November 23, 2015

Guster at the State Theatre

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We were welcomed at the door to the State Theater by a rep from Reverb, “a non profit organization dedicated to greening musicians’ tours and engaging their fans to take action to protect the planet.” The group was created by Guster’s Adam Gardner in 2004 to engage musicians and their fans in environmental work. This set the tone for the night: At this stage in their career, Guster seem dedicated not just to turning out albums, but also to changing the industry and mentoring new musicians. On this tour, they have committed to having young, local bands open in each city, a project they’ve described as a “home run” so far. It certainly was with Saturday’s opening act out of SUNY Purchase. Darryl Rahn and the Lost Souls brought to the State Trampled by Turtles-inflected folk, with lovely harmonies from their female vocalist and a skilled upright bassist adding a layer of depth. Their charming gratitude for the opportunity to play won the crowd over; still, as tends to happen at the State Theater, people stayed in their seats even as Guster strolled out onto the crochet-covered stage. The psychedelic crochet work — which covered everything from Adam Gardner’s guitar to the microphone stands and the piano — made for a cheery, quirky backdrop to the relatively laid-back night of music. A lone fan stood at the front, happily swaying as they opened with the sweet, mellow tune “Diane” off of 2003’s Keep it Together. Frontman Ryan Miller good-naturedly called out the rest of the audience, encouraging them to follow the “courageous lead” of Martha in dancing and having fun at the front. With this, the crowd streamed forward, lending energy for renditions of much-loved classics like “Satellite” and “Barrel of a Gun.”

COURTESY OF CASEY MARTIN

COURTESY OF CASEY MARTIN

After some overzealous light work by one of the light-techs named “Wookie,” Ryan Miller launched into a story about Wookie’s tendency towards the inappropriate when crossing the U.S.-Canada border. With a smirk, Adam started playing a brooding background melody, on which Luke and Ryan quickly picked up to form a True Detective-style accompaniment to the story, raising it to new heights of absurdity and leading it along into a second story about a border crossing disrupted by the oldest, tiniest roach at the bottom of a weekend bag. This sort of goofy, off-the-cuff material is what has brought Guster such a devoted fan following. And indeed, the way in which the band’s fans have grown with it was reflected by the crowd — plenty of couples in their 30s and 40s, with a smattering of college students and younger folks. I’ve been a Guster fan for a while (in my freshmen year of highschool I made a “Guster is Good for You” t-shirt before driving two hours for a show), and, watching the crowd sing along word for word to songs off of old albums and new, I was pleased to recognize that this sort of familiarity was the norm.

Recognizing this dynamic, they interspersed the dreamy, synthy songs off of their new record Evermotion with classic songs from Goldfly, Keep it Together, Ganging up on the Sun and Lost and Gone Forever. Although their energy and enjoyment were more palpable while they were playing their new stuff, the mesmerizing, electrifying drumming of Ryan Rosenworcel that featured prominently on so many of their older songs made each and every track come alive. Understandably famous for his bare handed, rapid-fire use of bongos, cymbals and seemingly whatever other flat surface got in his way, Rosenworcel’s energy and enthusiasm left me, after old numbers like “Demons” and “Happier,” with a ridiculously huge grin on my face. The nostalgia of listening to these songs for so many years was washing over me in a wave of familiarity — the stress and drama of the week that had built up fell away as the familiar harmonies of Guster’s melodies urged us all to “hang on.”

Another show highlight came as Guster welcomed to the stage a trio of young brass musicians who brought a big-band grandiosity to classics like “Fa Fa.” Their saxophone, slide trombone and trumpet had the crowd whooping and clapping. Guster’s support and encouragement of younger musicians — from the high school and college bands that have opened for them on their tour, to the impromptu inclusion of this grinning band — spoke to Guster’s sincere desire to give back and to inspire others. Others who perhaps remind them of the “20 year old dudes” they once were at Tufts, opening for national acts and trying to build a name and following. This was my fourth time seeing Guster since high school, and the giddy, surreal fangirl sense that I got at their shows at age 16 has faded into a more comfortable, laid back appreciation for the beauty of a concert created in exchange with the energy and enthusiasm of the fan community. And that, as Ryan Miller said last week, is the magic of live music.

Allison Considine is a junior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. She can be reached at adc85@cornell.edu.

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