Photo by Nat Girsberger. From left: Adam Gardner, Luke Reynolds, Ryan Miller, Brian Rosenworcel.
“We usually play at the big boy bar next door,” Guster’s Ryan Miller joked about halfway through the band’s lively Sunday night set. Which is true: the Boston-based quartet usually plays the Pageant on their stops through St. Louis, and does a good job of packing them in, too. This fact made their move to Delmar Hall—a show they sold out in short order on a night where the Pageant didn’t even have anything scheduled—somewhat perplexing. The crowd of diehard Gusterrhoids still managed to make the most of the evening, thanks to the Delmar’s intimate confines and impeccable sound mix.
Miller energetically bounded onto the stage to the strains of “Seagulls! (Stop It Now),” sporting an amazing Pac-Man-themed suit and an unkempt hairstyle that can only be described as “the Krusty the Clown.” Switching gears immediately, the band opened their set at a slow burn with “What You Wish For,” the gently rolling opener off their 1999 breakthrough Lost and Gone Forever, Adam Gardner slowly ringing out the songs opening notes on a guitar bedecked in a crocheted guitar cozy. Though the song harkens back to their original days as a trio, it was fleshed out, like most of the songs of the evening, by the band’s current five-man touring lineup: Miller and Gardner trading off lead vocals and harmonies as they and “fourth Guster” Luke Reynolds (who joined the band in 2010) shuffle between guitars, bass, and keyboards, Brian Rosenworcel holds the beat on either his epic hand percussion set or an unassumingly simple drumkit, and a fifth musician who plays, well, mostly percussion but basically whatever someone else isn’t playing. The resulting lushness of sound is pure ear candy.
Two songs in, Miller quickly quipped “Thank you, good night!” before continuing “Do you guys like encores? Because we have twenty-seven of them!” It was true to an extent—the whole setlist was packed with crowdpleasers—but in the early goings, the energy level was all over the place. Upbeat new song “Don’t Go”—“our disco jam,” Miller joked—led into the beautifully down-tempo “In the Backyard,” which featured a great mix of percussion between Rosenworcel’s hand-kit and a simple backing of cymbal and tambourine. The tempo was back up for the power pop perfection of “Amsterdam,” then back down for the stark “Lightning Rod”—a song that’s all organ drone and gently noodled guitar—then it was back up with the acoustic jangle of “Architects & Engineers.” This part of the set wrapped up with “Come Downstairs and Say Hello,” a song that works perfectly as a transition from slow-to-upbeat by including just that transition within the song itself. It would have made much more sense to arrange these songs into a slow section and a pop section with “Come Downstairs” as the transition between the two—the band has used that song for exactly that purpose ever since its release on 2003’s Keep It Together. Instead, the early part of the set was constant peaks and valleys, making it hard for the band to build up a head of steam.
Turns out all the band needed to turn things around was a prop. Word had gotten out that Gardner was fighting a cold, so someone in the crowd brought him a box of Kleenex. Gardner’s band mates proceeded to give him good-natured grief over the next several songs (all up-tempo and of a piece), culminating during the giddy “Doin’ It By Myself” when Miller leapt off the stage, Kleenex in tow, and began tossing tissues into the crowd in time with the melody as he sang. It was such a perfectly goofy moment, punctuated with Gardner’s jokingly sadsack response after, requesting “If anyone would like to make a donation to the Adam Gardner Cold Fund, please bring some of those tissues forward.”
Guster’s new album Look Alive doesn’t drop until January so only a few tracks made an appearance. The new songs have a decidedly “dark disco” vibe with heavy use of keyboards and samplers, a setup that finds Miller singing without an instrument in front of him for the first time ever, basically. Interestingly, that dark disco vibe spread into older songs in the set’s back half, including “Simple Machine” (a precursor to this new sound in a lot of ways) and “Airport Song,” a longtime staple that had mostly fallen out of the band’s setlists so it was great to hear it back in reinvigorated form. The band tied the new sound into their trademark goofy stage personas with a quick electronica jam that found Miller improvising hilariously ridiculous raps about the City Museum, being in the state of Missouri, and national politics. It was one wild but well appreciated non sequitor. Other highlights of the set’s back half included a “Moonlight Mile”-like take on “Hang On,” a perfectly jangly run through “Happier,” and the ecstatic crowd singalongs to “Bullet of a Gun” and “This Could All Be Yours Someday” that closed out the main set.
The band acceded the stage to Rosenworcel to start the encore. The percussionist’s Missourian in-laws and extended family were in attendance, filling a back corner of the venue, and he gave a heartfelt speech thanking them, saying he had “won the in-law lottery.” While Miller suggested Rosenworcel perform a percussion solo, he instead asked that Miller and Gardner return to the stage to duet the song “Parachute,” the title track off of the band’s debut and a rare inclusion in modern setlists. While the pair joked quite a bit before starting the song (Miller saying “The sincerity train just keeps on tooting” and then gently cooing “toot…toot…” over the song’s intro), it was ultimately an evocative moment that really caught the crowd emotionally. The rest of the band returned for an encore that, like the early going, was tonally all over the place. First came the live debut of Look Alive’s title track, a song of minor key atmospherics, followed by the bubbly piano-driven “Manifest Destiny” before closing with the somber “Demons.” Then the stage lights faded, the venue lights kicked on, and the giddy “Seagulls!” once again blared from the PA system.
It was, in summary, a very weird night tonally, definitely the weirdest of any of the dozen or so times I’ve seen the band play. But with songs this good and an atmosphere this fun, a little weirdness is nothing to sweat. | Jason Green
What You Wish For
Architects & Engineers
Come Downstairs and Say Hello
Do You Love Me
Doin’ It By Myself
Never Coming Down
Barrel of a Gun
This Could All Be Yours