Few things bring the Brandeis community together like a concert. The Guster performance a few Saturdays ago in the Gosman gymnasium was no exception.
Guster was accompanied by the opener Jukebox the Ghost, a Philadelphia-based rock band composed of Ben Thornewill (vocals & piano), Tommy Siegel (vocals & guitar) and Jesse Kristin (drums). Jukebox the Ghost, in comparison to Guster, is a relatively young band with only two albums released to date. They talked about their last performance at Brandeis in Chum’s. This was funny because the band members look like they could have just as easily been in a Chum’s concert audience as playing one.
The gym was only about a fourth full when Jukebox the Ghost took the stage, beginning with an upbeat song that got the crowd dancing. They started out with full energy and were able to keep it going throughout their performance.
Jukebox the Ghost incorporated a sense of theatrics into their performance. The drummer would periodically throw one of his drumsticks behind him, pull out a maraca, then throw that and bring back the drumstick. He repeated this throughout the performance with maracas and a tambourine.
Along with one of their most popular songs, “Empire,” they also played three songs from their new album that they are currently recording in the studio. They also claimed that they only played bad covers and played “Power of Love” from “Back to the Future” with a few bars from the “Ghostbusters” theme song mixed in.
Jukebox the Ghost left the audience full of energy and with excitement for Guster who, according to Jukebox, would “melt their faces off.”
Guster sounded as pristine as they do on their albums. Brandeis seems like one of the optimal places for Guster to perform. They have a special brand of quirkiness that the audience responded to so completely that a 1,200-person gymnasium felt like an intimate Chum’s concert. The band itself formed after three of the main members, Adam Gardner (vocals & guitar), Ryan Miller (vocals & guitar) and Brian Rosenworcel (drummer), met during their freshman year Wilderness Orientation at Tufts University, a setting not too different from the one at Brandeis.
When Guster began playing, they seemed to lack the energy of Jukebox the Ghost, which was comprised of younger members. With each successive song, however, Guster’s energy increased. Guster started out the night with the song “What You Wish for,” a song off their 1999 album “Lost and Gone Forever.” Throughout the evening they played a selection of songs ranging the entire length of the band’s 20-year career.
Despite their very informal appearance, it was evident that a lot of thought was put into the order of the set list as each song seemed to seamlessly meld into the next. Even though it was a concert at a university, the audience was diverse. From an older man jumping up and down in the audience to a very little girl wearing ear protectors, who was there with her parents, it was clear that Guster has a wide appeal. A majority of the audience has grown up with Guster, watching the band mature, and was able to sing along to every song.
For the most part the focus was more on the music than on speeches in between songs. Despite this, they were able to play around with the music. During the song “On the Ocean” the lights were turned off and members of their road crew held flashlights to their faces for a beautifully dramatic effect. When they did speak they were gracious to Jukebox the Ghost and said that they appreciated the audience for “cramming into a gymnasium on a Saturday night.”
Many bands have road crews to help with the set up and break down of the stage and equipment, as well as to bring them instrument changes while on stage. Guster was no exception with guitar changes almost every song and the drummer switching back and forth between a regular drum kit and one he played with his hands. Besides the generally accepted duties of the road crew, the Guster road crew was very integrated into the band, coming on stage during some of the songs to play piano and add more harmonic layers to a song.
Guster is well-known as a band that uses satire to get messages across. In the middle of their set they joked about going to a fraternity party the previous night where everyone was listening to hip-hop. This gave them the impression that if they sang songs that were more hip-hop they would have more listeners.
Guster then went on to make up a rap ballad about the food that they had leftover from their tour and no longer wanted. The rap included Silk brand soymilk, avocados (which they nicknamed “two green balls”), cereal, vegan sausage links and bread: “If you eat this on Yom Kippur, you will not go to heaven.”
As their set reached its end, it was clear that none of the 1,200 people in the audience wanted the concert to end. Guster rejected the usual act of walking off the stage and coming back for an encore (as so many bands do) by directly addressing the audience. It was up to the audience to decide whether they would stay on stage and perform the last two songs or walk off to uphold the tradition of an “encore performance” which gave the ending a more casual and personal feel.
Guster and Jukebox the Ghost complemented each other well and made for a very entertaining musical evening at Brandeis. In a way, Jukebox the Ghost is the face of many current students and Guster is what we have to look forward to in just a few years.