It happened to be Valentine’s Day, but it would’ve felt like a holiday either way simply because Guster was back in our lives.
Guster sauntered into the House of Blues and handed Orlando a heart-shaped gift of music love–a sweetheart serenade that beckoned, “Be Mine.” We readily, and gladly, said yes. And they didn’t even have to buy us dinner.
They do that sort of thing, these guys. They give you shows that are bonafide love-filled treats. These seasoned road-warriors always bring great energy and a plethora of infectious melodious pop guitar-rock tunes with thoughtful lyrics and sweet harmonies, all sprinkled with confetti of clever banter and fun antics. And this night was the same–except, better.
The last time I’d seen the New Englanders in these parts was February 16, 2007 at HOB. Almost eight years to the day Saturday, they were in that spot again–not missing a beat. In fact, their beats were richer. Their wit, wittier. Their swagger, swaggier.
They’d added to their arsenal of weapons and personnel since then. Luke Reynolds, a talented multi-instrumentalist (guitar, bass, keyboard) and vocalist from Vermont, joined the club’s roster in 2010 when Joe Pisapia departed, and had a significant hand in the making of the new LP. And the crowd at House of Blues witnessed an elusive 5th Guster: a red-headed, burly-bearded Dave Butler, who served as a utility player in the background, stealthily moving from keys to drums and back, when necessary.
“We’re gonna play a lot of stuff from our new album,” our love-fest host, lead-singer and part-time comedian Ryan Miller announced when they first took too the stage.
“We’re also gonna play a few old ones too,” Miller continued. “It’s gonna be fucking great.”
By golly, he was right.
With e-minor chord strums on the guitar, that familiar rush of Guster giddiness from yester-year merged with a new-look Guster 5.0 in the opener “Demon” and I thanked the benevolent music gods above for the journey that had led up to the present moment. With subsequent bongo slaps by Brian “Thundergod” Rosenworcel, the dark floor in front of the stage lit up with toothy smiles–the kind of goofy grin where your upper lip disappears into your gums and the whites of your eyes visibly brighten. Yeah, it was already as fun as it ever was.
Oh, how I’d missed this group (who’d considerably evolved since my first crush on them some twenty *cough* years ago). On tour in support of Evermotion, their first album since 2010, they shined like, well, a work of art.
As works of art go, profound appreciation often takes time. For two decades, Guster had been crafting a extensive portfolio while periodically molting their colorful feathers, re-generating parts and polishing their unmistakable shine.
Over the course of seven full-length albums, we’d seen a 1990’s two-guitars-and-a-set-of-bongos frat-band come in to their own, taking steps, and leaps, forward and expanding their musical palette–adding a dab of yellow here, a dab of green there, a few more paintbrushes. But with Evermotion, they changed more than the tools, they switched out the canvas. They wanted to “become something else completely.” And, they pretty much nailed it–on the record, and in their performance in Central Florida.
Pleasing the faithful, card-carrying fans with numbers like ”I Spy,” “Diane,” “Center of Attention,” and, of course, the most popular Guster diddy in all the land, “Amsterdam,” they spanned the spectrum of their song catalogue. But it was with the Evermotion pieces where we truly heard the joyous rejuvenation of our old friends standing before us.
Their still-wet, latest artwork was unveiled with the third song of the night with “Doin’ It By Myself”–A synthy, hazy tune with sad, but hopeful lyrics of growth and independence.
Were no longer babies.
Pure, pristine, unbroken
So we learned how to walk
But all we want is to fly
The production of Evermotion employed the help of the Richard Swift (keyboardist for the The Shins and touring bassist of The Black Keys). In just three weeks in a studio in Oregon last year, they created a lovely, unique record that is more cohesive than their former works and more mellow–which is not a bad thing. With their best songwriting yet, it’s an album that sounds stronger with each listen, as more textures, complex beats, atmospheric noise, and menagerie of music-making devices: synthesizers, a slide guitar, a hat-trick of brass and a glockenspiel all emerge and converge.
When they started in on “Simple Machine” (their first single in four years) Saturday evening, it hit like a playful jab. An immediate dance-floor force, we were bobbing and weaving as the catchy hooks landed. Groovy synths, irresistible beats and handclaps(!) forced any reluctant hips and knees in the venue to give in, and swish and shake, syncing up with those bobbing heads. I’m not a simple machine / I have become something else echoed the voices of Miller, Reynolds and Adam Gardner.
I’ll never find my way back / I’ll never find my way back home.
Man, I’m glad they didn’t.
On the album, sax and trombone was provided by the talented Jon Natchez (of The War on Drugs). But on stage, trumpets and trombone were earnestly re-produced by Rosenworcel and Gardner, as in their fun performance of “Never Coming Down.” Ahh, these old dogs had new tricks.
“Satellite” came mid-way thru the show and felt like a natural fit following newbies “Endlessly” and “Kid Dreams.” The keyboard-driven tune from 2006 Ganging Up On the Sun, suddenly sounded like the long-lost parent of Evermore. To the delight of the crowed, Miller called their opening act, Kishi Bashi, to return to the stage to add his violin prowess to the popular song.
The Japanese-American artist, an extremely talented classical violinist, singer and composer who was named as NPR’s 2012 “Best New Artist,” had warmed up the audience earlier with his endearing personality and ethereal sounds, created with just a microphone, loop pedals and a violin. Miller pointed out that, historically, most of their opening acts go on to receive nominations for Grammy awards, but not necessarily the award. With Bashi, they said they were certain the curse would be reversed.
The jam-packed setlist of 26-jams did not fail to include the most apropos gem of the evening, Ganging Up On The Sun’s “Dear Valentine.”
“Ok, this song is basically Hayley’s comet,” quipped Miller. “It only comes around ever so often. We rarely play it but we will tonight since it’s Valentines Day. So if you don’t like it, oh well. After this you won’t have to hear again for a long time.”
Yes, come for the music, stay for the laughs. Over the years, Guster’s adventursome nature, sarcastic humor and rapport with fans has made them extra endearing. Between “Beginning of the End” and Easy Wonderful’s “On the Ocean,” Miller decided to riff a bit, both comically and musically. We giggled as he re-counted an epic Saturday afternoon quest to find the real happiest place on earth, beyond the typical inspid tourist attractions — while the boys provided some bossa-nova background music. He and Adam ended up at Cocoa Beach where they caught some waves, encountered charming locals and found delicious hidden lunch spots. Of course this led to Ryan malign up an impromptu love ballad to Florida right then and there.
As closing time neared, Miller gave us the gameplan, telling us they’d fake exiting the stage for the “encore.” So after the play-action pass of sorts, they went yard with “Long Night,” one of my favorites from Evermotion; a lusciously layered, celestial number in which Miller’s gorgeous vocals and delicate glockenspeil’s tones floated thru the air while he waved his mallets creating dreamy streams of lights against the backdrop.
In the real encore (or second one), we got a final magical moment. It was just the four fellas standing on the edge of the stage smiling, singing a stripped-down accoustic “Jesus On The Radio” for a quiet, mesmerized crowd.
On a cold Valentines evening, we were in the thickest, warmest part of the most comfortable Afghan quilt of Guster-y love. It had been way too long.
Guster 2-14-15 Setlist:
Center of Attention
Doin It By Myself
What You Call Love
Architects & Engineers
Come Downstairs And Say Hello
Do You Love Me
The Beginning Of The End
On The Ocean
This Could All Be Yours
Pretend Encore (with a fake-out)
Never Coming Down
Jesus On The Radio
Guster Live Review by Dena Davis.
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