LIVE: Yonder Mountain String Band @ Alive at Five, 7/9/15
Review by Greg Haymes
Photographs by Stanley Johnson, Tim Reidy
Unfortunately, the rain forced the relocation of the concert to the parking lot at the Corning Preserve Boat Launch under the I-787 highway.
At the start of their set, bassist Ben Kaufmann joked, “Welcome to the show under the overpass.” And the rain site is unquestionably the most inhospitable concert venue in all of Greater Nippertown, as the music competed with the rumbling of cars and trucks overhead, as well as the steady roar of vendors’ generators. And the concrete setting added an insurmountable reverb to the sound, which wreaked havoc with the mix – especially with upper-register bluegrass instruments like the mandolin and banjo.
But by the end of the show, even Kaufmann grudgingly admitted, “Well, it’s way better than not getting to play music at all.” And there was no question that the crowd agreed with him…
Reconstituted with the recent addition of fiddler Allie Kral and mandolin master Jacob Jolliff following last year’s departure of founding member Jeff Austin, the veteran Yonder Mountain String Band is a bluegrass band with definite jam-band leanings. They opened with the uptempo narrative “On the Run,” extending the instrumental soloing over a relentless acoustic groove for 10 minutes. The following tune nearly reached the 20-minute mark.
During the show, each member of the quintet stepped up to the microphone for at least one lead vocal, although Kaufmann, guitarist Adam Aijala and banjoist Dave Johnson handled the bulk of the singing. And the harmonies were pitch perfect, too.
They’re on tour in support of their new album, Black Sheep, and those new tunes – especially “Insult and an Elbow” and the magnificent “Drawing a Melody” – were definite highlights. But the band also reached back into their deep song catalog for nuggets like “Not Far Away” and the rockabilly boogie of “Ripcord Blues.” They pulled out a few choices covers, too, like Jolliff’s lone lead vocal on Jonathan Edwards’ “Don’t Cry Blue.”
But far-and-away the stunner of the night was a sprawling, rip-roaring rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s early “It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City” with Bob Dylan’s “Spanish Harlem Incident” sewn into the middle by Jolliff’s most avant-garde playing of the night. Simply epic.
Looking like a scraggly quartet of mountain men reluctant to leave their moonshine still unattended, Saranac Lake’s charmingly rambunctious Blind Owl Band opened the evening with an hour of righteously ragged foot-stompin’ music, including such gems as “Davey Jones” and “Map With Roads,” both from their latest album, This Train We Ride Is Made of Wood and Steel. But they also peppered their set with fired-up, rollicking renditions of the traditional “Cluck Old Hen” and the Allman Brothers’ “Whipping Post.”
UPCOMING: The Alive at Five concert series continues at the Corning Preserve’s Jennings Landing in Albany on Thursday (July 23) with the Edgar Winter Band. Local 518 faves Charmboy kick off the festivities at 5om. Admission is, of course, free.
GO HERE for a complete list of the Alive at Five concerts for the summer of 2015…