Yak Attack 12.31.18

The Goodfoot Pub and Lounge
Portland, OR

Words by Maximo Menchaca
Photos by Coleman Schwartz Media

New Year’s Eve is a time for reflecting backwards and looking forwards. A concert is the perfect environment for resetting intentions. My usual haunt has been Umphrey’s McGee’s venue, but I know I made the right decision to spend my New Year’s Eve with Yak Attack and the “Yak Pak” at the Goodfoot this time.

Let me say it bluntly: this show might be the end of an era. It was an unseasonably chilly night in Portland, but you wouldn’t have guessed it from the line wrapping around the corner. Yak and Brett McConnell, the man on the lights, were in full force. The current trio - Nick Werth on the drum kit, Rowan Cobb on bass guitar, and Dave Dernovsek on keys, guitar, and looping – spent diligent years growing a fanbase and honing their craft right here at the Goodfoot. All that hard work finally culminated in not only playing this familiar venue on a holiday, but selling it out!

Many of the audience members in attendance that night were some of the OG crew that first fell in love with the band. Being at a Yak Attack show is home for many of us. Getting it with a jam band is a great feeling, and Yak has “it” - that moment of sublime experience is an orgasm. In that groove, the brain dances as hard as the body. Once they hooked us, we were compelled to keep chasing that high. And so we came together around this trio right in our backyard. Feeling that connection and trust in a community of musicians and fellow fans is something that will never leave me.

The feeling is almost indescribable, but it was very present in the room throughout the night. Each set was a solid statement of the band’s past, present, and future. Fittingly, Kellen Asebroek (of Fruition) and Aniana, two of the trio’s oldest collaborators, were fixtures of both the dance floor and microphone. While Asebroek singing is styled after slow, dreamy R&B, Aniana has a feral and unbridled energy behind her voice.

The first set contained many rarer cuts. “Oobdisk” and “Kinetic Dub Station” are two personal favorites, but the highlight of the set was a jam in the middle portion, soaring and swooping out of nowhere. Asebroek came on stage to sing the Yak original “Silence is the Enemy” which transitioned into Anderson Paak’s “Am I Wrong.” Set closer “U + Me (+ Us)” featured a groovy bass solo by birthday boy Rowan Cobb – who got an audience-full serenade of “Happy Birthday” for his troubles.

Even though the band is only nearing their 6th birthday, the set made clear there is already a definite style and vintage Yak sound. Nick is a dynamo. I am amazed how he can power indefatigably through hours of music. He isn’t Yak’s first drummer, but he has become central to the group’s sound and ethos. Rowan is usually decked in a space invader hat, and it’s clear, no matter how tight his grooves are, that he is having fun - contagious fun! - filling in the space between Nick and Dave. And Dave himself… man. He is an absolute master at keys and guitar, and on top of that, makes live looping look simple. Doing any one of these things on their own is pretty damn impressive. His ability to build and loop earworm riffs on top of each other to create a tasty jam without sounding too muddled is a scary thing to pull off. But he does it! It’s a complete channeling of musical expression.

The group strikes the right balance in the live experience. They are extremely high-energy and dance-able, but don’t hit you with the same exhausting frequency all night. The trio sounds full and rich without being overwhelming. McConnell’s lighting work and lasers add the right extra flavor. At times evoking Lotus or STS9, the group is really all their own. Yak Attack have forged uplifting and infectious house music.

This was a very big year for Yak Attack. They played a ton of festivals – Beltane, Joshua Tree, Beanstalk, Northwest String Summit, Element, Wave Spell – just to name a few! In short, a lot of exposure. If set one was a portrait of the band at present, showing off their signature sound to the hometown crowd, the second set was a glimpse at personal growth, pushing the boundaries and growing. It was the most adventurous set I’ve seen the band do – risky for a holiday show! Rather than have me sum it up, I’ll just quote Rowan: “That was a little wacky.” The group jammed “Strange Water” with almost 40 minutes of improvisation. It was jazzy and weird, full of bebop scales and dissonance. And still, somehow, the band crafted something toe-tapping and soul-moving. We were lost in it and barely remembered there was a new year arising. As 2018 passed into the rear-view mirror, Asebroek came on stage and led the crowd into the countdown.

Kisses. Hugs. Shouts of ecstasy. The Earth has made it around the sun once more, and we all seek out new beginnings. And Yak Attack has plenty of that to look forward to. Their success on the festival circuit this year has brought them good fortune. After turning heads at Wave Spell this year, they are opening for Sound Tribe on their California dates later this month. Many newcomers were at the show all night, but once the ball dropped, the floor was a little roomier. No matter – people were still pushing up onto the stage, as packed, as close, and as connected.

To a lot of us, Yak Attack is still that exciting trio growing up at the Goodfoot. It wasn’t surprising that set three was a look into the past. It was a shout-out to the hardcore fans. It was a thank you. The band got here because we came out and supported them night in and night out. Asebroek and Aniana, their oldest collaborators, hopped on stage during this set to celebrate the end of the night with us, including “I’m Singin’ Everything,” a cut off of Yak’s debut album, and a cover of Thundercat’s “Heartbreaks and Setbacks.”

I may not have a crystal ball, but I can look forward into 2019. A new era dawns for Yak. The rooms are getting bigger. 2018 was their first time headlining the Nectar Lounge in Seattle and their first time on stage at the Crystal Ballroom in Portland. On New Year’s Eve, the faithful Yak Pak were there, like proud parents, excited to see them jump off into 2019. The band is going to go out there and the rest of the jam scene is going to discover the pride of the Northwest, Yak Attack. But on this night, for this set, they were still ours.



Set One: Hear the Sound, Oobdisk > Kinetic Dub Station > Birds of Paradise > Silence is the Enemy [1], Am I Wrong [2], U + Me (+ Us)

Set Two: Strange Water [3], Club Hit, Return of the Yak [4]

Set Three: Jellied Fire > Pump and Dump > Safety Third > Fixation > I’m Singin’ Everything [5], Heartbreaks and Setbacks [6], New Song (Untitled), Receiver [7]

[1] With Kellen Asebroek on vocals
[2] Anderson Paak, with Kellen Asebroek on vocals
[3] Midnight countdown with Kellen Asebroek
[4] Cover of “Return of the Mack” by Mack Morrison, with Kellen Asebroek and Aniana on vocals
[5] With Aniana on vocals
[6] Thundercat, with Kellen Asebroek and Aniana on vocals
[7] The New Deal


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