STS9 Pushes the Sky in Colorado

Earlier this month, STS9 made their triumphant return to Colorado for an epic 3-night run. It kicked off with an instrumental improv set at the Paramount Theater in downtown Denver before moving on to two jam-packed nights at Red Rocks. Here’s my review of this massive weekend of music with Sound Tribe Sector 9 in Colorado.

Wook-cation’s All I Ever Wanted

There’s nothing I love more in the summer than traversing the country seeing live music. I’ve had a couple of huge summers over the years full of shows and festivals, like that time we had a whole month of music. Unfortunately, I had to be a bit picky with my time this year. After having the best SCamp ever over Memorial Day weekend, I spent the rest of the summer working. #adulting sucks sometimes…

It was a long couple of months, but I’d say we made the right call. We decided to end the summer with a blowout trip full of live music. I dubbed it our “wook-cation” as we headed to Colorado for 7 shows in 11 nights. After seeing JRAD on the Rocks and my 100th Phish show at Dick’s, we boarded our spaceships and got ready to blast off with the STS9 crew once again.

I’ve been a fan of Sound Tribe Sector 9 since way back in the day. If my memory serves me correctly, someone dropped a live recording in as an extra on a CD trade when I was in high school. Yes, I’m that old. I vividly remember popping that disc in while driving my mini-van around my hometown and being completely blown away. 

Over the years, I’ve seen plenty of STS9 shows. Some were amazing, some were disappointing. For a while there, I’ll admit that I wasn’t really feeling the direction of the band. Oh my have they turned it around! Their setlists have been more creative than ever recently, and the addition of the all-improv “Wave Spell” sets has breathed new life into the band and their sound.

That’s why I jumped at the opportunity to extend our “wook-cation” another week and pick up some 3-night passes for their Colorado run. I had yet to see a Wave Spell set in person, so I figured now was as good a time as any. 

Wave Spell

I wasn’t the only one with the bright idea, as the line stretched around the block outside the Paramount Theater on a warm Thursday night in Denver.

The crystals and dreadlocks that were at my first STS9 show were still there, but a few things were different. Wooks zipping around the street on scooters, drinking White Claws, and ripping vapes is a good way to sum up where we are in 2019.

Despite getting in line a bit late, we still managed to hold down a solid spot up in the balcony. I know many will disagree with this decision and say that the floor is the place to be, but I’d rather be elevated in the show to fully take in the lights. And damn were they good all weekend long!

A 2-hour show that’s nothing but instrumental improv is a bit tough to review. All I’ll say is that it was a high-energy dance party in the intimate theater all night long. They brought legendary turntablist Chris Karns out to add a nice element to the improv. I’ve already re-listened to the set twice and see it remaining in my heavy rotation for a while.

This show was somewhat of a family reunion, as I saw tons of friends I used to crush Sound Tribe runs with back in the day. It’s great that despite living far apart and not seeing each other very often, we can all come together for a few nights with an awesome soundtrack. 

Red Rocks

One of the best things about going to shows for me these days is reuniting with old friends. I haven’t really lived in the US for over ten years now, so it’s rare that I get the chance to catch a run of shows with my old crew.

For this STS9 run, my wife and I crashed with my college roommate at his new house in Lakewood, just a 15-minute drive from Red Rocks. Back in our freshmen year of college, I once gave said friend his first STS9 bootleg. Well, he’s seen over 150 shows now, including countless New Year’s runs and even Mayan Holidaze. I’m glad I had a part in that!

After a nice little pre-game full of laughs, tunes, and yes maybe a White Claw or two (I add a splash of vodka to kick it up a notch!), we headed out to the world-famous venue. There really is no place quite like Red Rocks. If you haven’t seen a show there yet, put it high on your bucket list for 2020!

With my photo pass in hand, I headed into the venue a bit early to get a spot up in the pit. I’m not necessarily a concert photographer, but I am a Summer Camp Counselor! It’s nice being able to bring my DSLR with an extra lens into a show thanks to my Camp Counselor status. I think I got a few decent shots up there, too!

Once they kicked me out of the pit, I headed up to Row 38 to find my crew. We would hold down the same spot for both nights, about halfway to the top of the venue. The vantage point up there is excellent. Not only do you get a full view of the light show, but you can also check out the Mile High City’s skyline in the distance.

STS9 has played Red Rocks many times dating back to 2003, and they always do something special at the historic venue. This year, they promised to “Push the Sky” with two 3-set shows. They also added some pretty solid support at the last minute with Ott and Eprom, who played between the first and second sets.

I like to think I’m pretty good with words, but STS9 summed the concept up perfectly so I’ll just borrow theirs:

“Our new ‘Push The Sky’ concept will allow us to take the open space of the amphitheater to create an immersive production around our theme of universal mythology… using our music, art and production to create transcendent moments and guide us towards the cosmos to deepen our connection with the universe.”

If that was the goal they set out to achieve, then STS9 absolutely hit it out of the park! The production was out of this world, with what was probably the best light show I’ve ever seen out of them. Kudos to the whole crew for putting that one together!

For how many times I’ve seen Sound Tribe and how often I listen to them, I still have a hard time remembering song titles. I’m not the only one, as the lack of lyrics makes it a bit tricky to identify songs by name.

That being said, I can hum along to most of them and they definitely played some of my favorites over the two nights at Red Rocks. There was an insane “Dance > STS9 > Inspire Strikes Back > STS9” plus a huge “Kamuy” with teases of “Push It” by Salt-N-Pepa on night one. The second night had some of my favorite tunes throughout, such as “We’ll Meet in Our Dreams” and my “dance like a fool” jam “Click Lang Echo.”

With opening acts on each night, three sets of STS9, and the Ott/Eprom sets in the middle, it really was a marathon of music out in the mountains. In total, we spent around four hours in the venue each night, and we didn’t even catch the openers! 

In the end, my legs were sore from walking up and down the stairs and dancing, while my face was sore from smiling. It was a magical three nights grooving with friends to one of our favorite bands. More than 20 years into their career as a band, STS9 continues to push the limits, and on this incredible weekend in Colorado, they were also able to Push the Sky.

Camp Counselor Sasha on FacebookCamp Counselor Sasha on InstagramCamp Counselor Sasha on Youtube
Camp Counselor Sasha
Camp Counselor Sasha
Sasha is an English-teaching, language-learning, jamband-following live music and travel junkie. He and his wife write about living abroad, long-term travel, and going on tour at Grateful Gypsies.