Indie rock, environmental powerhouse Guster performs

Guitarist and vocalist Adam Gardner offers advice to students

Guster, the indie rock phenom that played in Shapiro Gym last weekend, offered the more than 1,200 Brandeis students who packed the fall concert can-do examples on two levels: music and environmental conservation.

The band's founding members met as Tufts University freshmen in 1991. Headlining the nearly 90-minute energetic set, Guster performed hits from throughout their two-decade career. Jukebox the Ghost, an indie rock trio that formed at George Washington University in 2003, opened the evening, which was sponsored by Student Events.

“We feel very lucky that we’re able to do what we do,” said Adam Gardner, Guster guitarist and vocalist. "Brandeis is very similar to where we started."

Offering advice to would-be bands, he said: "You have a city. Start with smaller clubs, then go play at T.T.'s [the Cambridge venue T.T. the Bear’s], go play The Paradise. Play to the people. Take advantage of the fact that you don’t have to make a living from it now.”

Over the years, Guster has earned a reputation for their live performances, vocal harmonies, varied instrumentation, humor, and more recently, environmental activism, all of which were on display Saturday.

“It’s such a different world now,” said Gardner, who has also released an album of Chanukah music with The LeeVees and occasionally plays gigs with rock super-group Yukon Kornelius. “It doesn’t cost anything to make a record; you can do it on your laptop and spread it through your [social media] network. But it all starts with a good record. If you don’t have a good product, there’s no point in marketing it.”

As the band swapped instruments – from bongos to drums, guitars to keyboard, ukulele and trumpet – a sea of swaying bodies and bopping heads swarmed the stage to hear hits like “Amsterdam,” “Satellite” and “Airport Song,” as well as newer material from their 2010 release “Easy Wonderful.”

During an improvised rap, guitarist and vocalist Ryan Miller tossed leftover food at the audience – Silk and Morning Star Farms products, ​a loaf of bread.

It’s not unusual for the band to curb unnecessary waste. Eight years ago, Gardner and his wife Lauren Sullivan founded the nonprofit Reverb, which helps musicians green their tours and educate fans about sustainability. Reverb has worked with artists like the Dave Matthews Band, Barenaked Ladies, Jack Johnson, and Sheryl Crow.

And, of course, it works with Guster.

Similar to the band’s success in the music industry, Gardner said the environmental work is all about persistence.

“For any movement, there’s a spectrum and I respect that there’s a spectrum. I’ve chosen a ‘work with’ approach,” he said. “You won’t hear me talking out against things; you’ll hear me talking about being for things. I think that’s how Reverb has worked so well.”

Guster typically invites local environmental groups to set up booths at their shows, offers a platform for fans to coordinate ride-sharing to concerts and has headlined Reverb’s Campus Consciousness tour.

Whenever possible, the band tries to calculate the carbon footprint of the show – from the power used at the venue to hotels, flights, merchandise – and then tries to neutralize it by using refillable water bottles, reusable and biodegradable products, organic and local foods.

The show at Shapiro was powered in part by solar energy, according to Bryan Flatt '12, who worked with Student Events to coordinate the concert. Food was served with reusable dishes, separated recycling bins for glass, paper and composting were available, as were water coolers instead of bottles, he said.

“I’ve been doing this for eight years, working to make change happen,” Gardner said. “I’m very optimistic and encouraged by the response. It’s hopeful.”

The audience groaned when Miller announced the show was nearly over, and that the band would continue playing their final songs instead of leaving the stage before an assumed encore. After Miller gave a heartfelt thanks to the audience and advised students to “enjoy college,” Saturday, Guster closed the show with a mash-up of ​their encouraging “Hang On,” and Billy Joel’s “My Life.”

With the tour now complete, Guster dispersed home to their respective wives and young children. They plan to focus on writing new material but, Gardner says, the LeeVees will play a few shows this winter and would “love to play at Brandeis.”

Categories: Arts, Student Life

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