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ISSUE 118 VOL 19 PUBLISHED 5/6/2005

Guster rocks, mocks alcohol-charged crowd

By Stephanie Soucheray
Variety Editor

Friday, May 6, 2005

Playing to a crowd of alcohol-charged undergraduates, the popular trio Guster performed at the St. Thomas April 29 as part of the school’s “Best Spring Ever” week.

Guster took the stage at St. Thomas’ Schoenecker Arena after opening act The Zambonis finished their set. This hockey-songs-only group played an inspired (if bizarre) set of songs about icing, body checks and legendary hockey coach Herb Brooks.

Guster’s front man, Ryan Miller, greeted the crowd after playing an energetic “What You Wish For” from 1999's Lost and Gone Forever, the band’s breakthrough (and best) album.

Miller had slightly vitriolic, sarcastic exchanges with the crowd all night, often referencing the school’s population of “95-pound Catholic girls who want to show us their [breasts] but can’t.” The boozy crowd forgave him, or else didn’t notice those remarks.

It’s likely that they were too busy watching Guster’s percussionist, congador Brian Rosenworcel, who is the band’s real star. Only trading in his hands for sticks during a few songs of the 90-minute set, Rosenworcel hit the cymbals and bongos with such energy and ferocious, hair-shaking power that his antics alone made the entire night worthwhile.

The first third of Guster’s show was definitively dance-worthy, field-house pop-rock. Guster’s latest hit, “Careful,” induced a lot of crowd swaying and singing along, whereas “Barrel of a Gun (4, 3, 2, 1)” lent itself to crowd-surfing and hilarious warnings from the band about concert etiquette and safety.

Like Matchbox Twenty or Barenaked Ladies, Guster is seen by many as one of those mediocre “frat boy” rock bands. Guster’s songs are catchy, their albums moderately successful, and one or two tracks off of their albums Parachutes, Goldfly, Lost and Gone Forever and Keep It Together may occasionally be played on Adult Top 40 radio. But their harmonies are too pop-y and too safe for them to ever be taken seriously by rock critics.

Guster, kings of the college pop scene, hail from Massachusetts and formed while its members were enrolled in Tufts University. The band’s strong college fanbase comes from their often clever and poignant lyrics which artfully capture images of young adulthood, which in less skillful hands could seem like high school yearbook entries.

On songs like “Come Downstairs and Say Hello,” from Keep It Together, Miller sings, “Dorothy moves to click her ruby shoes/Right in tune with Dark Side of the Moon/Someone, someone could tell me/Where I belong.” The band creates a familiar image of the high school rite of passage of listening to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon while watching “The Wizard of Oz.”

Throughout their set, Guster sounded tight, and Miller and guitarist Adam Gardner had strong complementary vocals. The band’s new selections were more plodding, but nonetheless interesting.

Impressively, Guster sounded like they were leaving the John Mayer crowd behind, and exploring a sound that was closer to Uncle Tupelo and Elliot Smith.

Guster ended their show on a high note. After announcing that they were going to play a “slow and sexy song,” the band broke into a mellow version of “Keep It Together” off their 2003 album of the same name. Guster closed the concert with a bouncy reworking of their first genuine hit, “Fa Fa,” and ended with an angsty “Happier,” both off Lost and Gone Forever.

Guster left the stage after their last song without looking back – no encore, no bow to the crowd. Although they performed well, they seemed less-than-thrilled with their collegiate audience.

If Keep It Together was about leaving home and high school, perhaps with their new songs, Guster is looking to graduate from the college scene – for good.

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