Guster | 10.09.10

Miller’s stage banter was generally funny and playful throughout, most notably his exercise in honesty before “Two Points for Honesty,” where he confessed to the crowd that “There’s, like, a 75% chance my daughter was conceived in St. Louis.”


w/ Everest
The Pageant, St. Louis
Guster didn’t really appeal to me the first time I heard them, but with a college roommate that was more than happy to play the band’s 1999 breakthrough Lost and Gone Forever on endless repeat, it didn’t take long for me to get past the Boston trio’s jam band aesthetics and discover their music was really just power pop with a Violent Femmes-ian quirk-folk kick or, in other words, right up my personal alley. What I loved most, though, was the vocal harmonies, particularly on songs like “Happier” or “Center of Attention” where both guitarists Adam Gardner and Ryan Miller shared lead vocal duties. Though both have fine singing voices, there’s something about the songs where the pair alternate/overlap that elevates those songs into the stratosphere. Though Guster have become more solid and interesting songwriters in the intervening years, I can’t help but get bummed out that the number of these shared vocals songs dropped with each new album, with the band’s latest (Easy Wonderful, released October 5th) featuring no lead vocals by Gardner at all.
It was bittersweet, then, that the band launched their latest show at the Pageant with one of the better examples of that style in “Ramona,” a sunny folk song with Gardner offering up Jack Johnson-style chillout vibes in the verses and a powerful, deep-throated chorus before Miller’s higher, smoother tenor comes in for the bridge. Bathed in blue light, the band sounded crystal clear and ready to run from the get-go.
The band’s live setup remained much as it has since the release of Keep It Together, with Gardner and Miller trading from guitar to bass to keyboards while fellow founder Brian Rosenworcel backed up the pair on his usual deluxe percussion kit of bongos, congas and cymbals. New multi-instrumentalist Luke Reynolds (replacing long-time fourth Guster Joe Pisapia, who amicably departed after the Easy Wonderful sessions) filled in the holes with harmony vocals, guitar, bass, banjo, organ, harmonica, or whatever else was needed, and a fifth player would occasionally wander out to play an additional standard drumkit or add some ancillary percussion.
Given the crowd’s excited response to “Ramona,” it was kind of funny that Miller decided to greet them as if the band was the unknown opener, announcing with (mock?) excitement, “Hello, we’re Guster from Boston, Massachusetts, and we’re here to support our new album, Easy Wonderful, in stores now!” before launching into an energetic run through that album’s “This Could All Be Yours.” Longtime fan favorite “Barrel of a Gun” was the first song to really grab hold of the crowd, the whole room holding their fingers aloft as they counted off the song’s “4-3-2-1” refrain and, along with Rosenworcel’s machine gun-fire percussion, giving Miller’s voice its only backing on the song’s bridge. Rosenworcel moved to the drumkit for “Satellite” while the second percussionist supplied the song’s lurching, circus-y organ, and Gardner’s beautifully played guitar on the outro belied the debt the song owes to Disintegration-era Cure.
Miller’s stage banter was generally funny and playful throughout, most notably his exercise in honesty before “Two Points for Honesty,” where he confessed to the crowd that “There’s, like, a 75% chance my daughter was conceived in St. Louis.” Following the crowd hoots and hollers, Miller then joked he would some day have to answer the question, “Daddy, did you tell St. Louis you had sex with Mommy here?”
The band tried not to give Easy Wonderful too hard a sell, playing only four songs from the new album during the main set to Keep It Together and Ganging Up on the Sun’s five apiece. Of the new tracks, “Bad Bad World” was a particular highlight, with Miller taking to the piano (with the Arch drawn on its chalkboard front…nice touch) as Gardner supplied the song’s bouncing bassline, and the “ooh-ooh” backing vocals for “Architects & Engineers” came off even more beautifully live than on album.
Hit single “Amsterdam” would seem a natural crowd favorite, but it was surprising to watch the band basically let the crowd take over vocal duties for the entire first verse and chorus. The great mystery of the main set, though, was the banjo, which sat lonely and un-played on the side of the stage, even during the typically banjo-driven Ganging Up on the Sun track “The Captain.” The main set ended as it started, with Gardner and Miller sharing lead duties on “Demons” (the only song from their sophomore effort Goldfly to get any love this evening) as Rosenworcel’s percussion took a back seat to loud electric guitars that gave the song a Neil Young-ish stomp.
The band never really left the stage before opening the encore with “Hercules,” a new song with the vibe of the Violent Femmes record Hallowed Ground and (finally!) some banjo accompaniment from Reynolds. Then came Easy Wonderful’s finest track, “Do You Love Me,” an ebullient, Paul Simon-esque song filled with handclaps and a giddy falsetto vocal from Miller in the chorus. The run through “Hang On” started as a simple, by-the-numbers run through the song before the piano-driven tune took a slight right turn and Miller switched from the song’s original lyrics to those of the Bosom Buddies theme song, a.k.a. Billy Joel’s “My Life.” Honestly, it was kind of unreal how easily the song morphed back and forth between the two.
Guster closed out the encore with one of their very best songs, “Happier,” and this night’s version more than did the song justice, Rosenworcel pounding his cymbals as the guitar’s echoed with U2-esque sustained notes. As the band left the stage for the second time, the house lights came up and the Pageant attempted to chase out concertgoers with the strains of (I think) Lionel Richie covering “You Are So Beautiful.” But Guster had other ideas, rushing the stage as the venue hurriedly stopped the music and dropped the lights. As has become a fairly typical Guster tradition, the band crowded around the front of the stage and played “Jesus on the Radio” with acoustic instruments and no microphones, the song’s sunny melodies proving powerful enough to flood the venue with or without electrical help. The crowd stayed hushed until the song completed, then burst into applause to let Guster know that they had done a more than fine job this particular evening. | Jason Green


This Could All Be Yours
Barrel of a Gun
The Beginning of the End
Two Points for Honesty
Bad Bad World
Come Downstairs and Say Hello
One Man Wrecking Machine
Architects & Engineers
Manifest Destiny
Keep It Together
What You Call Love
The Captain
Do You Love Me
Hang On/My Life (Billy Joel cover)
2nd Encore:
Jesus on the Radio


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