Any doubt that jam band culture is alive and healthy in Los Angeles was extinguished at Hollywood Palladium on Saturday night. Here, the heads of the greater L.A. area assembled for the experience of collective sonic ecstasy that is a Sound Tribe Sector 9 show.
See also: In Defense of Jam Bands
It wasn't your typical Hollywood crowd; that said, the typical jam band aesthetic was perhaps slightly less exaggerated than one might find at, say, Colorado's Red Rocks or Wisconsin's Alpine Vallery. Still, there were the dreaded guys, the gorgeous women wearing long skirts and minimal makeup, the hardcore fans that drove down from Oakland, (where they had seen the band the night before), the old dudes rolling solo and dancing with their eyes closed for the entire set. All together, it was a multi-generational, multi-ethic collection of friends. “Everyone at Sound Tribe shows is so fucking nice,” said a woman who also really wanted to talk about the Wakarusa festival. “You just know that if they're here, they're on the level.”
The vibe was loose and open. People were friendly as hell, lots of hugs and sharing of drugs, and more dancing –real down and dirty sweaty grind to the floor dancing– than typically witnessed at most club night dance parties. But haters know this: even stone cold sober this show was still amazing.
San Francisco-based downtempo electronic act Tycho opened with a set of of pretty jams characterized by tight technical efficiency and stirring emotional depth. The five man Sound Tribe came onstage at 10:30 and launched right into into their standard fare of instrumental psychedelia. Although the group has been active, particularly on the festival circuit, since forming in Atlanta 15 years ago, theirs is a modern sound, with computer technology fused with drums, guitar, bass and keyboards. Eschewing solos, the music favors rhythmic group jamming that incorporates moments of funk, hip hop, jazz, drum and bass and electronica. STS9 makes big music sophisticated in its execution and emotional in its depth.
Set one — yes this band does that jam band multi-set thing — was hypnotic, a fact as much to do with the massive jazz flavored peaks and drops as the precise, kaleidoscopic light show that bathed the audience in a wash of color. An onstage setup LED panel shaped like a Mayan pyramid displayed revolving images of space and sacred geometry. In one moment, the visuals started way out in the cosmos, zooming in closer and closer to our solar system, then to Earth, then Google maps style to the United States, then to Southern California, Los Angeles, and finally The Palladium in which we were all watching the narrative unfold. It was heady, man.
The first set ended around 11:40, giving fans a chance to mix, mingle and reunite. “Holy shit I haven't seen you since Vegoose!” said a dreaded man to a longhaired woman as they embraced merrily.
In the lobby: “You're a wookie,” a bearded man said to an attractive blonde lady. “What's a wookie,” she asked. “A wookie is a beautiful woman who doesn't wear any makeup and is all cosmic and loves shows like this.” “Oh thanks,” she said. “But watch out for the wook guys,” he warned. “They'll tell you that they love your energy and that they're really feeling your vibration, but usually they're just trying to get laid.”
“I know,” she said. “I know.”
The second set began at midnight, and the in-it-to-win-it crowd grew ever more ecstatic as the group progressed deeper into on point jams that oscillated between sexy funk and ecstatic rock, infused with a low frequency bass rattle. In the middle of the crowd, men smiled big and hugged each other tight in moments where the bass dropped.
Around 12:40am, the sound stopped suddenly when the group lost power. The energy in the room didn't wane, however, as the crowd broke into spontaneous and prolonged cheering as the technical issues were made right. “We were in the middle of jam right there, and you were all there with us,” said guitarist Hunter Brown when the band returned to the stage.”Let's act like this never happened. We love you.”
We loved them back. The show ended around 1:45am after a massive encore as the smell of the danger dogs cooking outside wafted into the venue. At 3am, there were still fans hanging out in the parking lot blasting STS9 on their car speakers. Conceivably, some of those people are in their cars now en route to Telluride to see the band play there tonight.
Personal Bias: I was once wondering around Bonnaroo aimlessly at 3 in the morning when I stumbled upon my first STS9 show and proceeded to dance until dawn, and then follow the group around the Midwest all summer.
Overheard in the crowd: “I would usually rather shoot myself in the head than come to Hollywood on a Saturday night, but this is the best.”