In 24 years as a band, Guster has only released seven albums. Compared to many bands, that may seem sparse, but it’s clear that they’re a band that likes to do their own thing, at their own pace. Though they haven’t strayed far from their 90s alternative rock roots over the years, they haven’t stayed stagnant either; their latest record Evermotion, released earlier this year, has been somewhat divisive amongst fans as the band has shifted their sound with it in a more synth-heavy direction. But sometimes, seeing a band live can help to put an album into perspective, and that was the case on Thursday night at Wolf Trap, where the band played a set intermixing the new tracks with fan favorites from throughout their career, and showed that the new material isn’t so different after all.
The band opened the set with “Long Night,” the opening track of the new album, but then strategically followed it up with one of their biggest hits, “Careful,” from 2003’s Keep It Together. The band followed this strategy through the rest of the night – “Doin’ It By Myself” followed by “Red Oyster Cult” (also from Keep It Together), “Lazy Love” followed by “Lightning Rod” from 2006’s Ganging Up On the Sun, “Endlessly” followed by “Barrel of a Gun” from 1999’s Lost and Gone Forever. Though they avoided ever playing two new tracks back-to-back, they still managed to fit seven of the eleven songs from the new album into the 24 song set, while also getting in material from most of their other releases. While the audience has had several months to get to know Evermotion at this point, not being overwhelmed by new material was almost certainly appreciated.
The band’s brand of sunny pop music fit in well with a perfect mid-July evening (not too hot or humid, a rarity for our area this time of year) at Wolf Trap, and the two hour set seemed to fly by. Opener Kishi Bashi joined the band on violin for their “fake encore” (“Kid Dreams” from the new album and “Satellite” from Ganging Up On the Sun) and a faithful cover of Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ “Come On Eilieen.” To close the show, the band moved out to the lawn for an unplugged performance of “Jesus on the Radio.”
Kishi Bashi’s opening set was a solo performance, but if having such a large stage to himself at all daunted him, he didn’t show it. Instead, armed with his violin and an arsenal of delay pedals, he mixed and looped multiple layers of sound to create full-sounding songs. The result was that many tracks started off sounding a little avant garde as he set up each layer, but quickly developed into the full songs. Many in the audience may not have been familiar – quips such as “This song is called ‘I Am the Anti-Christ to You’” elicited some nervous chuckles, followed by fuller laughter as he added “it’s a love song.” By the time he closed with “The Ballad of Mr. Steak” he had won them over.
All photos by Matt Condon. Click to embiggen.