Two drumsticks and an electric guitar: Guster grows up

By Aaron Brown

This is the biggest venue we’ve ever played at in Minnesota. I feel like, we’re getting closer, you know? I’m glad we’re taking this step together. Not like Milwaukee; fuck Milwaukee, she doesn’t mean anything to me! I’m not lookin’ ahead to marriage or anything, I just wanted to say, I like the direction this is going, I have a good feeling about this.

Indeed, lead singer Ryan Miller and his band Guster lit up Minneapolis two weeks ago, playing to a large crowd of over 2000 at the State Theatre. The band is currently in the midst of an enormous tour in support of their new album, Ganging Up on the Sun.
Ryan Miller, Adam Gardner, and Brian “Thunder God” Rosenworcel met at Tufts University over fifteen years ago and independently produced their first CD “Parachutes.” Their early work is reminiscent of those stereotypical collegiate floormates down the hall that jam on weekends; upbeat guitars, intelligent lyrics and furiously audacious bongo drums helped define their act. The trio continued to refine their sound over the next couple years, signing with a major label in 1999 and achieving national recognition with Lost and Gone Forever, an album that signaled a change in direction for the band’s music, including their first use of electric guitars and drum kits. While many fans were disappointed about the new, “mainstream” sound of the band and their departure from the acoustic-guitar-and-bongo-drums vibe, singles “Amsterdam” and “Careful” from 2003’s Keep it Together received moderate airplay and garnered national attention. Ganging Up on the Sun continues this trend; their latest album reflects their distance from the collegiate scene, and it builds on themes of growing up, dealing with responsibilities and adulthood.

Miller’s gag about playing in a large venue explains a lot about how the band reacts to their successful transformation from teenage jam band to nationally credible band, recently exemplified by Guster’s involvement with the television show The OC and a Nissan commercial. Despite their fame, the band still maintains their humor and wit, and the set list Friday combined elements of their newer, “rock-band” sound (such as the recent single “Satellite”) with classic Guster songs “Either Way” and “Great Escape.”

Perhaps most revealing was the final encore, in which Guster returned to an applauding crowd to demand that everyone “be entirely silent” as the band finished with a one-mic acoustic version of “Jesus on the Radio.” In spite of co-lead singer Adam Gardner’s bout with pneumonia, Ryan’s admittance that “We’ve never tried this in such a large venue,” and the subsequent uneasy hush of the audience, the band pulled off the folksy, banjo-led ballad with astonishingly clear harmonies and the wild approval of the audience. While somewhat of an anticlimactic ending, the acoustic finish solidified the status of a group caught somewhere between “that college band” playing in Harvard Square in front of friends and “that up-and-coming indie band” playing in the State Theatre in front of the Twin Cities. Say what you want about the band becoming too mainstream, these guys can still pull out the stops and bring back the quirky, acoustic roots that brought them success, even in front of a large audience.

In short, while Guster may not be “your” band anymore, and while they aren’t quite as young as they used to be, the band and their music have aged well, and they continue to entertain fans with onstage spontaneity and ever-changing music.