Yonder Mountain String Band 12.27.13

Boulder Theater
Boulder, CO

Words & Photos By Brad Yeakel (Opti Mystic Outlooks)
Audio By Corey Sandoval (Kind Recordings)

As I arrived at the Boulder Theater, Colorado's New Year's Eve celebrations were just about to kick off. With String Cheese Incident playing three nights in Broomfield, Umphrey's McGee planting their roots at Denver's Fillmore, Tea Leaf Green, Wu Tang Clan, and various other acts around the area, Yonder's five night run was more than ambitious. The theater filled in, and by the time Jeff Austin and company took the stage, there were a whole lot of people anxious to get 'grassy. The lights went down and the foursome, joined by steel guitarist Roosevelt "The Dr." Collier, was greeted with a roar. Having a player like "The Dr." on slide added an electrified element to the largely acoustic arrangement, and seemed to impart soul, gospel, and rock and roll in the mix. Roosevelt tastefully added to the ensemble while providing rhythmic depth and scorching licks. His rapid slide techniques fused elements of James Brown, Jimmy Hendrix, and Robert Randolph into a vibrant, funky, soulful soup.

Yonder Mountain String Band Live at Boulder Theater on December 27, 2013.

Davey Johnson's banjo playing was better than usual. He seemed to ride the groove a little more confidently than he did at the Red Rocks show this past summer. In a band with such copious talent, Davey held his own, and I wondered if he had been practicing harder lately, or if he just had a good night. One thing was for sure... He could easily have been mistaken as Chris Parnell from Saturday Night Live. Ho ho. Ben Kauffman has long been my favorite songwriter in the band. His ability to craft story lines into beautiful melodies was impressive. With clear, comfortable vocals and impeccable bass-playing, Ben's contribution to the band has been as powerful as any. At times he made his stand-up bass sound electric with his heavy handed slapping and effected tones. He also seemed to be incredibly friendly, approachable, down-to-earth, and genuine.

It took me a while to realize how amazing Adam Aijala's guitar playing was, but the last two shows I've seen, he has been simply fantastic. While it took him a bit to get his sound dialed in, he played crunchy licks with such fervor I half-expected to see smoke rising from the strings. Equally as quick as Jeff Austin, Adam's playing was slightly more refined, classical, and controlled. Aside from his skill in the spotlight, he and Ben Kauffman seem to be the wall on which Jeff Austin hangs his abstract musical paintings. Integral to the foundation, Adam may have been the mortar that kept these bricks together.

Finally, there was Jeff. Jeff's playing was spastic, violent, explosive, and tasty. Visions of lidless blenders spewing fruit around a clean kitchen came to mind as Austin attacked his mandolin. The erratic and maniacal style that has come to define Yonder's sound, appeared to be reckless, but was actually quite well crafted, like a Jackson Pollock painting. In fact... Jeff Austin's playing was like using a lidless blender to create a master Pollock. And he has done it repeatedly with similarly amazing results.

With the first of 5 nights ending with "New Speedway Boogie", I was happy to have had a taste of Yonder in my holiday plans. Highlights of the show included covers of Willie Nelson's "Good Hearted Woman," the Dead's "Jack a Roe" and the Beatles' "Dear Prudence" as well as an inspired "Snow on the Pines." Futureman from the Flecktones came out to finish the night off and opened the door for 5 nights of special guests, collaborations, and celebrations. Yonder Mountain String Band found themselves a great New Year's Run venue with the Boulder Theater. In an area that is over saturated with New Year's options, Yonder has earned their place year after year.

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