Monday, July 27, 2015

Concert Review: Guster - July 17, 2015

On a Friday night at a small club in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, my wife and I were able to witness the best Guster concert we’ve ever seen. Even though we live an hour away, my wife and I have never been to Bethlehem. After spending the afternoon there prior to the concert, we plan to go back---a lot. Between the revitalized downtown area with its many bars and restaurants, and the newly built touring ramps for the steel mills, downtown Bethlehem is an extremely fun place to spend a day.

Guster performed at the Musikfest Café which is on the third floor of the ArtsQuest Center building. The building has a movie theater, private rooms for corporate parties, and a modern club room, the Musikfest Café. The room is reminiscent of a dinner theater, only for Guster there was a stage and a general admission area downstairs, and a balcony area where food could be served. Cathy and I were in the General Admission area for the show, and due to her love of the band, we were right up against the barricade. We were so close to the stage, that we could have reached out and touched the band members. That in itself is an amazing experience.

As the night began, we were hopeful to hear one song. “I Hope Tomorrow Is Like Today,” happens to be our wedding song, and our 10 year anniversary was a week after the show. To us, the best anniversary present ever would have been hearing that song performed live by Guster. I was extremely hopeful early on, praying to the music gods that our request be heard.

Kishi Bashi kicked off the night. I had never heard of him prior to this concert, but knowing he was a violinist had me curious. I’ve always been fascinated with string and wind instruments, and I was hoping that Kishi would be an amazing performer. I will say that he was absolutely different. He was certainly a good violinist, but his reliance on looping and effects machines turned me off. I would have preferred to just watch him play his instrument like a master. Alas, Kishi had other plans and most of his songs involved creative effects from a loop machine. To me, that’s not a real performance, and thus, I was rather disappointed in Kishi Bashi.

That disappointment was quickly forgotten as 15 minutes after Kishi left the stage, Guster walked out to a loud roar. There may have only been a few hundred people packing the club that night, but by the sheer volume of roars, you would have thought it was Madison Square Garden. As expected, Guster opened with “Long Night,” the first song from their most recent release Evermotion. “Long Night” is a song I enjoy immensely and I was extremely happy to witness it live.

Watching Ryan Miller play the xylophone for this opening number was a real treat. Miller is quite the ham on stage as well, which is all a big part of his, and the band’s, charm. Guitarist/vocalist Adam Gardner is the perfect straight man to Miller’s antics. Gardner is very polished, well dressed, with perfectly groomed hair. Miller, by contrast, has an unkempt look about him, as if he rolled off the tour bus and hopped right onstage. It’s that contrast by the two men at the front of the stage that helps make Guster so wonderful. When you take the opposite ends of the spectrum and blend them together, sometimes you get perfection.

Solidifying the band in the back was the “Thundergod,” Brian Rosenworcel. When not pounding on the bongos like a madman out of control, Rosenworcel is locked in on a regular drum kit, keeping perfect time and stabilizing the band as a pure backbone. And while he is a very talented drummer, Rosenworcel is at his best when beating the bongos. This was most evident in classic Guster hits like “Barrel Of A Gun” and “Center Of Attention.” 

Guster is not only a band filled with extremely talented musicians, they are also quick witted humorists. After a request by Ryan Miller for aspirin was met with a toss of a bottle onstage, the band broke into song. “Morgan and her pharmaceuticals,” was the hook and Guster was able to bang out a decent song under three minutes. It takes an intense level of talent to create on the spot like that, but it also takes an intense level of chemistry. It was clearly obvious that this band has been performing together for over 25 years.

The concert consisted of a wonderful blend of old and new, but alas, my one yearning wish was not answered. “I Hope Tomorrow Is Like Today” was not performed much to my dismay. However, the performance Guster gave did not disappoint and overall we were extremely happy. The closing encore was a cover of the classic “Come On Eileen,” and featured Kishi Bashi on violin. It was a fun filled way to end the evening and the entire crowd sang along.

The energy and dedication that Guster put into the performance made it one of the best Friday nights of the year for us, and for me, it was the best concert that I had witnessed in a long time. There is something magical about Guster and I’ve always found it a shame that they never hit the mainstream the way other counterparts from their time had. Yet, perhaps that is for the best. It helps the band stay grounded and it helps us see them in intimate settings. And seeing Guster at a club is much more enthralling than seeing them on the big stage. However, the real treat is seeing them perform anywhere. As a live act, Guster delivers incredible performances that more people need to witness for themselves.

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