Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Oldies But Goodies

When I laid down the rules for 'Oldies But Goodies' I declared that it could either be an album that was great but forgotten or a band that got a bad wrap for being a one hit wonder but was much better than that and my selection tonight definitely falls into the latter category and that band is Guster. The band consists of three friends who met at Tufts University in 1991 during Freshman orientation and began writing songs in their dorm rooms. After a few self released albums in the mid 1990's, Guster finally achieved a small amount of commercial success with the song Fa Fa from their third album in 2000. Even without the tiny taste of fame Guster has been able to develop a rabid cult following because of their quality tunes, good humor and unbelievable live shows. Guster has definitely found a spot on KG's 'Do Not Miss At Any Cost' list for bands that must be seen, no matter how many times they have been seen in the past when they come to town. I have lost count of the number of perfomances of Guster's that I have seen since I discovered them in 2000.

Before I briefly review their albums let me touch upon their humor. Besides the clever lyrics and witty stage banter, Guster always has something planned for their live shows that will make you laugh. Once they dressed as psychedelic hippies and opened for themselves as a band called 'Trippin Balls' - it was high comedy to hear the 'fans' in the audience talk about how badly the opening band was sucking when in actuality it was their beloved Guster in costume. Another time the show started, the stage was empty and the theme from The Price Is Right played and the members of Guster each had their names called out and they ran up onstage from random places in the venue where they had been hiding. Good stuff indeed.

When Guster started they were a three piece band with 2 guitar players (Ryan and Adam) who alternated vocals and harmonies and a drummer (Brian - nicknamed The Thundergod by the fans) who only played bongos, cymbals and all manner of percussions with his bare hands. Their first album, Parachute, I would describe as Indigo Boys, as in a similar sound to maybe the Indigo Girls. Acoustic, folk rock, not extremely edgy just good harmonies and earnest lyrics. I would dare say even a bit cheesy.

With their second album, Goldfly, the boys continued to improve their songwriting skills. Their songs became a bit more catchy and they even flirted a tad with the 'jam band' genre while touring with the likes of Dave Matthews Band, etc. After traveling for a few years in support of this record the band signed with a major label and re-released this album to a wider audience.

Lost and Gone Forever was the band's breakthrough album that contained their 'hit' song Fa Fa. As is often the case, Fa Fa was probably the worst song on this album and I have no idea why it caught on or became the lead single. This was the first album of theirs that I heard and for me it was love at first listen. I remember reading about them, buying the album on a whim, popping in the cd and falling in love with the first track that was some kind of mutant Patridge Family meets the Brady Bunch with a touch of bongos. The harmonies, the dueling vocals were a breath of fresh air from the pop/punk crap that I had been listening to at the time and I nearly wore out this cd.

While recording their next album, Keep It Together, the Guster group made some decisions that in my mind pushed them over the top from a pleasant, novelty type band to the real deal. First off the band added a fourth member, Joe, who was a utility type guy who could play multiple instruments and add another layer of harmonies to the mix. Then the drummer, Brian, decided to not limit himself to just bongos and he started to become more proficient as an actual drummer. Apparently smashing your hands night in and night out isn't conducive to a long and fruitful career so he figured he needed to start preserving his livelihood. I had a chance once to go backstage after a show and Brian had huge icepacks taped to his hands and you could see the cuts and broken skin on his fingers. That same show was when they unveiled a drum kit for the first time that looked like it would belong to a 12 year old but Brian got up and busted out a few songs on them and it was fantastic. Keep It Together is still their best album to date. If you only bought one Guster album, this would be it.

Their most recent album, Ganging Up On The Sun was released in 2006 and the band continued to experiment and show more depth and confidence. Another solid album that would rank either 2 or 3 on my list of the Guster top 5, depending on the day and my mood at the time of listen. Here is one song from that album that is near and dear to my heart, even if just for the title alone.

The word on the street is that album number six is set to come out at some point this year and with that would hopefully bring the boys to town once again on tour. I know I'll be there - the question is will you?

1 comment:

Corbie said...

I'm torn between feeling ambivalent about Guster's music (it's a little too light and breezy for me - I need more angst) and desperately wanting to see them in concert just for the opening antic. The latter is winning out, actually, as I'm a sucker for some humor...(just not in my angst-ridden music lyrics)