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Guster: Not just any college band

Mary Claire O'Donnell | Thursday, August 26, 2010

Do you remember your Frosh-O?  The awkward serenading, the scavenger hunt, the hundreds of people you met in three days whose names you tried to remember? And although you met a lot of people in those few days, your closest friends are probably now those whom you met in class or through sports.

But imagine meeting people who would become the most important people to you during that somewhat embarrassing Freshman Orientation experience.  That is what happened to Adam Gardner, Ryan Miller and Brian Rosenworcel in 1991 at Tufts University in Medford, Mass. Two months after meeting during their version of Frosh-O, the three musicians played at the Midnight Café coffee house, and the alternative rock band Guster was born.

The band, originally named Gus, debuted their first album, “Parachutes,” in 1995. They released another superb album, “Goldfly,” two years later, selling around 10,000 copies of the two albums on mostly word of mouth. However, it was not until the release of “Lost and Gone Forever” in 1999 that they achieved mainstream success, appearing on “The Late Show with David Letterman” and releasing their first music video.

Since then, the band has released two more albums, “Keep It Together” in 2003 and “Ganging Up on the Sun” in 2006. Also in 2006, the band picked up an “Album of the Year (Major)” award at the Boston Music Awards. They have had songs in well-known soundtracks such as “Wedding Crashers,” “Disturbia,” “Life as a House” and “The O.C.”

On Oct. 5, the guys are releasing their fifth album, “Easy Wonderful.” The first single off the album “Do You Love Me?” is available on iTunes.  Another single, “Bad Bad World,” is available for free download on the band’s website.

Guster, however, is best known for their live shows. The band is constantly touring and plays around 250 shows a year. This is not their first show at Notre Dame, and it promises to be a fantastic one.

Ryan, Adam, Brian and Joe Pisapia, who joined the band in 2003, make their shows unique with a blend of humor and musical variety. The four guys often begin shows in costume, having appeared as “Peace Soldiers,” red-neck looking musicians, and contestants on “The Price is Right.” Their interviews also generally have a touch of humor. When once asked how they write their songs, they invoked Tenacious D and replied, “We write about what we know. We’re stenographers…we transcribe life and put a little melody under it.”

Their humor helps them keep a good relationship with their fans. They foster this relationship through their road and studio journals and their willingness to sign autographs after shows. Because much of their early success was due to fan support and marketing, the band took pleasure in maintaining this relationship. They still have these fan representative groups.

The other great part of Guster, and something for which they are well known, is their musical instrument variety and ability to fill many roles in the band. Generally, Miller and Gardner sing lead vocals and play guitar, and Rosenworcel plays percussion, often with his hands. Pisapia is a multi-instrumentalist, playing anywhere from guitar to keyboard to Appalachian dulcimer.

But Guster does not confine itself to these roles. Often, Miller and Gardner sing lead at the same time. In the amazing song “Happier,” off “Lost and Gone Forever,” the two switch between singing the same and different lyrics with differing chords, giving them a unique and interesting sound. And often during an encore, Rosenworcel puts down his bongos and performs covers.

Even though not everyone on campus has been waiting four years for Guster to return to since their last appearance here in 2006, all will enjoy the show. All members of the band are extremely musically gifted, and they perform beautifully written songs. Their songs are unique enough to stand apart from each other, differing in both theme and beat.

Each song boasts its own distinct rhythm and style. The range of instruments is amazing, from zippers to bongos to banjos. And the songs are not all about one idea or theme.  Rather, they run the gamut, discussing broken hearts in “Either Way” and nostalgia over adolescence in “One Man Wrecking Machine.”

It’s hard to nail down Guster’s best song, but one that should definitely make it on to the set list for Saturday is “Amsterdam,” the band’s first single off “Lost and Gone Forever.” From the rocking tempo to the smart lyrics, it doesn’t leave your head after one listen. It could be a theme song for many stages in life.

Guster is an inspiration to any band hoping to make it big out of college.  Listen to what could be for the band practicing in your garage, and do not miss a fantastic show.