Smile Politely

Sorta Easy Bein’ Green: STS9, Guys in Capes and Jam Band Culture

The popularity of instrumental music is growing every year, and it’s truly amazing how people respond to solely music playing with no words. It’s like having no words takes the music down to its bare bones and pure emotion, revealing the true transcendental nature of a composition. Everyone is listening to the same notes, but are they hearing the same thing? I don’t think so, but I could understand why some people would say yes. A certain spirit (or drug) moves through each person; they make up their own words, paint their own pictures and feel more than think.

There was plenty of wide-eyed optimism in almost every one of the audience members in the line that wrapped around the corner for the Jan. 31st STS9 show, super stars of the original Bonnaroo and a known live show experience. I heard people saying they had come from as far as Tennessee and Long Island, all packing into The Canopy Club.

Comprised of bass, guitar, keyboard, drummer, and percussionist, each with their own electronics setup, I had never heard STS9’s music until they started playing, but I knew what I was in for before the show even started — pre-show dancing, glowsticks, and the guy in the cape were hints. In the meantime, while waiting in one of the larger lines at the door I’ve seen, I wondered why only this brand of show (“jam”-type bands, whatever that may mean within a genre) seems to always have the highest turnout. Is it really just the music that draws a full house to your Keller Williams and Umphrey’s McGee shows, or is the atmosphere too?

What really made me scratch my head at this event was the hypocritical blind eye most of the community and country has when it comes to these kinds of social events. Was the smoking ban lifted for this show? Did everyone have an eye appointment with a dilation earlier in the day? I guess all anyone can do for now is vote Obama wait another couple years until all the ex-hippies and disco dancers start winning political offices, because whatever it was that everyone was on, it should be legalized, controlled, and accepted as legitimately as alcohol is, instead of ignored and propagandized. What is with the MAN being afraid of large groups of people dancing together anyway?

Pushing aside the more social topics the show brought up, the music was awesome. The show was comprised of two sets, each lasting about an hour, with the first set more centered around the rhythm section; the guitar and keyboard weaved around beats and jams, in what can be best described as a techno-glam-jam instrumental rollercoaster.

It’s new-wave on a speedball. In STS9’s music you can hear elements that 21st century indie-rock bands have started incorporating more and more into their sounds. Bands like Of Montreal, Modest Mouse, Dan Deacon, Gorillaz, Animal Collective, Gnarls Barkley, and Wolf Parade have been sharpening their sounds like a sleek razorblade in the same way STS9 has, because audiences respond to music that sounds like it’s coming straight off the factory floor, pulsing, overproduced, and ready to be consumed by the masses. There is an energy becoming more and more present that I can only attribute to the mass amounts of synthetic electronic sounds being seamlessly added into traditional music today. The music itself, in a physical format, is only a shell of the music tradition now being broken by musicians and audience members.

Sure, bands having been doing extended versions of their songs and rearranging keys since Dylan and The Dead, but that seemed to be more about technical musical mastery and keeping a 30 year old song interesting; whereas what bands are doing now seems to deal more with what I can only describe as movement. Rave culture has started to be pushed to the forefront. Bands are tired of their audience members having not moved since Kurt Cobain put a gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. Everyone was dancing by the end of the night at the show; drug-enhanced or not, the energy was amazing, and the crowd hung onto every musical peak and cliff hanger the band threw at them in a hypnotic pattern of crescendos.

The second set was my favorite of the two. It was obvious that with this set, the keyboard and guitar players would step to the forefront. The first song had a huge Hendrix throughout and ended with heavy, stutter-accented guitar. The next song was full of bottom-well bass from the keyboard and bass player; you could feel the sound reverberate in your chest cavity.

There was also an equally important, although silent, fifth member on the stage that night controlling the light show, with its swirling colors, several vertical bands of light, and plenty of flashing.

I was quickly mesmerized myself.

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