phrasing. Watching all five members work in sync, and enjoy the hell out of themselves while doing it, reminds you what the live music experience is all about. They passed the musical buck beautifully, whipping up multi-instrumental rhythms that only a band that’s been playing together for over a decade can concoct.
Once they lit the screen behind them, the bass tones and the tempo really took hold of the room. One visual highlight was time-lapse footage of a colossal building being constructed beam by beam. It was the perfect visual counterpart to the music they were creating, as the band worked in harmony to layer one expertly crafted solo onto the next, refusing to relent until the experience was complete and the song faded away like the fog rising above the stage. Considering it was my first time seeing them, I had to defer to a Tribe following fan to discuss the merit of the first set. He claimed that it was nothing to write home about, but that made him all the more excited about the set that would follow.
After a more than lengthy set break (I’m not convinced that 45 minutes of standing around is completely necessary or helpful to the vibe) the Tribe came back out to the stage. This time around, there were few, if any holds barred. The screen fittingly displayed ancient Mayan symbols and the crowd kicked it in to gear, joyously frolicking on the vast wooden rink that is the Fillmore’s dance floor. The genres spread far and wide, from Blues to Hip-Hop to rock to Reggae. One notable cover from the night was a tight and fast rendition of The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil.” Being an instrumental version mattered none, as the sold out crowd supplied to soaring “woo hoos” throughout.
I always find great enjoyment in seeing how a jam band displays their version of the proverbial Wall of Sound. The musical tones were balanced with craft, the familiar pop of bongos and congas standing out from the wah-drenched guitar and the many tones that bassist David Murphy manages to pull from only four strings. David Phipps work on the keyboards was extraordinary, as he created an array of frequency from sub bass to R2D2 computer speak from his rack of synths.
My first STS9 experience was certainly worthwhile, and musically was world class, but I must say it left me wanting a little more. It could have been that the group was saving their best for night two or New Year’s Eve, but about an hour after the set break was over, I felt like I had already seen what I was there to see, and it seemed to stretch on without much force or emotion. The band was certainly excited, but the only one who spoke was Murphy, and the lack of vocals accompanying their sound was off putting to my sensibilities. The STS9 experience is a Colorado musical right of passage and I for one am glad to say I’ve been there, but I’m not sure that they entirely lived up to their accumulated hype as the total package.
Stage Presence: B-
Set/Light Show: A