Closing out the second of two nights at the Terrapin Crossroads Grate Room and the third night in the San Francisco Bay Area proper, Yonder Mountain String Band created a whirlwind of cosmic four-on-the-floor mountain disco.
The single, 2+ hour set from Dave Johnston, Jacob Joliff, Ben Kauffman, Adam Aijala and Allie Krall was laden with cover songs and nearly bookended by selections from bluegrass pioneers The Stanley Brothers.
Starting focused and with a narrow intensity through the first few songs, including the Buzzcocks’ 1978 track “Ever Fallen In Love” which appears on YSMB’s 2015 studio release Black Sheep, the band was clearly settled in and striding. The opening notes, reminiscent of Bowie’s “Lets Dance”, was foreshadowing the party to come.
The band members took several turns in the spotlight, trading licks and phrases between verses and refrains. To start, they were taking several measures at a time, stretching and feeling the songs out. By the end of the performance, the tempo and shuffle had increased to the point that every measure was a new solo from a new instrument, started and finished and back again before you knew where it went.
20 minutes into the set, as the instrumentation creeped into the main theme for the Dolly Parton classic “Jolene”, the musical liftoff from the mountain to a cosmic space was apparent. Krall cannot receive enough praise for the work she puts into delivering and owning such a heart-wrenching plea so wonderfully.
After touching ground again, “High on the Hilltops”, YSMB welcomed the opening act, Handmade Moments, to the stage for a take on the Hall and Oates classic “I Can’t Go For That” with lead vocals handled by Anna Moss. Check it out below!
“I Can’t Go For That”
[Video: Must Have Media]
Halfway through the set, the band blew up the “Winds of Wyoming”, with firey, trailblazing leads passed back and forth between Aijala and Johnston. Often times throughout the jam, earthy and grassy gusts of wind intermingled with the harsh psychedelic experience of space wind, much like the nighttime prairie sky.
Following the epic battle of the winds, YSMB invited Terrapin Crossroads regular performer Scott Law to the stage for a pair of songs. An 18-minute deconstruction of space and time in the Talking Heads’ “Girlfriend is Better” and another 10 minutes on the Yonder original, “Fingerprint”. Check out the Talking Heads cut below!
“Girlfriend Is Better”
[Video: Must Have Media]
Another pair of more traditionally grass tunes, their original “Leave Me In a Hole” and the Ralph Stanley speed-picking tune “Bound To Ride”, warmed them up for another major surprise. An Egyptian-gilded spaghetti western theme began to rise. “It feels like we’re inside Pulp Fiction!” someone mused. It was hard to disagree.
The droning melody continued to take flight, and eventually, the outline of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” became clear. The building erupted and filled the room on the vocal line with Krall. The build up into release was incredibly pulled off, and the end of the song eventually segued into “Sidewalk Stars” to close the set.
Less than a minute after walking off the stage, the band returned for a single song encore performance of “Black Sheep”, including a distorted guitar and punk rock ending.