By Joseph Hughes
In today's musical landscape, Guster is a curious discovery: Well-crafted, well-written songs played by extremely talented musicians who never take themselves too seriously. One of music's best-known secrets and fan favorites are bringing their unique sound to Ohio University's Templeton-Blackburn Alumni Memorial Auditorium on Saturday, May 8, at 8 p.m. -- just in time to win over new devotees and entertain longtime fans.
Guster -- Ryan Miller, Adam Gardner, Brian Rosenworcel and Joe Pisapia (the "unofficial fourth Guster") -- are touring in promotion of the group's most recent album, 2003's "Keep it Together." A combination live DVD/CD, "Guster on Ice," is due in stores May 18.
Miller and Gardner, both lead vocalists and guitarists, join Rosenworcel, who plays both the congas and conventional drum kit and jack-of-all-trades Pisapia on stage for each energetic set. Pisapia, who bolstered the trio on "Keep it Together," has strengthened the group's sound with his high-energy guitar play and proficiency on the keyboards and banjo.
His work can be heard most prominently amidst the beautiful harmonies of "Careful" and "Jesus on the Radio," which he co-wrote with Miller. Pisapia fronts his own group, Joe, Marc's Brother, which will open for Guster on Saturday. The concert is sponsored by the University Program Council.
"The University Program Council is very excited to have Guster coming to campus," says Maggie Brown, UPC concert chair. "Guster was a name that kept coming up in the e-mail requests we get. It doesn't always happen that we are able to book an act that the University is specifically asking for. Response from students has been tremendously positive."
Guster has both headlined their own tours and has opened for such artists as John Mayer and the Barenaked Ladies. The group has appeared at such wide-ranging venues as the PBS show "Austin City Limits," at Radio City Music Hall and, most recently, at a John Kerry political rally. No stranger to Ohio, Guster has played across the state and will do so again this summer, joined by Ben Folds and Rufus Wainwright.
"As a fan of bluegrass, classic rock and singer-songwriter genres," says senior Casey Myers, "I am disenchanted with mainstream popular music. Guster, like bands such as Wilco, the Fruit Bats and Belle and Sebastian, renews my faith in modern music. I hope they can help usher out the era of the pre-fab pop star."
Despite their emerging mainstream success, Guster's back story will ring true for many Ohio University students. Miller, Gardner and Rosenworcel met during freshman orientation at Tufts University in 1991. The trio began writing songs, becoming "Gus" and playing gigs around the Boston area, busking in Harvard Square and selling demo tapes for $5 out of a guitar case.
As juniors, they recorded their first album, 1994's "Parachute." The extracurricular project earned the band members a combined five incompletes that semester. Unfazed, the trio graduated the following year and began touring, changing their name to "Guster" to avoid confusion with a recently signed artist.
Next came the independently released "Goldfly" in 1996. Two years later, Guster signed with Sire Records, who promptly re-released "Goldfly," which includes the hit "Airport Song." In 1999, Guster released "Lost and Gone Forever," known for its memorable hooks and distinctive melodies, found on such concert favorites as "Fa Fa," "Barrel of a Gun" and "Either Way." Throughout their formative years, Guster has earned the reputation as a crowd-pleasing group, touring extensively.
"Keep it Together" is both a mature successor and natural outcome of "Lost and Gone Forever." Released by Reprise Records, "Keep it Together" retains the creativity of its predecessor, while growing musically through such songs as "Careful" and "Jesus on the Radio."
"I really think this band has the potential to be an important influence in current musical trends, like the Talking Heads were in their day," says Myers, who has seen Guster five times, "and be as prolific as an R.E.M. or Radiohead."
Guster concerts are wildly entertaining and often feel quite interactive. Band interplay and between-song dialogue is very enjoyable. The group has been known to pay tribute to others, covering both the Talking Heads' "(Nothing But) Flowers" and Belle and Sebastian's "The Boy With The Arab Strap." Rosenworcel's terrible singing voice can sometimes be heard belting out "Total Eclipse of the Heart" during raucous encores.
Those who enjoy Guster also frequently visit the band's Web site, www.guster.com, which includes three journals, written by Rosenworcel, Miller and Pisapia. Rosenworcel's hilarious "Road Journal" has even been turned into a book. The site also features a message board, tour info, merchandise and links to several live Guster albums, available from the iTunes music store.
Tickets remain for the show and are available through the Templeton-Blackburn Alumni Memorial Auditorium Box Office, which can be reached at (740) 593-1780. The tickets, which cost $20 (students and non-students), are also available online at www.ohiotickets.musictoday.com/OhioUniversity/calendar.aspx.
Yes, the Gusters play their own instruments. And yes, they also write their own songs. Don't be afraid; this is music as it's supposed to be: Genuine, original and entertaining.
Joseph Hughes is a writer with University Communications and Marketing.