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Published: 2002/03/11
by Steven Shepard

Yonder Mountain String Band, Wild Duck Music Hall, Eugene, OR- 2/23

Disco balls hovered above a comfortable and excited
crowd at Yonder Mountain String Band’s sold out show
at the Wild Duck Music Hall on Saturday night. During
the show, webcast by the Gravity Lab to send Yonder
worldwide for the first time, the quartet played two
sets of an original and expressive painting. One set
of Yonder heartbreak and another Yonder covers, both
sets dissimilar and enlightening.

The Yonder Mountain String Band plays a slight variation
bluegrass, which they term "jamgrass." The quartet
(banjo, guitar, stand-up bass, and mandolin) expands
on traditional bluegrass arrangements with precise,
high-octane finger picking and irresistible energy.
Powered by what they call "drive without drums," the
band has quite a vibe going for them. They are booking
and selling out prestigious venues and selling CD’s by the
bucketful. Which begs the question: Are they really
that good, or is all this just hype? After what I saw
at the Wild Duck on Saturday night, you’d have to be
an ostentatious grouch to not enjoy a YMSB show.

"Loved You Enough" opened the show and set the table
for a first set flavored with "you left me" songs.
After "Whitehouse Blues" and "If You’re Ever Gonna
Love Me," the storytelling peak rolled off serenely
near the end of set one with "Left Me In a Hole." A
heartbreak song that is anything but depressing, "Left
Me In a Hole" is an example of the ironic power of
YMSB’s music. Instead of inspiring you to cry into
your beer, "Left Me In a Hole" makes you want to sit
out in the sun.

Yonder Mountain’s second set was a showcase of the
band’s playful and improvisational side as the group
played a set of covers. Powered by Ben Kaufmann’s
forceful and diverse upright bass playing, "After
Midnight" capsized with mandolin player Jeff Austin’s
fresh reggae joint rap. On "Two Hits and the Joint
Turned Brown," Dave Johnston turned the banjo into a
reggae instrument. Adam Aijala’s guitar playing shined
throughout the show, but in particular on "Tiger Rag."
The band brought the lights down on the reggae element
of the show with a delectable version of "Legalize It"
with green light flying off the disco balls and fog
cascading from above.

For the encore, the band gathered the crowd around
them and played two songs without amplification. Blue
light was shining off the disco balls while Yonder
Mountain String Band played Pink Floyd’s "Goodbye Blue
Sky" to the Wild Duck, and the lights came up on a
very special show.

I’ll always remember a moment of impeccable clarity
during "Wildewood Drive," the fourth song of the first
set. After a mandolin solo by Jeff Austin, the four
arms of YMSB (banjo, guitar, mandolin, upright bass)
dissolved together to create the sound of a collective
piano. Each instrument a key pressed on by the musical
puppet master in the disco balls above.

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