Feeling at Home with Guster

Photo by Emma Olsen '16 | Left to right: Amy and the Engine’s Amy Allen, guitarist Luke Reynolds, guitarist and vocalist Adam Gardner, lead vocalist and guitarist Ryan Miller and drummer/percussionist Brian Rosenworcel.

Photo by Emma Olsen ’16 | Left to right: Amy and the Engine’s Amy Allen, guitarist Luke Reynolds, guitarist and vocalist Adam Gardner, lead vocalist and guitarist Ryan Miller and drummer/percussionist Brian Rosenworcel.

 

Emily Wilson ’17
Contributing Writer

I first heard about Guster last fall when I worked as the music director for “The Taming of The Shrew” at Smith College. We wanted to set Shakespeare’s classic comedy in a modern-day college town, transforming Padua into Northampton through music. Director and Smith alumna Portia Krieger ’03 suggested using Guster’s music, as it was very popular during her time at Smith. We opened the show with an arrangement of Guster’s “Center of Attention.” This was my only exposure to Guster before attending their concert at the Calvin Theatre in Northampton on Nov. 6.

The alternative rock band started in 1991 when Adam Gardner, Ryan Miller and Brian Rosenworcel were students at Tufts University. They released their seventh studio album,  “Evermotion,” earlier this year. The band is commonly compared to Ben Folds and Dispatch, though members of the audience on Friday argued that the band sounded more like a combination of The Decemberists and Bowling for Soup or even Johnny Cash, however far-fetched that seems. The band’s unique sound within the alternative rock genre features acoustic and electric guitars, keyboards, synthesizers and the occasional xylophone solo, as well as classic drum sets and varied collection of bongos, congas and hand-hit cymbals. There were even moments when a ukulele, trumpet, trombone and banjo made their appearance on the stage.

The audience demographic seemed divided between hipster young adults and middle-aged married couples. However, the sense of community in the room was strong. Everyone knew the words to all of the songs and sang them proudly. There was also quite a bit of dancing, although not what you’d expect from the “mosh pit-esque” setting at the Calvin. This was more of a “bob-your-head-as-you-sway-your-body-back-and-forth-to-the-beat” kind of atmosphere. The stage was covered in brightly colored knit blankets, making it feel homey. Refreshingly, there were very few people recording videos or taking pictures with their phones; they were fully focused on the musicians performing in front of them.

Guster kept the set lively, playing many crowd favorites, such as “Satellite” and “Homecoming King” (which makes a reference to Massachusetts, much to the pleasure of the audience) and my favorite, “Center of Attention.” When the band talked between tunes, it was always anecdotal and genuine. As the concert began, Miller, the lead guitarist and vocalist, referenced Northampton, saying, “hopefully the vegan gods will look upon us in this holistic city of positivity.” During one moment between songs, an audience member handed Miller a Go-Pro camera for one of them to wear during the show. They agreed, and Miller handed it to Rosenworcel, the drummer, who wore it around his head for a few songs.

Towards the second half of the show, Miller read an email he had received from a fan, saying that he and his 63-year-old mother Bev were going to be at the Northampton show. According to the email, Bev had been a long-time Guster fan, and this was her first time seeing the band live. Miller looked out into the audience, using a hand to shade his eyes from the stage lights and invited Bev up on stage to sing “Two Points for Honesty” with them.

Soon, Bev Brown was up on stage, beaming and hugging all of the members of the band, as the crowd chanted her name. Miller handed her a lyric sheet. This strong sense of support and community among Guster fans in the room was heart-warming. When she finished, the crowd went wild and began chanting her name again. She then leaned in to whisper to Miller and (as he later told the audience) said, “You’re a doll.”

Photo by Emma Olsen '16 | Lead vocalist and guitarist Ryan Miller and long-time fan, 63-year-old Bev Brown, after inviting her to sing “Two Points for Honesty.”

Photo by Emma Olsen ’16 | Lead vocalist and guitarist Ryan Miller and long-time fan, 63-year-old Bev Brown, after inviting her to sing “Two Points for Honesty.”

Guster finished the show by inviting back the lead singer from the opening band, Amy and the Engine. Amy Allen, now clad in Guster apparel, lined up with them all on the front edge of the stage. They played and sang the last song completely acoustic before waving goodbye to the audience. As the house lights came up, the audience was abuzz with glee, smiling and commenting on how great the concert had been. I left a new Guster fan, feeling as though I had already been accepted into the band’s warm, fun-loving community of fans. I had been invited into their space.

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