Fresh off a co-headlining tour with fellow jammers Umphrey’s McGee, Sound Tribe Sector 9 (STS9) returned to Red Rocks Amphitheatre Friday night for the first of a two-night run. The band was joined by a diverse collection of guests that included AraabMuzik, Nas and Welder.
AraabMuzik opened the show with an evening set of head-bobbing instrumental hip-hop. Known as a master of the MPC midi trigger pad, his fluid live beatmaking was a refreshing and entertaining change of pace from the world of just-push-play producers.
Hip-hop legend Nas followed with a high-energy, hour-long set that many considered the highlight of the night. Joined on stage by a live drummer and DJ, the trio blasted the crowd with hit-filled medleys and booming bass. From raw classics like “New York State of Mind” and “Get Down” to radio-friendly cuts like “If I Ruled the World” and “I Can,” Nas left no era or album untouched.
After entering the stage to roaring applause, it didn’t take STS9 long to show they were inspired with an extended take of the classic “Aimlessly” that transformed the amphitheater into an instant dance party. Other first set highlights included a “Romone and Emiglio” that featured David Phipps on keyboards and a reworked, danceable “Kabuki.”
Welder, the alias of experimental producer Eskmo, performed over set break from the sound booth in the middle of the venue. Lit up by floodlights and appropriately wearing a welding helmet, Brendan Angelides brought a thought-provoking mix of downtempo mechanical sound that included the harmonies of STS9’s own “Shock Doctrine.”
In the second set, lighting director Saxton Waller continued to make the band’s collective improvisations come to life. An LED pyramid in the middle of the stage swirled together time-lapse videos of flowers blooming and other imagery during new material while resorting to a kaleidoscope of natural movers to accent organic vintage jams.
The set brought a rare “Glogli,” a jazzy “Grow” and an emotional “Equinox” before a late night encore that focused on catchy, melodic hits. An epic “Circus” erupted the crowd followed by guitarist Hunter Brown holding down the memorable guitar riff of “Moonsocket.”
With a catalog that spans 15 years, STS9 left plenty in the tank for a second night on the rocks with guests xxyyxx, Tycho, and Gold Panda on Saturday.
Nate Etter is a Boulder-based musician and a regular contributor to Reverb. You can reach him at Nate@EcoVessel.com.
Dylan Langille is a Fort Collins-based photographer and a regular contributor to Reverb. See more of his photos here.