When you wake up with a band’s songs in your head for a week straight, it’s an undeniable sign they have left a powerful impression. In the case of Yarn, it might be something of a survival strategy. It’s possible my neurons are so attracted to their music, my brain is doing the only thing possible to keep the rest of my body from going into withdrawal; Or maybe I just have issues. Judging by the audience reaction from the show they played on Saturday, June 4, I’m not alone. Once more people hear the recording, we might have to start a support group.
The last time Yarn was here back in November, they were touring with guest fiddle player, Tim Carbone, from Railroad Earth. They sold the place out and everyone was left in a state of awe. I thought to myself, “This band is really good, but it’s hard to imagine them without Tim Carbone.” Fast forward to now and their momentum has surged exponentially. The Crazy Horse hosted the West Coast CD Release Party for their latest effort: This is the Year. We sold the place out again and I’ll bet Tim Carbone was the furthest guy from most people’s minds.
Yarn is a band hitting its prime and ready to fulfill a destiny for greatness. The sense of inevitability surrounding that outcome feels absolute. They are the rare group which is brilliant in the studio and dazzling on stage. Yet the two are mutually exclusive. You have to see them live to understand their true rebel spirit and how they feed off a raucous crowd. You also have to hear their album to grasp their impeccability. Are they country? Are they Americana? Are they rock? Yes. Do they transcend genre? That’s a fair assessment. We can see them growing into much bigger venues, but on this night, the Crazy Horse was just the sort of dark, sweaty roadhouse these freewheeling Brooklynites needed.
The early part of the show encapsulated the band’s streamlined, country vibe. They whipped through a handful of songs, getting everyone’s blood pumping. Fundamental as it may be, it’s the timeless combination of musicianship and songwriting which comprises the whole ball of Yarn. The setlist leaned heavier on older material and it was notable to see how their songs have matured over the years. The crowd sang along every chance it got. One couldn’t help but wonder: “How are these people so in sync with this band?
Frontman and rhythm guitarist Blake Christiana is the constant center of attention with his warm, weathered voice and frequent howls. There’s no need to stretch your imagination to understand his familiarity with both good times and heartbreak. His optimistic lyrics are especially endearing as this is clearly a guy happy to learn from experience rather than dwelling on regret. Considering that local radio station KVMR was live broadcasting the show, his propensity towards profanity was in poor taste. As time goes by, he’ll likely learn to trust his talent over showmanship. Considering he has a song as infatuating as “Love/Hate” in his quiver, it’s hard not to like where this is headed.
Lead guitarist Rod Hohl tackles solos with a “leap first, look later” vigor. This is balanced by his fluttery, laid back tone. His vocal counterpoint is a welcome addition. Yarn doesn’t seem to warrant the ubiquitous “jamband” moniker, however, a number of songs extended past the ten minute mark. This was not a result of gratuitous meandering. It was four guys shot out of a cannon, having too much fun to hold back. The yankees even showed us they aren’t too shabby in the funk department – laying down a super groovy rendition of the Jackson 5’s “Shake Your Body.”
It was no coincidence that two of the longest songs – Roadhouse and Abilene – happened to be major highlights of the night. By the time they reached the latter, Christiana had broken almost every string on his guitar at one point or another. While he dealt with repair, the band didn’t skip a beat, surrendering into a swirling cauldron of rhythmic stew. Stand up bassist, Rick Bugel, shined throughout the show and especially here. Digging in to the primal capabilities of his mighty instrument, his fingers blurred across the strings, leaving trails in their wake. Drummer Robert Bonhomme deserves a lot of credit for bestowing Yarn their infectious bounce. He also loves putting his head down and propelling them into a thunderstorm. When they emerged out of the woods into the final verse of “Abilene,” a wave of euphoria washed over the crowd.
There was one final treat to be savored. After the point when most bands would have packed it in and called it a night, Yarn served up the ultimate dose of bliss with Neil Young’s “Helpless.” Time stood still as Christiana’s voice commanded the reverence embodied by the universally adored composition. Local hero Bob Woods added a tasty guitar solo as he had on several other songs in the second set. People’s faces beamed with angelic glow as we all merged together in the love-filled moment. The power of music can’t be overstated and how can we be anything but grateful to experience it so purely?
Epilogue: Two days after this show, Yarn played in front of thousands of people at San Francisco’s Crissy Field for a Bernie Sanders rally. Yep…This is the Year!