One Cannery Row
Nashville, TN, 37203
Doors 7:00 PM / Show 8:00 PM
This event is 18 and over
Ever since their humble beginnings at Tufts University, Guster have always sought to outdo themselves. They sell out New York’s fabled Radio City Music Hall one year and perform with the Boston Pops at Symphony Hall the next. They sell out a 33-date college tour, and this past spring founded the eco-friendly Campus Consciousness Tour, with buses powered by biodiesel and performances powered by wind power. It’s in this overachieving band’s nature to one-up itself.
So don’t expect it to be any different with the release of Guster’s new album, Ganging Up on the Sun. The Boston-bred band’s fifth studio release may be a melody-minded, breezy, free-spirited, literate pop record like its predecessors—2003’s Keep it Together, 1999’s Lost and Gone Forever, 1996’s Goldfly, and 1994’s Parachute—but this time around, Guster are “more fearless than ever before,” says singer-guitarist Ryan Miller. They’ve pushed themselves both stylistically and emotionally, resulting in their most confident and superlative work to date.
“This album has our loudest song (“The Beginning of the End”), our quietest (“Empire State”), and our longest (“Ruby Falls”). “One song has one of our most sincere lyrics (“Hang On”) and definitely some of our most cynical.” While Miller doesn’t cop to any specific lyrical themes (“I write a melody and words pop up around it”), he does note that most of the words were written against the backdrop of “a president taking a country to war based on some very dubious rationale.”
You can hear a thread of dissent in songs like “Captain,” “Lightning Rod,” “Manifest Destiny,” and “The New Underground.” “But I never want to be preachy,” Miller says. “I’m not telling you whose face to throw a pie in. I’m just trying to exorcise some frustration, some anger, and maybe a provide a channel for someone else’s frustration and anger.”
Ganging Up on the Sun’s sunny, driving-with-the-top-down melodies, vintage harmonies, and warm guitar jangle do recall artists you’d associate with the ’60s and ’70s—bands who also wrote during a time of war and societal mistrust of government—such as CSNY, Mamas and the Papas, Fleetwood Mac, the Band, the Rolling Stones, and Tom Petty. Are Guster wearing their influences a bit more on their sleeve this time around?
“The word ‘classic’ was used a lot throughout recording as a goal for the sound of this album,” singer-guitarist Adam Gardner says, “and it definitely has a more classic rock feel to it.” Adds Rosenworcel: “I think when we switched from the ‘just guitars and percussion’ shtick to using whatever was in front of us, we ended up sounding more like bands we were listening to.”
The shtick he’s referring to is Guster’s early years as a trio when, onstage, front men Miller and Gardner stuck to acoustic guitars and Rosenworcel played bongos with his bare hands. They’ve come a long way since then, and even added a member. Ganging Up on the Sun is Guster’s first album as a four-piece: Joe Pisapia, a Nashville-based multi-instrumentalist who played on Keep it Together and performs with them live, joined full-time when they began recording the new album.
“Joe is by far the best musician in the band,” says Miller. “He can play every instrument and has taken our level of musicianship up about seven notches. Brian, Adam, and I spent ten years together in rooms, buses, and vans—it means so much to have this new energy as part of our equation. It still feels very much like Guster, just a more confident, muscular, refined Guster.”
Not only did Pisapia add texture and oomph to the tracks by playing banjo, dulcimer, trumpet, and lap steel guitar, he also served as producer for half of the songs, which were recorded at Nashville’s Sound Emporium and completed at Pisapia’s home studio, Ivy League, from January to April 2005. The second batch were recorded later in the year at the secluded mountaintop studio Allaire in Shokan, New York, with Ron Aniello, who also worked on Keep it Together.
"I think in the back of my mind I knew we were writing our best material yet," says Rosenworcel. One of the highlights is the lead-off single “One Man Wrecking Machine,” which is about a guy who hates his life and wants to go back to “the good ole days” and hang out with his buddies, get high, and make out with the hottest girl in school, as Miller puts it. “I’ve had that fantasy my entire adult life,” he says, “Like, what if I had the confidence of a 30-year-old man as a high school sophomore?”
Another highlight on Ganging Up on the Sun is the seven-minute “Ruby Falls,” a celestial epic that features an uncharacteristic muted trumpet in the outro (“I listen to that solo and think ‘that’s on my record’?” says Rosenworcel). “Personally, I can’t wait to play ‘Ruby Falls’ live,” says Miller. “Not just because I love the song, but because I think there’s a power to it that may even be bigger than what we captured in the studio. Or I could be wrong and we’ll sound like the Carpenters.”
“I just love that our band feels unpredictable right now,” Rosenworcel says happily. “I love that no one knows what to expect from us.”
Saintseneca’s Zac Little has been thinking a lot about memory. Not necessarily his memories, though they creep in often, too. Rather, he mulls over the idea of memory itself: its resilience, its haziness, how it slips away as we try to hang on, the way it resurfaces despite our best efforts to forget.
Memory is the common thread running throughout the Columbus folk-punk band’s fourth album, Pillar of Na, arriving in late summer via ANTI- Records. Following 2015’s critically lauded Such Things, the new album’s name is rooted in remembrance, referencing the Genesis story of Lot’s wife who looks back at a burning Sodom after God instructs her not to. She looks back, and God turns her into a pillar of salt. “Na,” meanwhile, is the chemical symbol for sodium. “Nah” is a passive refusal and the universal song word. It means nothing and stands for nothing. It is “as it is.”
Like Lot’s wife, Little cannot help but revisit where—and how—he grew up. Raised in church in southeastern Appalachian Ohio, he took up preaching when he was still a teenager, sometimes in small country settings and other times to congregations of thousands. But these days he’s more interested in listening. And questioning.
Musically, Pillar of Na is Saintseneca’s most ambitious album to date, with Little aiming to incorporate genre elements he’d rarely heard in folk. “I wanted to use the idiom of folk-rock, or whatever you want to call it, and to try to do something that had never been done before,” Little explains. “To reach way back, echoing ancient folk melodies, tie that into punk rock, and then push it into the future. I told Mike Mogis I wanted Violent Femmes meets the new Blade Runner soundtrack. I’m looking for the intersection between Kendrick Lamar and The Fairport Convention.”
“You’re always going to be situated in the folk legacy,” Little continues, acknowledging his past recordings, which include three albums (the aforementioned Such Things, 2014’s Dark Arc, 2011’s Last) and three EPs (2016’s The Mallwalker]/i], 2010’s Grey Flag, and 2009’s self-titled). “But let’s move forward. I’m not trying to make the lost Velvet Underground B-side. I want to find something that has never been heard before, or at least go down trying.”
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