Yes, I said “concert.” As in getting out of the house and going to a venue to see a live band — or three! — perform in person.
It actually doesn’t take arm-twisting to get me to see Guster, even if there’s a soccer game I wanted to see scheduled on the same night. This is my third time seeing them, and they simply do not disappoint. They’re my favorite post-college band — it’s unfair comparing bands of the past 15 years with the bands that got me through high school and college, when I had time to memorize Yes’ complicated history and things like that.
They’re getting more and more comfortable as an established act now, with five terrific albums to draw from. (OK, I’m assuming the fifth is terrific. I haven’t bought it yet, though the new songs they played tonight sounded fine to me.) Ryan Miller is a charismatic frontman — funny with just the right dose of snark (that is, minimal). Brian Rosenworcel has added a traditional drum kit to much of Guster’s recent output, but he still spends half of the set in a whirlwind behind an array of hand drums. The ever-smiling Adam Gardner has a voice that blends perfectly with Miller’s and stands out on its own, and they’ve expanded from three to four with the versatile Joe Pisapia.
They remind me a little bit of Barenaked Ladies, the headliner when I first saw them play. They have a sense of humor, clearly evident in their songs and on their site (they may be the masters of Internet-era band-building), and yet they come across as sincere on a variety of serious topics not necessarily derived from romantic relationships. Pisapia is now Guster’s answer to BNL’s Kevin Hearn — the “new guy” who can really play both guitar and keyboards. They don’t break into improv comedy like BNL’s Ed and Steve, but they’re funny and easygoing.
I usually have good luck with opening acts — Guster with BNL, Primus with Rush, Blue Oyster Cult with Rush, Cheap Trick completely blowing away Robert Plant, 10,000 Maniacs with R.E.M. Guster had two openers this time, and it was an up-and-down experience.
First up was a young band called Rogue Wave, which was basically straightforward indie rock with an ambient edge. (Yes, I know that’s an oxymoron, but bear with me.) The drummer is a little enamored of his floor tom, which got a little repetitive, but the overall sound was great. They’re ambitious, with all four guys breaking into interlocking vocals amid some occasionally intricate riffs. I couldn’t quite make out the lyrics in the mix, so I can’t give a complete review of the songs, but they at least rate as “promising,” possibly better.
Next up: Ray LaMontagne. With the name, I was expecting a New Orleans piano player. Wow, was I wrong. He’s a folk singer who appeared to be heavily medicated. Interesting voice, and the few lyrics I could make out sounded intriguing. But musically, this wasn’t much. He had a good guitar player who spent most of the set at a pedal steel, but that wasn’t enough.
He apparently has a fan base in this area. Several songs drew an ovation from the first few notes, prompting me to ask Mrs. MMM how anyone can tell these songs apart. They’re mostly medium-tempo waltz-time country-blues occasional-unexpected-chord compound-modifier-requiring-many-hyphens-but-still-dull songs.
The good guitarist was the only band member who looked comfortable. The female bass player kept scrunching her face as if she had just bitten into a lemon. The drummer — well, first of all, he looked like Mickey Dolenz of the Monkees. Not the young, skinny Mickey Dolenz — the post-1980s reunion Mickey Dolenz. He jutted out his arms at odd angles and occasionally paused to fiddle with bits of the drum set that seemed faulty. Not surprising, considering the whole thing looked like it was about to fall apart — an old wooden tambourine mounted to a giant bass drum that looked like it was reclaimed from a 1940s marching band. It was as if he were saying, “Dang it, how can this set be falling apart? I spent 10 dollars on it!”
It was a great triple bill for drummers — Rogue Wave’s tom-tom heavy sound, LaMontagne’s low-tech approach and Rosenworcel’s conga assault. (Now THAT’S a band name.) Three unique styles, and yet the first two used tympani mallets. Different thicknesses, though. (I know, no one but DWS will care about that.)
So if you’re going to see this triple bill, get there in time for Rogue Wave, then grab some food, then return for Guster.