“This is our second time playing here, and it’s weird,” Guster lead singer Ryan Miller said to the audience between songs. “I feel like I should be lecturing you guys on capital gains tax.”
The “here” that Miller referred to was Washington DC’s DAR Constitution Hall, admittedly decorated in a style closer to the floor of Senate than the 9:30 Club. Over two hours and 23 songs, the Boston foursome entranced the audience with the humor, sincerity and tight musicianship that have become their trademark.
I will admit, I was hesitant about seeing Guster in an auditorium setting. I was unfamiliar with the acoustics at Constitution Hall, and the previous shows of theirs I had attended were at Wolf Trap, an outdoor venue with amazing sound. I didn’t want to leave the show disappointed.
However, my fears were abated before Guster even appeared. The opener, Justin Jones, stepped onstage with nothing but an acoustic guitar, a harmonica, shoulder length hair and a full beard. With a style mixing Bruce Springsteen with Tom Petty, he got over a very obvious case of initial stage fright with clever lyrics and wry crowd banter.
“You guys will have to bear with me,” Jones said with a laugh. “I’m not used to playing somewhere so effing big.”
Jones’ set, though a pleasant introduction to the evening, clearly left fans wanting to hear from the headliners as soon as possible. When the house lights dropped and the backstage door opened to reveal the Massachusetts foursome, the greeting was nothing short of deafening.
Their set opened with “The Captain,” a fan favorite off of their successful 2006 album “Ganging Up on the Sun.” It was met with thunderous applause as guitarist and vocalist Adam Gardner began playing the instantly recognizable opening notes, Gardner’s high tenor and Brian Rosenworcel’s drums combining with screaming cheers and the nearly-full capacity crowd singing along.
The performance offered an even mix of old and new songs, but absent were any tracks from their 1995 debut “Parachute.” Instead was a focus on their 2006 album, as well as their album released earlier this month, “Easy Wonderful,” as well as favorites from past albums.
While the concert began to lose a bit of momentum near the halfway point, the eight-minute version of “Come Downstairs and Say Hello,” a Pink Floyd-influenced song heavy on bass, reverb and extended guitar and drum solos brought the crowd’s vigor back. The song ended with a drum-and-guitar duel between Rosenworcel and Gardner. As the applause was receding, Miller shouted into the mic, “I LOVE when Adam gets his cock-rock on!”
The highlight, however, came at the encore. After finishing a version of “Hang On” that jumped directly into Billy Joel’s “My Life,” the band grabbed acoustic guitars and a hand drum, entered the audience and played an unamplified version of their 2004 song “Jesus on the Radio.” While the instruments were relatively audible, the vocals were completely drowned out by the crowd, who enthusiastically sang along with every word.
Recording since 1995, the band has seen many stylistic changes over its six albums, but has not lost touch with the fans that gave them such a devoted following.
“We last played here in 2002, opening for John Mayer,” Miller said at one point. “Half the crowd didn’t even know who we were. To those of you who stuck around, thanks. It means everything to us.”