The Set List
By Brian Washburn
Free concerts rock. I mean, even if the band is really horrendous, you still have gotten to see the show and laugh your ass off for free. But the recent Guster show at the Greek Theater at the University of Arkansas was not horrendous. Even though it was free to all who ventured up The Hill, it would have been worth at least a $20 ticket. Guster knows their crowd, knows their taste and believe me, they delivered a time that was fun for all.
Guster has been a cornerstone of the college alt-rock scene for quite some time now. Even though they have chosen to develop (or mature) their sound over their past few albums, every song they played gave the crowd a jolt of excitement not found when listening to the tracks on the recorded (at times over-produced) albums. The Massachusetts band — vocalist/guitarist Adam Gardner, vocalist/guitarist Ryan Miller, drummer/percussionist Brian Rosenworcel and bassist Joe Pisapia — gave the crowd an extremely varied set list alternating from older fan-favorites (“Barrel of a Gun,” “Demons” and “Airport Song”) to new songs that some concert-goers seemed to like just as much (“One Man Wrecking Machine,” “Satellite”). The band also played a few songs probably not expected by the crowd, (as well as the undeniably amazing mandolin version of “Come Downstairs and Say Hello,”) “Ramona,” “Red Oyster Cult”. With every song the band played in their more-than-an-hour set, the crowd sang louder, moved more and smiled wider. Guster also knew how to have fun on stage. Switching between different instruments gave Gardner and Miller the opportunity to offer listeners different variations of their favorite Guster tunes. But more than switching instruments, vocal harmonies and crowd participation, the band just seemed to have a genuinely fun time on stage, much to the pleasure of the crowd at the outdoor theater.
Gardner, Miller and Pisapia’s instrumentation was dead-on for most of the set, which featured a 50/50 mixture of acoustic and electric rock, but Rosenworcel stole the instrumentation part of the show with his ability to switch between a regular drum set and the bongos stationed at the back of the stage. All I can say is, after that stellar and mesmerizing performance, his hands must have been bloodied, bruised and hurting like hell. Musicians might give their all on a nightly basis, but Rosenworcel plays like he should be admitted to a hospital after every concert for lacerations and broken bones in his hands.
While the show was way above par for the UA’s phenomenal concert series, the band did decide not to include some crowd favorites, such as “Happier” (my personal favorite, so this was a major disappointment), “So Long” and “Homecoming King” (another personal favorite). The band did play two encores (which they told the crowd they were going to do prior to leaving the stage the first time). While the first encore featured crowd favorites, the second offered up something completely different and the band caught the entire crowd off guard when they performed a cover of 90s one-hit-wonder super single “What’s Going On?” You know, the one with the yodeling.
If every free concert was like this one, the music industry would be in even more of a free fall than it already is, as no one would want to pay for entertainment because of the high-quality they could get for nothing. It is amazing to think that Guster is not as big as their alt-rock peers OAR or Dave Matthews solely based on their live performance and college-pop songwriting. Let’s just hope they stop through Northwest Arkansas again sometime in the near future. I’m sure many people would pay to see a show like this.