The cloudless, nearly cool Friday evening cleared a space that could only be filled by a free outdoor concert. And so there was Guster to answer the call and cozy up under the Arch as part of Live on the Levee, with its sunshine-y, fan-friendly folk-pop.
Since forming as an acoustic-and-bongos college band in the early '90s and gaining popularity at the end of the last decade, Guster (which is now a four-piece with the addition of guitarist Joe Pisapia), has maintained its following with constant touring that's heavy on festival and campus stops. The band is organic without too much crunchiness, and not challenging or pretentious. And as last night's setlist proved, Guster plays the songs the crowd wants to hear, and plays them the same live as on record, freeing them from the verbosity of "jammier" bands.
If this approach seems uninspiring for those who enjoy live shows for the spontaneity, the members of Guster fall back on their genuine charm. The men are likeable and sincere, easygoing and quick-witted. These are guys you would want to be friends with in college, even if they were planted on the dorm lawn forming a drum circle.
The crowd, which ballooned as the sun went down, reflected the band's good humor with lots of support: cheering, sing-alongs, throwing ping pong balls at the appointed moment during "Airport Song," and even waving handmade signs, one of which read "Let Brian Sing," (The drummer, who's also known as Thundergod, didn't.) Guster dedicated "Either Way" to the young family displaying the sign "Our 1st Guster Show."
Show highlights: 1. Personal favorite "Come Downstairs and Say Hello," which began with Ryan Miller on solo ukulele and moved into trippy reverb, adding guitar, bongos, drum kit and keys, crescendoing toward a swirling, fuzzy unwinding.
2. Co-lead-vocalist Miller's heartfelt (if hyperbolic) banter, praising the setting. "One of the coolest venues we've ever played," he said, adding that the Arch is "one of my favorite pieces of America." He also effused over the band's field trip to the City Museum, which he called a "kiddie and stoner play land" and "the most unbelievable place in the world." He then performed a "salute to the Missourian of the day": creator of the City Museum, Bob Cassiliy, whom he incorrectly referred to as "Joe." Over a steady beat, he ad-libbed: "You had a dream, Joe/ You put it in the state of M-O." Upon audience encouragement, he continued into a rap, the crowd lapping up rhymes about dangling cranes and planes.
3. The lovefest continued as drummer Brian Rosenworcel hand-beat every surface in sight during "Fa Fa" -- to me, it always looks like he's throwing his shoulder out of socket -- and Miller gave the crowd a choice of first encore. (They chose "Careful.")
Tall boys bobbed with emphatic rhythm, little kids fixated by the enthusiastic sign-language interpreter danced along the guard rail and at least one glow-stick hula hooper twirled along the riverfront. Upbeat breakup song "Amsterdam" sounded like a celebration as the crowd turned to the fireworks with a feeling that it's still summer, the Cards can still pull one out -- and there's no sense to worry.
Setlist (help fill in blanks!): 1. 2. One Man Wrecking Machine 3. 4. (Interlude) Don't Fear the Reaper, Blue Oyster Cult 5. Airport Song 6. 7. Either Way 8. Satellite 9. Come Downstairs and Say Hello 10. City Museum rap 11. Barrel of a Gun 12. 13. Demons 14. Center of Attention 15. C'Mon 16. 17. Fa Fa 18. Careful 19. Amsterdam 20. The Captain