Five Things about STS9's August show at Northerly Island

Five Things about STS9's August show at Northerly Island
Photo by Dan Peterson

On August 17, Sound Tribe Sector Nine (STS9),  rolled through Chicago as part of their fourteen-city STUM tour with Umphrey's McGee (UM) and The Liquid Horns which finalized in Vienna, VA, on 9/1.  The two bands rotated throughout their two-week cooperative as opener and closer, and it was no surprise that Umphrey's headlined here in their hometown, which positioned Tribe in the opening slot at 7:00 PM that fateful Saturday.   Here's a few things to remember about this show.

1.  Sound Tribe is a nighttime band and should never start before it's dark out.

A few years ago at Lolla, they did this too, I think in 2009.  "They" being anyone booking and arranging times for Tribe shows.  Ok, in this case, it was unavoidable, because the lights for both STS9 & UM are part of the draw of each band's live show, someone had to open, and there is likely a time-curfew at this outdoor venue.  BUT... it just is weird to see a lights-driven party band in the sunshine when people are still getting to know the night that lies ahead.  A few beers in the lot before, or whatever other party they're gonna intake, it's all just getting started in a time-slot normally reserved for a band that is not as popular as STS9, and people are trained to kind of stumble in, "whenever," before the headlining time-slot.  Due to the early start, some people filtered in late, missing a huge chunk of the show, and were even confused, asking each other, "Is that Sound Tribe?" as the characteristic lights were unseen in daylight and the asphault of Northerly Island revealed writing below the feet of a half-full crowd, leaving it feeling kind of like ... well, we were standing in half-empty parking lot.  This extra awareness left people awkward in dance moves,  and general engagement, until the skyline was illuminated by interior electricity behind the stage, and the moon rose higher than the sun, and the energy started to really build up just as their set came to a close.  I think this is really something to keep in mind when booking their outdoor shows, as STS9 is really just so much more powerful in the dark.

2. Kabuki  remains quite the crowd-pleaser.

Back in rotation pretty frequently, this track has proven to really get everyone revved up.  The onomatopoeia of crescendo, this song builds a force of energy from start to finish over about six minutes that makes you feel like your brain explodes at the end and covers your soul all up in energy brain splatters.  Right around this time it was starting to get dark, and I think the Kabuki, Circus, Vapors segment of the show was the turning point in energy for the band and its crowd.  You can listen to the whole show here.  From this point on, everyone seemed to let more loose and get down to dancin' business.

3.  The collaboration with Umphrey's McGee covering David Bowie's Let's Dance was incredible.

When Brendan Bayliss, guitar and vocals for UM, welcomed out the "guys of STS9 to help us with this last one and take it home,"  for the UM encore, the crowd erupted with excitement of the endless possibilities that could come in the next moments.   Would it be a cover?  A fan favorite of either band?  A solo project single they were going to juice up?   When UM drummer Kris Myers clanked his sticks together to signify the start of the song, and the first chords exposed the song choice, everyone went even more apeshit.  A Bowie cover!?  What a perfect showcase of both of these  bands' talents in improv and eclectic layering of sound.  Flanked by the super-jazzy Liquid Horns, the overall sound was robust and well-rounded.  UM's Jake Cinninger seemed to be having a blast singing this tune, and it showed most in his release of the famed line, "Under the moonlight, the serious moonlight," pointing out at the moon over the crowd and really engaging the audience.   People were going wild and really cranking out some moves.  STS9's Murph was cracking up, going back and forth with Bayliss and Cinninger, and  they all seemed to be really enjoying themselves.  It really carried over to the crowd and made for a great dance party in response to the song's title and energy.  A+ choice.  I wish they would have done a few more together after seeing this; tons of fun.

4.  The Liquid Horns rule.

I am not saying they should be on every track, but, they should definitely stick around.  They are really a great addition to the Tribe sound, and aid in some evolution that could take them into a jazzier, even-funkier dimension I'm excited to see.  For a band that has been around fifteen years, it's cool to see them adding in new pieces and trying out different sounds as they continue to grow experimentally.

5.  Closing with Scheme was a solid STS9 choose.

One of the most excitable Tribe songs, it was a fiery choice to play at the end of the show to leave everyone feeling good and upbeat before set-break.  Everyone was breaking it down.  Fist pumps were abound, and there was just so much robot-action in the dance moves collectively in that parking lot that night.   It was a great way to end their show, and a reminder how strong they are when the nighttime has stricken and their lights are raging.  

Photo by Dan Peterson of Music Festival Central.

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