Yonder Mountain String Band | First Avenue | Minneapolis | Review
Thousands of eager fans packed through the doors of the legendary First Avenue Nightclub on a blistering cold October night to see a semi-rare Minneapolis performance from the one and only Yonder Mountain String Band. On a seemingly endless winter tour, the band was supporting the release of their newest album YMSB EP 13’, which features four unique tracks each individually written by one member of the band. On top of the new releases, the Colorado stringers treated the nearly sold-out crowd to an electrifying performance full of rarities, covers, and feet stomping classics that had the crowd dancing from start to finish.
The first set took a few songs to get rolling, however when Yonder Mountain busted into a beautiful rendition of the Grateful Dead’s “Althea,” the set picked up a full head of steam and continued to deliver. After the Dead cover came the “Fingerprint,” which gave banjo player Dave Johnston a chance to show off his deep tone of voice. The song dissolved into “What the Night Brings,” but not before mandolinist Jeff Austin eagerly dedicated the song to a friend who had given birth to a baby girl the day before. Austin lit up the room with his signature facial expressions and quirky grins, while exchanging solos back and forth with guitarist Adam Aijala throughout the jam. After the track finished Austin reminisced of the days when the band used to play the Minnesota Zoo, claiming the most impressive pile of manure he had ever seen was at that zoo. The crowd got a kick out of the story, and Austin deemed it the perfect transition into the fan favorite “40 Miles from Denver”. The tune is always a treat and the crowd responded by singing word for word with Jeff Austin. The guitar driven “Pride of Alabama” made a rare appearance midway through the first set, marking one of the few times the band has played the song in 2013. The song was written with guitarist Benny Galloway for Yonder’s 2003 release of “Old Hands,” and its appearance was a special treat for old heads that have watched the band grow over the years.
The major highlight of the first set came in sandwich form when Yonder Mountain covered two dynamic tracks written by Danny Barnes, the legendary banjo player and founding member of the bluegrass group Bad Livers. Yonder broke into a ripping version of “Pretty Daughter” which flowed perfectly into a darker, heavier version of “Death Trip”. After some careful and patient noodling by Dave Johnson, the group transitioned back into “Pretty Daughter” to cap off the first set. Bassist Ben Kaufmann thanked the crowd and Yonder Mountain walked off stage for set break to an enormous round of applause from the Minneapolis crowd.
Set two featured a wide collection of tunes that displayed the depth of Yonder Mountain’s repertoire. The group was warmed up and seemed rather excited to be back in the cold, snowy state of Minnesota. Two John Hartford covers appeared in the second set, including a jammed out “Up On The Hill Where They Do The Boogie,” and a brief but polished version of “Holdin”. After some of the classic songs were in the books, guitarist Dave Johnston led the group through “Don’t Worry, Happy Birthday,” a track off their newest release YMSB EP 13’. The song tells the story of a man who is feeling guilty due to missing the birthday of someone he loves. Not only is it a song of guilt, but also of apology to the things that have been overlooked. The track seems only fitting for a group who lives a majority of their lives on the road, and speaks levels to just how much commitment it takes to leave everything you know and love to go on tour.
Up until midway through the set, a majority of the tunes were well executed but rather short in length. However, Yonder broke this pattern by delivering a monster 15-minute, “Snow on the Pines” that came sandwiched in perfectly in between “On the Run”. The emotion that came out of the Pines jam was enough to blow the roof clean off of First Avenue. Starting with a cheerful, uplifting tone that led to a dark jam, “Snow on the Pines” delivered on all levels. It eventually dissolved back into “On the Run” to finish the set and the boys from Colorado thanked the roaring crowd before walking off stage. It was the perfect finish to a very diverse, and interesting Yonder Mountain String Band show.
Always priding themselves by breaking the boundaries of traditional bluegrass, Yonder Mountain String Band showed Minneapolis Thursday night why they are still the kings of strings. By incorporating elements of rock n’ roll, jazz, blues, roots, and soul into their music, the band has built a sound all of their own. It’s this fusion of melodic sounds along with consistent electrifying live performances that has built them an incredibly faithful fan base that keeps coming back for more.