When Yonder Mountain String Band gets the chance to play in Boulder, Colorado, they don’t pull any punches. The supposed “warm-up” show at the Boulder Theater the night before New Year’s Eve was filled with high-energy performances and dazzling musicianship that left the capacity crowd satisfied and happily exhausted by the time the music stopped at 1:30.
The set started off innocently enough, with just the original four members of YMSB playing favorites such as “Out of the Blue,” “River,” and “Loved You Enough.” They were all crowd-pleasers for sure, but you could sense the restless anticipation in the crowd. It seemed as though the band was priming them for what was to come.
After a magnificent cover of The Beatles’ “Only a Northern Song,” the band brought out special guests Christian Teele on the drums and Hot Rize bassist/E-Town host Nick Forster, and the show took a decidedly amplified turn. The vibe changed completely, with Teele’s steady drumming and Forster’s electric guitar wizardry energizing everyone in the theater.
Eventually, Ben Kaufmann and Adam Aijala plugged in and swapped their normal acoustic instruments for electric ones to play songs never before performed live by Yonder. It started with “I Second That Emotion”, the Smokey Robinson song that most of the crowd recognized as a tune the Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia Band used to cover fairly regularly. Ben then sang a new, hard-rocking honky-tonkish song dubbed “Love What I Do For a Living,” which was, appropriately enough, about playing music in a smoky bar. The first set ended with a nice, extended “East Nashville Easter,” leaving the audience buzzing with eagerness for the next round.
The second set began with Yonder playing as their usual foursome again. The band wasted no time, smacking the crowd in its collective face with a huge “Peace of Mind” as their very first song. Dave Johnston’s long banjo solo feverishly built the audience to a boil, and when the song finally ended the crowd showed their appreciation with thunderous applause and stomping that seemed to even surprise the band. It sounded like the applause you might hear after the last song of the last night of the four night run, not the first song of the second set of music. “Lighten up, would ya?” Aijala jokingly remarked.
The band then eased the crowd back down with some slower numbers, but again this was only because of what was to come. The special guests were brought back out for another stellar sequence of plugged-in jamming. They busted out another Beatles cover, with Aijala again shredding the electric guitar on “Hey Bulldog.” Next Yonder again performed another song they had never played live, as Jeff Austin took over vocal duties on a cover of The Who’s “The Seeker.” Teele definitely did justice to Keith Moon, and Aijala and Forster blew the roof off with loud, massive guitar solos.
The second set closed with a rowdy “Traffic Jam”, where the band jammed into Peter Tosh’s “Legalize It” then back to “Traffic Jam.” “Legalize It” featured some amusing vocal distortion and hilarious improvised statements from the band, with Johnston admitting they “just make this (stuff) up as they go along.” Yonder then played the first two songs of the encore, “Dreams” and “Southbound” as a foursome before bringing out Teele and Forster for one last go-around. The weary faithful that had stayed the entire show were rewarded with a mammoth take on the Grateful Dead’s “Shakedown Street.”
With one night left on the four night run, there is little doubt that Yonder will be bringing the thunder on New Year’s Eve. The second set from this night is going to be difficult to top. That being said, if there is one band that can consistently exceed expectations, it’s this one.