STS9 blew into Chicago last Friday night on the tail of the city’s biggest storm of the winter and at the end of their own tour that crossed northwestern two thirds of the country. Chicago was definitely the biggest media market hit on a two-month tour that was accompanied by some really nice opening acts and heavy late night parties. It’s a testament to the level, range, and adaptation that STS9’s music has reached when artists like Eliot Lipp, the Pharcyde, Rahzel, Pnuma Trio, Richard Devine and Sub-ID support a tour. It reminds me somewhat of late 90’s Phish tours when you could catch any number of groups after a show; it’s complimentary acts tapping into the energy and excitement behind a great touring band.
The Congress Theater show last night opened with a set by the human beat machine, Rahzel. I’ve seen his act a few times now but I’m always floored when he drops the beat, bass line, and chorus with only his mouth. STS9 followed shortly and after a quick hello from Murph, opened the first set with a very solid “Arigato.” I’ve never viewed this track as an opener but it works well starting a show. The danceable big beat that starts the song climbs into a frenzy midway through and ends with a perfectly tight jam. It got the energy going immediately and looking around the room you could see the crowd beginning to sway with the band’s direction. Towards the end of the first set they played a song I absolutely love, “Really Wut.” The production at the end of the song is very complex and layered. The first set blended extremely well, ambient jams and sample heavy tracks mixed effortlessly.
The second set was definitely when the party got going and by the time the band started dropping the incredibly danceable “Rent,” the crowd energy had reached a peak. The “Hi Key” into “Inspire” finish was a whirlwind way to end the set. There were some new songs in the mix during both sets that the band has been playing this tour that had much more of a rock feel than most of the newer stuff in the catalog.
A really nice development in the band over the last few years has been keyboardist David Phipps. Listening to old shows and comparing them to newer ones he has become an incredibly versatile artist. His work on the keys has made STS9 able to transfer so much of what they’ve accomplished in the studio onto the stage. For example, when he backlights “Hi Key” with soft horns and paced chops or gets the drone going on “Inspire” it shows how he really opens their music into another dimension.
The high spot of the night for me was definitely the encore, which featured two songs that showcase where STS9 has been and where I think they are headed musically. Without a word the band trotted back on stage and lit up the crowd with the bombastic “BIGS.” This song, featured on the 1320 Records Mixtape, is essentially a sample that the band has stretched into a stylistic mix of genres. The song is fire, plain and simple. The last song of the night, “Circus,” has been a staple for a many years and still knocks me to the floor. It’s a musical puzzle that the band puts together on stage, starting with atmospheric bleeps that at first to contrast each other. Then drummer Zach Velmer begins to pull everyone into the mix and before you realize what’s happened the song is building into an incredible flowing jam. They’ve been exploring some space in this song since the 3.17 show out in Boulder and I really dig the meandering end they’ve added.
STS9 is quietly changing music and what a band can do onstage. I get really excited to see these guys every time they tour and get totally depressed the next day knowing I won’t see them for another few months. I am hoping they put out another album this year because I would love to hear how they develop some of the new songs they’ve been playing the past two or three tours in the studio. Last Friday night in Chicago was extremely rewarding and I want to thank STS9 for doing what they do.
Set I: Arigato, Rabble, Tooth, Dem Be, Yes~No, Really Wut, Lo Swagga
Set II: 118, One a Day, EMH, Rent, Hi Key, unQ, Inspire Strikes Back
Encore: BIGS, Circus => Improve