Words by: Adam Kaye :: Images by: Robbie Friedman
Yonder Mountain String Band :: 02.01.07 :: La Zona Rosa :: Austin, TX
Last week, Yonder Mountain String Band began their annual Cabin Fever Tour with a swing through Texas, beginning with a great show at Austin's La Zona Rosa. It had been three months since the end of the band's last tour - not counting three nights at Denver's Fillmore Auditorium for New Year's Eve - and both the band and the crowd seemed to take a little longer than usual to hit their strides.
Adam Aijala :: 02.01 :: Austin, TX
The first set began with a couple tracks off the band's new self-titled CD, "Sidewalk Stars" and "I Ain't Been Myself In Years." It's obvious the band is proud of this latest effort, and they included a good number of the new tracks throughout the show. In addition to hosting great parties all across the country, they're also looking to move those discs. All the talk has been about the addition of drums to the mix [on the CD, not the stage] but the songwriting is good too and it holds together nicely.
Opening with new tunes didn't produce immediate musical eruptions for which the band is famous, but it did give the band a chance to warm up and the audience a few extra minutes to settle in. Jeff Austin's voice and mandolin sounded great from the first note, but I suspect you could splash cold water on his face in the middle of a deep REM cycle and put the instrument in his hands, and he'd be ready to wail before you set the bucket down. Ben Kaufmann on bass and vocals really anchors the band. In fact, it's Kaufmann who allows the band to build a dance party without the help of a drum set.
"Not Far Away" came next, and the band really seemed to come together during this one. The crowd still wasn't exactly going crazy but when the song was finished they gave a hearty response. "Easy As Pie" and "A Father's Arms" were next but they didn't really stand out. Dave Johnston's banjo picking seemed a little sloppy during "Pie" and there was a lyric flub during "A Father's Arms." A nice "Lord Only Knows" led into "Boatman," which was easily the early highlight, including excellent solo work from everybody and solid collaborative jamming.
Bright & Austin :: 02.01 :: Austin, TX
Adam Aijala's guitar-playing pushed Shawn Camp's "Damned If The Right One Didn't Go Wrong" forward powerfully before the band brought up Two High String Band's Billy Bright, just as they had last year in Austin. Bright and Austin's dual-mandolin attack was fantastic and definitely carried the rest of the set through "Years With Rose" > "Cuckoo's Nest" > "East Nashville Easter." At times it felt as if the rest of the band would have enjoyed being a bigger part of this exchange, but if your focus was on Austin and Bright's 16 strings you couldn't help but be impressed.
The second set had much higher energy. Austin introduced the set by dedicating it to some dear friends with whom he had visited during the break. It was apparent from the tone in his voice and the energy on "Get Me Outta This City" that these were very special people to him, and suddenly the room felt a little smaller and more comfortable. Next, Kaufmann sang "Mother's Only Son," which was extended skillfully but seemed to be just testing the waters before some extremely unique jamming later in the set.
Dave Johnston :: 02.01 :: Austin, TX
Another song from the new album, "Night Out," was patient and sweet before "Hill Country Girl," a Benny Galloway tune, heated things up again. Austin's introduction to the next song alluded to the last time it was played and included the phrase "It was as if the Beatles had reunited onstage." Then Kaufmann continued, "Fellas, this is the song where I steal your girlfriends" and politely apologized before starting into "Must've Had Your Reasons," a beautiful ballad that had the room standing still in contemplative bliss.
The highlight of the night came next, beginning with a long, precise version of "Snow On The Pines." Before long, Austin began to wail and the rest of the band followed his lead. The idle chit-chat of the crowd was replaced by hard dancing and exclamations of bliss. This was what everybody was there for, and it catapulted what had been a good show into the next level. The space that grew out of this song is called "Robot Jam" on the setlist but that's just because it had to be called something. It was no longer "Snow On The Pines" but it would eventually return to it. At times, it was nearly still. At others it had a Middle Eastern flair, thanks mostly to the banjo and guitar. Billy Bright was back in the fold, but instead of taking center stage with Austin, he melded perfectly into the sound. They finished exploring uncharted territory and returned to the present from which they'd departed.
YMSB :: 02.01 :: Austin, TX
To wrap things up, we were treated to a stellar set-closing "No Expectations" before being rewarded during the encore with a strong version of the band's anthem, "If There's Still Ramblin' in the Rambler (Let Him Go)" wrapped around a feel-good, sing-along version of The Faces' "Ooh La La," best known for its chorus, "I wish that I knew what I know now, when I was younger."
Yonder is back on the road, and they're certain to be passing through your town soon. If you're in the Southeast, they're on the way. If you live elsewhere, they'll be there soon. They're great hosts and they have a good time doing it. If you're not having a good time at a Yonder show you're doing something wrong.
Set I: Sidewalk Stars> Ain't Been Myself In Years, Not Far Away, Easy As Pie, A Father's Arms, Lord Only Knows (Part One) > Boatman, 40 Miles from Denver, Damned If The Right One Didn't Go Wrong, Years With Rose* > Cuckoo's Nest* > East Nashville Easter*
Set II: Get Me Outta This City, Mother's Only Son, Night Out, Hill Country Girl, Must've Had Your Reasons, Snow on the Pines* > Robot Jam* > Snow on the Pines*, Midwest Gospel Radio > High on a Hilltop, What You're Selling, Night Is Left Behind, Troubled Mind, No Expectations*
E: If There's Still Ramblin' in the Rambler (Let Him Go)* > Ooh La La* > Rambler Reprise*
* Billy Bright on mandolin
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