Photos by: Juliana Bernstein (Get Tiny Photography)
Story by: Johnny Jones
You could feel the same question buzzing around everyone's mind. Some doubts rested quietly beneath the otherwise jovial atmosphere surrounding the Red Rocks parking lots. Friday attendees were already privy to the answer, but I still didn’t know — after 11 years in a row of soul shattering performances at one of the world’s greatest venues, could Sound Tribe Sector 9 still bring the heat with a new bassist?
The answer: a thunderous, resounding YES.
Alana Rocklin, the replacement for original bassist David Murphy aka Murph, joined the band in March 2014 and has elevated Sound Tribe to a whole new level of awesome. With no disrespect to Murph (who will always be remembered as the laidback frontman who constantly told the crowd “thank y’all, thank y’all so much”), Alana’s slappy bass lines added an element of funk to their sound. She brings a different energy that I was initially worried would offset STS9’s harmonious grooves, but I was happily proven wrong.
My first time seeing Alana play was during Sound Tribe’s free show in Vail’s Ford Park back in April, and her presence threw me off a bit. Who was this frizzly haired newcomer in Murph’s place? They put together an incredible show, but it was still strange seeing Sound Tribe without Murph. They were clearly still finding their rhythm.
Fast forward five months, and it's obvious that they have developed some serious chemistry.
Sound Tribe treated the sold out Saturday crowd to three sets of beautifully blistering music. They opened both nights with a special treat: an Axe The Cables set complete with fully acoustic renditions of their songs. The evening began with a cover of David Axelrod’s “The Human Abstract”, which was the first time that they had played the song live.
SET I (Axe the Cables): The Human Abstract, Pianoir, Baraka, Crystal Instrument, Moon Socket > So It Goes > Equinox, Circus
With Rocklin rocking a stand up bass and keyboardist David Phipps utilizing a full grand piano, the band showed their softer side during Axe the Cables while still maintaining that signature upbeat Tribe energy. STS9 almost seemed to be channeling their younger jam band cousins Papadosio during the set, especially during “Circus” when guitarist Hunter Brown’s ethereal guitar riffs and drummer Zach Velmer’s crescendoing stampede of beats mirrored the uplifting strums of Dosio frontman Anthony Thogmartin and rapid hammering of drummer Mike Healy. Sound Tribe raised the crowd right up into the clouds.
SET II: Totem, Untitled, Wika Chikana, F Word, Gobnugget, Vapors > Only Light Remains, Ramone & Emiglio, Rent > Moon Socket > Rent
The next two sets were textbook Tribe - back to back songs of pure unadulterated shredding but with a new twist. Sound Tribe debuted a previously unheard and untitled track after “Totem” where we first got to see Alana’s slap-happy funkiness that didn’t stop the entire night (think “Seinfeld” theme song levels of slap). When Murph was still in the band, his basslines always flowed as the songs’ consistent mellow undercurrent. But Alana’s basslines felt more present and in your face that night as if Tribe wanted us to know something: this woman is for real.
After a rousing “Vapors” that saw Phipps exploring a range of different keyboard sounds, STS9 debuted another new track called “Only Light Remains” that kept the funk train rolling. Vocals are rare in Sound Tribe songs, but this track featured a clip that encapsulates the band's new ethos: “Only light remains, never be the same, never be this lost again.” After the rift caused by Murph’s depature, the band seems to have recovered beautifully. The set rounded out with Tribe returning to total jam mode with a “Rent” that went briefly into “Moon Socket” and finished back into “Rent.” They produced music capable of making the stars silently cry tears of joy as they watched overhead.
SET III: Click Lang Echo > Inspire Strikes Back, 20-12, Golden Gate, Four Year Puma, EHM, Frequencies Peace 2 > Frequencies Peace 3, World Go Round
STS9 has always been the masters of the flowing spacey jam sessions. They craft their sets like they craft their music - long raw sections of feet stomping jams paired with enough breakdowns to give the audience a chance to catch their breath. One person who never seemed to need a break was Velmer. He kept leaping on top of his seat, a massive smile spilling across his face as we waved his arms up in the air, beckoning the crowd to match his enthusiasm. The whole band was feeding off of each other’s energy and never lost composure.
ENCORE: Luma Daylight > Tokyo, Firewall
As the final notes of the “Firewall” encore faded away into the clear Colorado skies, only one word came to mind: “whoa.” Red Rocks was collectively stunned after two nights of legendary livetronica. The question remains no more. Alana Rocklin can fill David Murphy’s shoes just fine and seems poised to play many more years of jaw dropping music.
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