Friday, May 6, 2011

Review: STS9 Athens Run 4/20 & 4/21 2011

Review By:
Samuel Epstein
There’s really nothing like two nights of STS9 in Georgia and the Athens run were no exception. Not only has Georgia been good to me, Wednesday shows have been historically littered with old-school bust-outs and rare gems. One thing you notice walking into The Classic Center is that this place is – like the name implies – classy. Midweek shows have their advantages and disadvantages – one disadvantage being it is almost impossible for the working crew to make weekdays shows out of town.  As my small crew of three took our seats about five rows in front of soundboard and legendary lighting designer Saxton Waller, the anticipation began to really kick in. The feeling of nostalgia was overwhelming. Bassist David Murphy was back after his cancer treatment and STS9 was back in their home state. The vibe in the place was electric, something I have not felt since the New Year’s Eve run of 2008 at the Tabernacle in Atlanta. I found myself referencing that particular run often during the Athens stint because of how similar the vibes turned out to be. With Outkast playing over the PA, the boys came out with the biggest smiles.  Murph was wearing red pants, white suspenders and a baseball cap on his now-bald head. They were back home and ready to party.

“ReEmergence” opened the set and tears could be seen in many fans’ eyes, while I reveled in catching my first in 50 plus shows.They segued masterfully into ”Tap-In” where Murph and his distinct baseline led the way. Such a great start to the show and with new segue, I knew the boys had been practicing. Things were going to be different and special tonight. And different it was as many songs were reworked and played beautifully and in new ways all night. STS9 has gotten much negative reaction from long-time fans for playing the same songs the same way every night but this night turned that notion upside down. “Atlas” was next followed by the best “One A Day” I’d seen since December 29, 2008 – yes, that New Year’s run. Though the song has gotten stale of late, the second half was more jammed out as guitarist Hunter Brown and percussionist Jeffree Lerner shined. A gorgeous rendition of “We’ll Meet In Our Dreams” followed by a phenomenal “From Now On” switched up the mood and had fans ecstatic. It was the best “From Now On” I have ever seen, as Hunter’s guitar line was beautiful and inspiring and not a single note was flubbed. “Once Told” was a perfect change of pace and the crowd was getting down hard after a little ethereal bliss. The bust-out of the night had to be “King’s Pharaoh’s Tomb,” at which old Sector 9 heads could be seen hooting and hollering and standing on chairs unable to contain their excitement. In my 55 shows, it was another first for me. As the funky, slightly reworked “KPT” rang out, cell phones were blowing up with text messages all around me from those streaming on iClips. The boys were back. After a necessary set break to catch my breath, “Wika Chikana” opened the second set getting the crowd moving quickly. Again, the best version I have ever seen. Seemed to be a theme that night. Crowd-favorites “EHM” and “Abcees” followed and had the Classic Center shaking as newer fans got their fill of heavy electronic. It was during the dark “Abcees” where Saxton shined, feeding off the crowd’s immense energy. STS9 continued to switch things up playing – guess what – the best “Grow” I’d ever heard. This song has the unbelievable ability to grab you and take you somewhere music rarely takes you. Though I’ve been disappointed by recent versions, this one had an old-school feel. Two more “best versions ever” followed: “Tooth” and the brand-new “Scheme.” Both songs were reworked and though Scheme is only a few months old, keyboardist David Phipps favored a more organic approach with both songs, playing some epic keyboard and stealing the show. “Moonsocket” to end the night felt so right and this version stands up with any in the last three or four years. The song had some serious flavor to it, with an amazing final section that left the fans screaming for more. A solid “Rent” encore ended the night and for the first time in Georgia since 2008, I walked out of an STS9 show in utter amazement. The best show I’ve seen since that 2008 run – and I was at Boulder Theater September 2010.

I had high hopes for the Thursday night show after the amazing experience the night before. This show had its highlights, but the overall play of the band seemed to be sloppy compared to the night before. “Be Nice” was a great opener and it certainly resonated with the crowd. “Evasive Maneuvers” was fun as well and the new section is growing on me – it’s reminiscent of The Disco Biscuits for sure. Nothing else in the first set really blew my mind. Spoiled from the night before, I went in expecting every song to be reworked or different and that was not the case. The “Equinox,” “Circus,” “F. Word” segment was awesome, though. Hunter’s guitar work impressed me during this section, which was undoubtedly the highlight of the set. “When the Dust Settles,” which along with “Scheme” is another song that debuted over the 2010 New Year’s Eve run, needs some work though it has potential. While Wednesday night’s set felt meticulously planned, Thursday night’s song placement threw me off. The second set started with “Move My Peeps,” a classic among classics.  I remember liking this version but admit I’ve heard much better in recent months. A standard version of “Aimlessly” followed and it dawned on me that the band had probably put a lot more thought into their first show back with emotions riding high. The second set picked up with “Empires” > “Four Year Puma” > “Crystal Instrument” working really well adding some funk to the mix. The real highlight of the night was the “Crystal Instrument” – my favorite version to date with Phipps leading the charge with some melodic playing. Another fan-favorite, “The Unquestionable Supremacy of Nature,” closed out the set and “Inspire Strikes Back” followed as the encore.

The first night set a high bar which the second couldn’t live up to – but overall, these two nights were great and it was glad to see the five of them back and playing music together on stage.

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