Concert review: STS9 pushes senses to the max in Tahoe

Michael Smyth / Tahoe Onstage

Drummer Zach Velmer and Sound Tribe Sector 9 rock the MontBleu Theatre on Night 1 at Lake Tahoe.
Tahoe Onstage photos by Michael Smyth

Sound Tribe Sector 9, better known as STS9, kicked off its two-night run in at Lake Tahoe on Tuesday with a show that pushed one’s audible and visual senses to the limit.

The Atlanta-born and Bay Area-adopted instrumental quintet took its gyrating fans through two sets in myriad musical styles, sometimes within the same song. Moving rapidly, the band meshed arrangements of dancetronica, rock, fusion, and prog rock. It even closed the night with its flowing and airy interpretation of jazz great Herbie Hancock.

STS9 undoubtedly rides on the shoulders of drummer Zach Velmer and bassist Alana Rocklin. While that instrumental combination is the foundation for any band, the timekeeping and sonic bed that the two create is not only essential, but exemplary.

Behind a kit featuring both standard and electronic implements, Velmer animatedly culls syncopated magic from an ever-changing rhythmic toolbox with fervor and gusto. Rocklin, who joined the band in 2014 after founding bassist David Murphy left, creates a fluid and tactile energy for the higher registers around her to move upon.

Accenting everything Velmer and Rocklin do — from his pulpit above and behind the rest of the band — is percussionist Jeffree Lerner. His contributions are subtle, precise and intricate, but serve to tie together the imaginative keys work of David Phipps and guitarist/midi producer Hunter Brown.

Brown and Phipps interchange solo and support sections in most compositions, exposing multiple homages in their presentations. I caught, for example, nuances of David Gilmour oozing from Brown’s playing, and snippets of Billy Preston from Phipps.

An STS9 set is like climbing into an inflatable raft in the middle of the ocean and experiencing ever-changing aquatic environments as the band moves through its set. At times, you may be peacefully drifting along on a flat sea in the doldrums until the musical waters below begin to swirl and pick up speed. Your raft soon is drawn down into the winding depths of musical transition, before popping out amid rolling 50-foot seas as the band moves you perilously between the dark bottom and crescendo top of wave after wave.

The genius of lighting director Saxton Waller further enhances the audio experience. Waller creates a cocoon of light, dark and color for the five artists and their music to flourish in and the lower stage trusses and ceiling of the MontBleu Theater give it a decidedly club-like feel. His inventive mix of lighting shapes, colors and movement is engaging, melding with music rather than distracting.

— Michael Smyth

  • Set I: Rent > One, Two, Three > Light The Way* > Frequencies DnB > Squares & Cubes, Really What? > Gobnugget > Surreality > Spending Time > EB
  • Set II: Beyond Right Now > Water Song, World Go Round, Shock Doctrine > Hi-Key > Shock Doctrine, Worry No More > Enceladus > Worry No More > Blu Mood
  • Encore: Baraka
  • Setlist Courtesy: Church of STS9 Facebook Page

    Michael Smyth / Tahoe Onstage

About Michael Smyth

Michael Smyth moved to Reno in 2007 after living more than 40 years in the Bay Area. In addition to going to live shows, he enjoys golf, skiing and fly-fishing. Check out his website

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