SAC bats a thousand with folky Guster

“What are you all talking about?” Guster frontman Ryan Miller asked a few songs into Guster’s hour and a half long set. Despite continued murmuring and a few screams, the packed Lasell gym offered little acknowledgement of Miller’s question and no hint of an answer or response. Miller looked puzzled at the lack of enthusiasm, looked at his band mates, and then smiled. “Are you all drunk?” A massive roar. Pumped fists. Lots of screaming. Problem solved.

Guster’s spring tour is in itself something of an oddity: playing colleges like Williams underscores the popularity that Guster achieved over the past few years, and although the band has been working on a new album, the April 25 show included only a few new songs. College tours like Guster’s are commonplace for bands not popular enough to play for a bigger audience and also for bands experimenting with new material, where they can test songs before putting them on an album.

However, neither of these arguments seem applicable in Guster’s case. While it is to their credit that they are willing to play a gig like Williams, it is unusual that the band would subject itself to the audience it faced at last week’s concert.

Faced with a crowd seemingly divided between hard-core Guster enthusiasts and drunken hip hop and metal fans, Guster played a show that was high in entertainment value but lower in musical content. While half the audience sang along to every word Miller or guitarist Adam Gardner sang, many responded only half-heartedly to the band’s admittedly entertaining stage shenanigans, whether that be Miller’s track race midway through the set or percussionist Brian Rosenworcel’s unique vocal performance that closed out the night.

Faced with such a difficult audience, it is to Guster’s credit that the show was as successful as it was. It isn’t easy to play to an unenthusiastic crowd, particularly when people are rowdy, and the band did a good job of pleasing the Guster fans while entertaining those who found the music uninteresting. Rosenworcel deserves much of the credit for the band’s onstage musical credibility, and his flailing conga drum barrage was both visually appealing and musically compelling. With Miller and Gardner glued to their mikes for most of the night, Rosenworcel provided most of the band’s musical energy, something that felt lacking in the night as a whole.

Oddly, it was the slower numbers that seemed to please the crowd early on. Guster ballad staples like “Rocketship,” “Demons” and “Either Way” produced the most enthusiastic response, while up-tempo numbers like “Barrel of a Gun” and “Airport Song” lacked the energy necessary to make them as successful as their album counterparts. The band mostly stayed away from the new album’s material, and the new songs they played were greeted with mediocre response.

The concert didn’t really get going until midway through “Great Escape,” when a girl hoisted onto a friend’s shoulders in the middle of the audience (“the girl in the middle of the room”) provided for Miller’s most humorous tirade and the audience’s most enthusiastic reaction. The band tore through the rest of “Great Escape” and the songs that followed (“Center of Attention,” “Fa Fa” and the encore “I Spy”) were the strongest of the show. For the first time all night, the band and the audience seemed mutually appreciative and everyone was having a good time.

Guster, when given an audience more respectful than the one the College offered, can be one of the best live acts in the industry. While it’s a shame that Williams wasn’t the place for that, the band proved equally impressive in winning over a mixed audience as pleasing a loving one.

The closing “Mona Lisa” was indicative of the night’s atmosphere. Arguably the best song off of Guster’s first release, Parachute, the song was split between the most compelling vocals of the night by Miller in the first verse and the far more entertaining strain of Rosenworcel’s croon in the second. And Rosenworcel received the far greater applause.