Yonder Mountain String Band, Congress Theatre, Chicago, IL- 10/6
When word began to spread through crowds of Kinfolk stuck in will-call hell outside the Congress Theatre, that the one-time Chicago native members of YMSB were watching the last outs of the Cubs post-season, the atmosphere turned bittersweet. For those upset by Major League Baseball, and those saddened over missing the Wood Brothers' opening set, rumors that Yonder had yet to take the stage relieved tension in the growing lines outside Chicago’s north side.
Inside the theatre however, Cubbie blues lingered; the show’s onset included stage banter regarding the Austin family’s ability to curse out a television set, and a “Ramblin’ in the Rambler” where Cubs fans were encouraged to bellow the four letter profanity of their choice. Offering distressed audience members a little “Peace of Mind,” the show opener itself was brought straight through first-set darkness by Dave Johnston’s banjo heroics. Johnston’s soloing emerged as a driving force throughout concert, though most evidently during “On the Run,” which came nestled mid-Rambler Jam, and in “No Expectations,” where Adam Aijala’s otherwise bright and bighting six string gun-slinging, was no match for the sheer volume of Johnston’s Gatling onslaught.
Always a wise angler, guest drummer Jon Fishman steered clear of the muggy swampland condensing inside the Congress, and waited coolly stage left until joining just before the set’s closure. Donning dark rimmed spectacles and resembling Harry Potter on mandolin steroids, Jeff Austin delivered story time with a brief Phishing trip down nostalgia lane, followed by a riotous version of Danny Barnes’ “Death Trip” (worthy of any Chicago sports upset). The juiced up “Death Trip” included what were perhaps the night’s most earnest of Austin’s pseudo-scat vocalisms; a live phenomenon almost as quintessentially Austin as his glow-stick reprimands.
With the announcement of “Fish’s” presence for the second set’s entirety, “How bout You,”- a song for fans unfamiliar with the days when “drums free” music was something the band prided themselves in, came rather predictably. The second set also featured “Steep Grade, Sharpe Curve,” a naturally percussive arrangement which accepted Fishman’s contributions somewhat unaffectedly. “Kentucky Mandolin” offered argument for the show’s pinnacle, and culminated in a bass and drum solo with Chris Wood and Ben Kaufmann simultaneously sharing the high and low end (respectively) of Kaufmann’s instrument. Kaufmann and Wood’s dueling bass- and near embrace- reminded the audience that, baseball or no baseball, this was indeed the Kinfolk festival, and that real men are not afraid to handle one another’s uprights.