Guster Gets Personal at The State Theatre
Despite two decades of musical expertise and a stage loaded with pianos, string instruments, and drums; the spotlight was on the crowd last night at The State Theatre. Guster, a cult hit in the alternative scene, performed a stripped down, intimate acoustic performance where the audience wasn’t just passive consumers of the band’s breed of bluesy jams, but a co-conspirator, guiding the night with requests from tweets, shouts and a “fish bowl.”
From Sam Cohen of YellowBirds walking onto the stage, to Guster’s last crescendo of an encore, the crowd’s emotions were on a string bending with every note. The whole night unfolded like a stream of conscience to a soundtrack, where the band members were literally playing musical chairs, bouncing between instruments and switching off on vocals.
“It’s your show, State College,” said Guster from a stage that was set up like a living room from the 1950’s with desk lamps glowing on top of a baby grand piano.
The performance was an entirely unique experience, with the band playing the favorite songs of the audience members for their birthday and even calling out Onward State’s own Dennis McNamara for scowling at Guster’s lead vocalist, Ryan Miller. It was a concert finely-tuned for State College. The band commented on the salads they ate at Fiddlehead and reminisced with the old heads about playing at the Crow Bar back in the day.
The opening act consisted of Sam Cohen playing a set from his solo project, YellowBirds, on his hollow body Fender. The first three songs were ones that Cohen had never performed before in front of an audience. When you listen to the ways the melodies unfold, you picture a new age Lou Reed picking and strumming melancholic tunes about love and love lost.
Halfway through Sam Cohen’s set, Luke Reynolds of Guster walked out on the stage, picked up his acoustic guitar, and strummed the spirit of the crowd.
Guster’s music is very difficult to boil down into one specific genre, like alternative or indie rock. They borrow bluegrass riffs, ukulele surf licks, and a world-blend of strings to define their artistry independent of the categories of a record store. They spun any rhythm that emerged–even the buzzing feedback of a short-circuiting effects petal–into a masterpiece of perfectly harmonized vocals, catchy acoustic strumming, and an unworldly collection of noises from the violin and cello.
Guster’s songs are like a rush of adrenaline in sound wave form. The infectious groove races through your veins, your head descends into a slow bob, and your toes tap along with the rhythm. And just as you think the roller coaster of contagiously jammy vibes is about to crash, your head will rattle with the refrain resonating in your brain.
Evan Ponter contributed to this post.