Yamagata has been steadily touring since 1997, mostly in the southeast, but until this past Saturday, Yamagata had never played the hotbed of Atlanta. When the Pharmer's Almanac called about coming to play the Brandyhouse, Yamagata answered the call.

Yamagata currently consists of Joe Austin (guitar and vocals), Jim Britt (drums), Matt Kirby (bass), Jeff Waldon (saxophone), Rick Dolan (trumpet), and Ross Rice (keyboards and vocals), and Joe and Jim are the only members left from the original quartet that recored the all instrumental Eveland in 1999. This is now Yamagata with it's most powerful lineup thus far. The band has been solidifying the boundaries to a new slate of songs that are being produced for an album by Ross Rice (also of Banyan, Rob Wasserman's Space Island, Human Radio, Tone Generator; and producer of FreeWorld's "Diversity" and Big Ass Truck's "Kent"). In the process of realignment, they have restructured and intensified the original instrumental jams from Yamagata's first album. These new fuller songs, many with intriguing lyrics, show a band in a creative surge, and trying to keep the rock in jam rock. With all of the new subgenres of jam music from psychedelic space jazz, to fiddle funk, to segue cover jamming and beyond, the rock seems to have been lost in all of the cross breeding. Yamagata revived it Saturday night at the Brandyhouse.

The bar began to filter towards the stage area during a set of severe rock from the Pharmers Almanac all-star band including covers of Traffic's "Light Up or Leave Me Alone", the Beastie Boys' "Sabotage", and a quadruple decker medley sandwich with Rush's "YYZ" leading the theme. After the crowd enjoyed the tight first-time rock of the all stars, the curious people in attendance were buzzing to hear what Yamagata was all about. "So what's this band sound like?" could be overheard from conversation to conversation.

At about 12:30 Yamagata came on to a stage with a four foot glowing, bubbling, multicolored tube and two extra light trees to add to the Brandyhouse setup. The band opened with a slow rising funk groove called "It" that bounces along reminiscent of the Dead's "West L.A. Fadeaway". The next three songs were all instrumentals. "Chinese Ants" - the first song on their album -includes some interesting breakdown jamming and wonderful melodic interplay between the keys and guitar. "Sliced Bread," another bouncy funk groove from Eveland, was next. This groove features a raging guitar segment, laced with backup improvisation from both the space echo trumpet and the ripping saxophone, as well as the swirling psychedelic bed from the keys. This was the first time the band explored with their multitude of delay and looping effects that build the power behind some of Yamagata's most intense jamming. "Hurling the Crusty Biscuit Ship" receieved its' name from a random pull-a-word-out-of-a-hat session after the song had been finalized, the song gives Matt the space to literally fly off the neck of his bass.

The band came back down from the ether and reached into the crowd with the third new song in a row, "Begin the Journey" which was written about some friends picking up the band after being stranded on the road when their old tour van broke down; it has a hard driving middle section that rides over 7/4 time with a very Frank Zappa feel to it, finally climaxing back to the lyrics just when the chaos seems most furious. Yamagata stayed with their new songs through "Connect" and "Cinnamon and Sulfur", the first having a bass lead that pushes the other instruments into a tight solid pocket yet providing a Floydesque feel to the vocals, while the second is balls out rock and roll with a chorus that left the crowd chanting along.

Yamagata dropped back to instrumental jamming with an extended version of "the Beast From Unda" which is "BFU" on their album. They stretched this one out, giving each player the time to construct and incorporate new themes into their solos and thus back into the main theme creating a melodious funk journey that lasted almost 20 minutes. Staying with the instrumentals and dipping into the cover bag, Yamagata invited guitar freak and chop-man supreme, Brian Overstreet from Memphis jam-fathers FreeWorld to join them for the remainder of the set. They began with a dueling guitar tornado from Overstreet and Yamagata's own Joe Austin that stomped all over the Beastie Boys' "In 3's" and eventually jelled into The Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows" with Ross Rice taking the vocals and driving the space bus that eventually took off into high gear with a set closer of "Dancing Goats". This is a guitar driven jam also from the album "Eveland" that allows Jeff Waldon to show why Yamagata is waiting for him to get his saxophone and be free from the Navy already!

After about a 25 minute break and the "spring forward" time change it quickly became 3 am in Atlanta, but Yamagata came back to dance with the beast. Yamagata played 2 powerful instrumentals, "Mud" and "Referred Pain" (both from "Eveland") to a level in which smoke was seen rising from the stage and mothers were worrying about their children far away. Both songs have long ascending jams that require and showcase the power and control of drummer Jim Britt, while allowing the full band to push themselves and their instruments to newer sonic peaks. The solo chops from each member during these jams were fascinating in themselves, but somehow working all six of them into one recurring blossom of sound is why Yamagata is making a name for themselves. The night ended with Kevin Cassels of the Pharmer's Almanac and the all-star band taking the microphone for a finale of P-Funk's "Star Child."

Yamagata came to Atlanta with a purpose and effectively got the jam fans attention. I was awestruck at the consistent ability for six (and occasionally seven) players to completely go off and still land right back with the others in the midst of intelligently structured complex music.

Beware these sonic shoguns!

-Cooper Miles
JamBase Southeast Correspondent
Go See Live Music!

[Published on: 4/3/01]

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