Jeff Austin Band & Ben Larsen 2.16.17

Mississippi Studios
Portland, OR

Words by Mitch Melheim
Photos by Coleman Schwartz Media

Every hippie’s favorite scatting mandolinist brought the newest configuration of his band to Portland, Oregon for an intimate show at the quaint Mississippi Studios. What has thus far been an ever-changing cast of musicians, I’ve gone into every Jeff Austin Band show that I’ve seen feeling a bit unsure of what to expect, but left all of them excited that the fiery and dark side of the old Yonder Mountain String Band still lives on.

A pretty and pleasant solo set by Ben Larsen of Crow & the Canyon opened the night before the thunderstorm that is Jeff Austin took the stage. New banjo player Kyle Tuttle immediately won me over with some truly impressive playing in the opening song. After the departures of Danny Barnes and Ryan Cavanaugh, two of the best banjo players I’ve ever seen live, I was admittedly pessimistic about the chances of Austin finding a replacement that could hold a candle to them, but he has.

“Half Moon Rising” came shortly after and brought the casual listeners into the fold with a nice sing along that was followed by a scorching “Red-Haired Boy” which kicked the hootenanny into high gear. The energy remained apparent for the rest of the set that included Austin’s “Underground” and a raucous “Raleigh & Spencer” that was the obvious highlight of the set.

The second set started with a fan-shouted request to play Mariah Carey, to which Austin responded by unbuttoning his shirt and beginning to sing “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” Another old Yonder tune “Dawn’s Early Light” kicked off the set and brought upon a grandiose exhibition of instrumental exploration that was only topped by the “Ragdoll” > “Boys On The Hill” > “Ragdoll” segment that appeared later in the set.

Austin’s biggest solo hit “15 Steps” provided us with it’s catchy presence before a dark and energetic set-closing “Death Trip” sealed the deal via Austin’s scatting and Tuttle’s wild banjo effects. New guitarist Mike Robinson also stuck out during this set-closing jam and seems to have the ability to add to the band’s sound as he settles into his role. Speaking of dark and energetic (as we always are when it comes to Jeff Austin) the band encored with a vicious “Reuben’s Train” that sent everybody away sweaty and scared, out of the Mississippi and back home to safety.

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