Yonder Mountain String Band deliver lively show

A review of the Yonder Mountain String Band at the House of Blues on October 29, 2010

, Staff Writer

When the Yonder Mountain String Band comes to town, it’s always a treat. The band hit Boston’s House of Blues last Friday,  and proved they are one of the most consistently entertaining bands touring right now by delivering a spectacular display of musicianship.

After walking on stage to high accolades, goading the audience into more cheers (“Don’t stop yelling, we get really nervous when you stop yelling”), the band kicked things off with “Out Of The Blue”. The tune ran through its vaguely Grateful Dead-esque verse and chorus, followed by a good four minutes of musical introduction to the band members. The three non-bass players took turns playing a few bars each, passing solo duties onto the next man, for a few choruses. Jeff Austin seemed particularly on his game during this one, letting loose an impeccable string of notes on his tiny mandolin that carried far to the back of the House. That’s not to say the other band members weren’t themselves fiendish improvisers, but their due would come as the show continued on.

The next song, a rendition of Pete Wernick’s “Pow Wow The Indian Boy”, featured Dave Johnston prominently on the banjo, who took a leading role, fingerpicking immaculately through the whole thing. “Ain’t No Way Of Knowing” followed, the first really traditional-sounding bluegrass tune. Guitarist Adam Aijala was front-and-center for this one, taking over lead vocal duties while the others provided close harmony during the chorus.

The set continued for a good stretch of about fifteen songs. One of the most enjoyable tunes for the crowd was John Hartford’s “Granny Woncha Smoke Some”, which started off as a lazy, wandering ballad about smoking pot and quickly worked itself into a frenetic dance tune, so fast to the point that the musicians could barely get the lyrics in quick enough. The end of the set provided the expected peak before setbreak. The band dropped into “Casualty” bassist Ben Kaufmann taking lead vocals. After a short bout of improv, the band segued into “Keep On Going”, which they’d started a couple songs earlier, and finished up, ending the set.

What’s great about a Yonder Mountain show is how supportive and energetic the crowd is. At a lot of concerts nowadays, members of the audience are content to stand still and listen passively, or, worse, record the whole damn thing on their cell phones. Yonder fans generally avoid both of these pratfalls, unapologetically dancing for nearly three hours straight, and having seen the band enough times that a crappy cell phone recording isn’t necessary. It’s heartening to hear a cheer go up from the crowd whenever a well-loved song is played, and the band definitely feeds off of this energy, engaging in banter through a show.

“Illinois Rain” started off the second set, another fast-paced bluegrass tune that got the crowd’s blood flowing after standing around during the break, followed by its polar opposite, “Dreams”, a much more wistful tune. The set pretty much continued in similar fashion to the first: lengthy, virtuosic bouts of improv, an ecstatic crowd, and a very friendly band. The “suite” that ended the show started with “Angel”, a very country-flavored tune that wove into “Follow Me Down To the Riverside”, a much faster tune that served as an avenue for improvisation, before the band fell back into “Angel” to close things out. The two-song encore consisted of the Grateful Dead’s “New Speedway Boogie”, followed by “Let Me Fall”, one more frenetic bluegrass tune, in case anyone had any extra energy left over.

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