When Guster took the stage in the Palestra on Saturday night, they had faith that their sold-out audience didn’t need to be psyched up any more than we already were. They started their set slowly, building over the next two hours in a steady crescendo until the audience had been sufficiently rocked by the end of their performance.
After a late cancellation by scheduled opening act Sam Roberts, local group and two-time Drama House Battle of the Bands winner Delivery Boy filled in as the opener. They had a polished sound for a college band, incorporating violin and stand up bass into a portion of their original songs. Front man Jon Lee had a strong command of the stage and his guitar, and the audience couldn’t help but feel a huge dose of pride seeing their peers up on the same stage where a big name band was about to perform.
There was no “Hello Rochester!” or “How you all feeling tonight?” when Ryan Miller, Adam Gardner, Brian Rosenworcel and tour tagalong Guster member Joe Pisapia hit the microphones. They calmly started to play the mellow “Come Downstairs and Say Hello” off of their newest album, “Keep It Together.” They started tentatively and gained size slowly.
After their second number “I Spy” – in which lead singer Miller ever so cleverly substituted the lyric “May parade” with “gay parade,” producing a laugh out of bandmates – they stopped for introductions, clearly unimpressed with themselves that they were in the midst of “College Gymnasium Fall Concert 2003.” However, Miller did delight the majority of the crowd right away by announcing, “we have a pretty fucked-up set list planned, because we have a feeling there are some old school fans here tonight.” Judging from the cheers, he was right.
Over the course of the show the band dabbled in all four of their albums refreshingly, as most fans in the audience were dreading a “let’s shove our newest album down your throat” concert. They also managed to throw in an impromptu Neil Diamond- attributed “Sweet Caroline,” a cover of the Talking Heads song “(Nothing But) Flowers,” and some tips for freshmen about how to clean their George Foreman grills.
At a high point of the concert, the group invited a “special guest” to join them on the stage. Who should reappear but Joel Thompson from Delivery Boy, who got to accompany Guster on violin for “Window,” off of their “Parachute” album. The audience was suddenly cool-by-association.
Miller, Gardner and Pisapia switched instruments often, trading off acoustic, electric and bass guitars, banjo, harmonica and keyboards. Drummer Rosenworcel, commonly referred to as “Thundergod,” briefly sat out a set, but quickly returned to mind-bogglingly banging the hell out of bongos and cymbals with his hands, which must have no feeling left at this point in his career.
Before explaining what happened for the encore – “we finish playing and go offstage, you guys clap, and we come back on and play some more songs” – they made a seamless transition from the falsetto filled “All the Way Up to Heaven” to the melodious ballad “Backyard,” to the ever popular “Barrel of a Gun,” and “Fa Fa,” which both drove the crowd to a fist-pumping pinnacle.
After this peak, the group almost had nowhere to go, which explains why the four-song encore was slightly anticlimactic. During the slower “Parachute,” the Palestra was ablaze not with waving lighters, but rather a plethora of cell phones – their neon glow casting a bizarre light. After “Homecoming King,” they announced that they would take a vote as to which song off of “Parachute” the audience wanted them to play.
“Whatever song you pick, we’ll go as far into it as we can until we mess up and then we’ll stop,” Miller said.
The crowd voted for “Happy Frappy,” and Guster delivered about two minutes of it, before thanking us for coming and buying out all of the tickets, despite the fact that we were in “the fucking middle of Rochester in a gym.” They then headed into a rousing version of “Happier,” a fitting finale, as that’s exactly how they left their fans.
Mittelman can be reached at email@example.com.