Photos by: Ryan Patrick
Story by: Scotty Fuller
It’s not hard to see the love that STS9 has for the state of Georgia. Since its formation in Atlanta in 1998, the band has made at least one stop a year in Atlanta or Athens. Their earliest live recording available for download on their website is a 1998 performance at Smith’s Olde Bar in Atlanta. After almost 15 years, ATL arguably has the largest following of STS9 fans in the country. On Saturday, David Murphy, Hunter Brown, David Phipps, Zach Velmer, and Jeffree Lerner came home once again to the Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre in Alpharetta, GA, this time as a co-headliner with Umphrey’s McGee, for one of the city's most anticipated concerts of the year.
As Umphrey’s left the stage after their amazing tw-hour set, the air became electric with anticipation. Although I have covered plenty of STS9 shows, tonight would be the first time I would be able to take pictures of the band as a photographer. It would also be the first time I had seen them in Atlanta, a city I have lived in for 20 years. As the clock struck 10:05, the lights went out and the band took the stage to the sound of 5,000 screaming fans waiting for the hometown- throwdown to begin.
"Kabuki" was the opening song of choice for the band. However, the real heat started when they dropped an extra funky “Monkey Music” that had the whole amphitheater going wild as Jeffree Lerner’s bongos controlled the rhythm. From there, they laid down a “Simulator” before hoping back on the funky train with “Grow,” “Vibyl,” and “Blu Mood.” David Murphy was slapping his bass around like it said something about his mama.
What happened next was almost as strange as it was fun. Murph called out Brandan, Stasik, and Jake from Umphrey’s and busted out the Blondie song “Heart of Glass.” There were mixed reactions to this song. While it was certainly a fun song to see the two bands play, it felt out of place within an STS9 set. If Umphrey’s had brought out STS9 during their set and played the same song, I feel like it would have been met with a much warmer reaction. Regardless, it was a fun attempt at a different song, and shouldn't be taken too seriously.
After Umph left the stage, Tribe played “Inspire Strikes Back” and “March” before they gave Atlanta the best treats of the night. As the first notes of “Breathe In” were played, I started screaming like a little school girl at a One Direction concert. By the time David Phipps’ piano started playing half way through the song, I was on my back laughing and crying simultaneously. By the end of the song, I had four people’s head lying on me in what was a small part of the 3,000 person cuddle puddle on the lawn. The band literally was putting so much emotion into the song that people were dropping like flies. Some were laughing. Others were weeping. It was easily the most amazing moment I have ever been a part of at any kind of musical event. It was beautiful, emotional, and spiritual. It was Tribal.
The band kept the ball rolling with “Vapors” featuring Kenny Barto of the Justice League on the saxophone. After hearing it live, I think Vapors should always have a saxophone on it to accentuate HB’s soulful chords. After that, they closed the night with "Rent" before coming back with an encore of “This, Us” and “Golden Gate.”
If I had to rate this show, I would call it the best STS9 show I have ever seen (and I’ve seen 10). Sure, I have heard sets with more of my favorite songs, but the emotion and energy at the venue was so raw and joyful it was impossible to not smile. It is true, STS9 throws down harder and more constantly in Atlanta than anywhere else in the country. Now all there is to do is sit back and pray to the Sound Tribe Gods for another ATL New Year’s run.