Live Review: Guster; three minutes with Sean Na Na…

Category: Blog — @ 2:13 pm November 1, 2006

I have been known to get shit for liking Guster. In fact, I’ve gotten shit about it from certain members of the local music scene literally for years. But the fact is, I’ve always liked the band and respected what they do and how they do it. Guster easily could have been absorbed into the hippie jam-band circuit and spent the next 20 years mailing it in for a bunch of stoners who travel around to gigs in shitty VW vans looking for an excuse to get loaded every night. Instead, Guster has consistently tried to further their sound, working with producers like Roger Moutenot (known for his work with Yo La Tengo, among others). They’ve also always tried their best to entertain their fans, and achieved it every time, including last night, even with one of their core members almost down for the count.

Actually, I wasn’t really in the mood to go to Guster last night. I was still kind of whipped from Monday night’s Twilight Singers show (I don’t know how the One Percent guys do it every night). But three or four songs into their set and I was happy I made the cold drive down to Sokol Auditorium. Guster’s injured player was singer/guitarist Adam Gardner, who (as co-frontman Ryan Miller announced from the stage) has been suffering from pneumonia. Miller said the band had talked about canceling the entire week of shows, but Adam insisted on playing Omaha. The effects of his illness were obvious. Gardner was off pitch most of the evening and could barely carry his few vocal lines. This put Miller further into the spotlight, and he handled the duties with panache, singing better than I remember him ever singing.

The first half of the set was weighed down with songs from the new album. I’d like to tell you that they carried as well as the usual chestnuts, but they didn’t, and it wasn’t just a case of the crowd not being familiar with the material. Ganging Up on the Sun is probably the weakest Guster album in terms of straight-out, unforgettable hooks. No single song has that great-out-of-the-box quality of the best tracks from the last two records (There is no “Fa Fa” or “Barrel of a Gun” or “Amsterdam” or “Careful” in the bunch).

It was interesting to see where new guy Joe Pisapia fell into the line-up. He’s billed as the “multi-instrumentalist,” when in fact he spent most of the evening on bass, and to be honest with you, I prefer Guster without that added low end. The few times Pisapia strapped on an electric guitar were impressive – the band rearranged a number of songs to make room for him to spread out on solos, and he shredded every one of them. The other nitpick is how much time percussionist Brian Rosenworcel spent behind a full drum kit vs. his usual bongo set up. Most of the new songs appear to be written for the drum kit. I can’t say that I blame him for shifting to sticks knowing how he bludgeons his hands every night, but for me, that bongo sound is part of what defines Guster, and I hate to see it go. Combine the added bass with the drum set, and Guster’s usual buoyant sound becomes weighed down in low-end, especially in a hall like Sokol that’s somewhat boomy to begin with.

That’s a lot of complaining, when in fact, last night’s set was a lot of fun. Miller is a true entertainer. His combination of wit and a new short haircut makes him come off as a cross between Timothy Busfield and Andy Dick. When it came to the end of the evening, he asked the crowd if they wanted the band to leave the stage for the obligatory “good night, Omaha” pause or to simply stay on stage and go right into the encore, which everyone knew was coming anyway. The crowd of around 700 opted for them to stay, so at the end of the set he said, “Good night, Omaha!” followed moments later with “Thanks for sticking around for the encore.”

* * *

I don’t own a cell phone so I don’t have a clue how the billing works. Sean Tillmann owns a cell phone. And apparently his “plan” charges him mucho dinero for calls to and from Canada, which explains my rather short feature on Sean Na Na. In retrospect, I don’t know what more we could have talked about anyway. I’d heard he’d was burned out with doing the Har Mar Superstar schtick, but that apparently ain’t the case. He also has a new album in the wings, but no real date has been set for release, at least no date he was willing to tell me. I can tell you that this show will be madhouse packed. Everyone in Omaha loves Sean Tillmann, but few love him more than the guys that run O’Leaver’s, who are running this show Nov. 5. Want in? Get there early. You’ve been warned.

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