Rising sun

Guster for grown-ups?
By JONATHAN STERN  |  August 7, 2006

KEEPING IT TOGETHER: Guster are happy to see critics comparing their new CD to Wilco, the Kinks, and Pink Floyd.
PHILADELPHIA — As the stage crew and audio techs busy themselves at the Festival Pier of Penn’s Landing, Guster — Ryan Miller, Brian Rosenworcel, Adam Gardner, and the newest “official” member, Joe Pisapia — are on their bus working out “Ruby Falls,” a seven-minute-long track off Ganging Up on the Sun (Reprise) that culminates with a jazzy trumpet solo. Gardner belts out a few squawks on the horn and relents. “I swear I haven’t picked it up since junior high,” he says, holding a trumpet that was probably dug out of his parents’ closet.

Over the past 10 years, Guster — the band you probably know as Boston’s princes of college rock — have gone from Tufts University buskers in Harvard Square to tour headliners. They’ve played every venue from Tufts’s Spring Fling to Symphony Hall. They’ve blogged about every tour (including Rosenworcel’s account of falling asleep before watching their Tonight Show performance). Now on a tour that comes to Bank of America Pavilion August 11 and 12, they’ve expanded their sphere of influence to the national level. So, what else could a mid-level, socially conscious band of affable guys writing listenable pop music want?

To lose their collegiate reputation.

“Indie-rock snobs automatically clump us in with O.A.R. because we’re a college band,” lead guitarist/vocalist Gardner laments. “Yeah, we’re popular among college students, but our music isn’t frat rock. Especially if you’re talking about Keep It Together and this new record, Ganging Up on the Sun. That’s where we’re trying to draw a line in the sand. I’m really happy to see a lot of press coming back on this record comparing us to bands that we listen to, like Wilco, early Kinks, and Pink Floyd.”

Since 2003’s Keep It Together (Reprise), Guster have distanced themselves from the sparse arrangement of bongos and acoustic guitars they used to play at college gigs, instead incorporating more studio gadgets and production savvy. That disc found them focused more on hook-saturated pop songs; Ganging Up on the Sun continues this tack. The new record thinks bigger. The Jackson Browne, “Running on Empty” riffs of “C’mon” and the “Bron-Yr-Stomp” of “The Captain” sound almost calculated for amphitheaters.

But bringing all of this savvy to the stage is another matter. As Gardner gets through his trumpet solo at soundcheck, forcing his lips to remember how to make a flat from a sharp, his mates nod in an “ain’t half bad” gesture.

“The music we’re listening to is lining up with the music we’re making,” he says. “I think the first three records were about us trying to capture what we do live, when there were just two acoustic guitars and hand percussion. We had a powerful thing happening there. Lost and Gone Forever with Steve Lillywhite to me marks the end of the attempts. Then we asked ourselves, ‘How do we make better records?’ ”

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