Guster: 25 years later
Maggie Walsh | Thursday, December 1, 2016
On Friday, Nov. 25 every tiny tree, shrub and blade of grass along Broadway was already covered in white Christmas lights, but it was the Beacon Theatre that attracted eyes as night set in on New York City. The LED marquee at the legendary venue boasted the sold-out show about to begin. The crowds lined up outside were almost exclusively in their thirties and forties, with a good percentage of stereotypical hipsters.
Tonight, almost to the day, was the 25th anniversary of the first gig of nerd-rock band Guster. From the size of the crowd and the excitement in the air — not to mention the small museum dedicated to their career that lined the Beacon vestibule — Guster has a lot to be proud of.
Formed out of a dorm room at Tufts University, Guster started out exclusively acoustic. One of their gimmicks, even after they gained popularity, was to forgo drums in favor of a set of bongos. 25 years later, they continued this tradition when they took the stage following their opening act, Pisapia Love-In (founded by former member Joe Pisapia). Bongo player Brian Rosenworcel was insanely entertaining to watch, not only for his enthusiastic playing, but also for his amusing facial expressions.
Their opening song “What You Wish For” was greeted by screaming fans within the first beats of the bongo. When the bridge of the chorus began, instruments paused and lead singer Ryan Miller belted out, “Come out, come out, wherever you are,” backed by the nearly 3,000 fans packed into the theatre. The majority of the audience knew and sang every word zealously. At the end of the song, Miller jokingly bowed and said, “Thank you, and good night!” The crowd laughed and Miller continued, “I think we’re going to keep the chitter chatter to a minimum so we can play as long as possible.”
True to their word, Guster crammed as many songs as they could into their two-hour set. They continued with “Gangway” off their newest album, “Evermotion,” which fans seemed to enjoy just as much as the next song, “Manifest Destiny.” Their former band mate and opener Joe Pisapia joined them on harmonica for “Backyard,” and stayed on stage, donning an electric guitar, for infectiously upbeat “Bad, Bad World.”
Pisapia wasn’t their only guest. About halfway through the show, Miller introduced another musical guest, a choir from Long Island called The Silver Chords, comprised almost exclusively of elderly women. The Silver Chords joined Guster for “Empire State” and “All the Way Up to Heaven,” during which an adorable soloist from The Silver Chords sang the entirety of her solo verse off a crumpled piece of paper. “You guys look way nicer than we do,” Miller joked as the choir, many decked out in pearls, reassembled themselves in between songs. Guster’s other guests included a three-part horn section known as the Unihorns and a giant, blow-up teddy bear named Big Friend, inspired by the cover art of their debut album, “Parachute.”
Perhaps the most memorable part came at the very beginning of the encore, when Miller, who went guitarless for one of the first times during the show, realized that his pants zipper had been down for the whole set. He made a face at the crowd mid-song, and even fans singing along paused to laugh. After the song, he told the crowd a funny story about purchasing the “lady pants” in a Canadian thrift store. The story quickly turned into an improvised disco jam with a rap vocal, complete with the hilarious hook, “My camel toe is showin’ through the front row, front row!”
The 25 years have treated Guster well. Their live sound is just as rich as their recorded albums and their sense of humor and humility made them entertaining to watch. They clearly still enjoy making music and being around each other. In lieu of an encore, they asked longtime fan Nicky, who Miller called “the coolest weirdo ever,” to come up and accept the encore on behalf of all of their longtime fans. They concluded with “So Long” played on acoustic instruments at the front of the stage as band member Luke Reynolds held up handmade signs containing the lyrics and the entire Beacon audience sang along. They ended their set by returning to how they started out 25 years before: group sing-alongs, acoustic instruments, laughter and fun.