A rock band and a comedian touring together may sound random, but Guster and Jeff Garlin proved to be a perfect match. The band and the comedian actually have a history together, including a series of podcasts from 2006. More importantly, they have an admiration and appreciation for one another. I caught one of the sold out shows in Guster’s hometown of Boston, Massachusetts at the Paramount Center on April 20.
Mat Edgar warmed up the crowd with a brief stand-up routine. The 26 year-old Californian spent his ten minute set discussing such popular topics as growing up, experimenting with psychedelic drugs, Facebook and sex. He was funny for an unknown comedian - but things were about to get even more hilarious.
After bursting into laughter and giving up on introducing himself over the P.A. system, Jeff Garlin made his way onto the stage. Garlin is best known for his role as Jeff Greene on Curb Your Enthusiasm, but he began his career as a stand-up comedian. Clearly, he’s still got it.
Garlin’s routine was hysterical, even cracking himself up on a few occasions. What really made the performance, however, was his interaction with the audience. From calling out texters to inviting people on stage for improv to dealing with hecklers and late arrivals, it was priceless.
After performing for close to an hour, Garlin was joined by the members of Guster for a rendition of Neil Diamond's oft-covered "Solitary Man." Garlin can’t exactly sing - his staccato vocal delivery was reminiscent of William Shatner - but he injected his sense of humor and had fun with it.
Garlin was worth the price of admission alone, but the majority of the audience was there for Guster. I am admittedly not familiar with a large portion of their back catalogue, but I was highly impressed by their performance.
The band performed acoustically, allowing each member to showcase their talents. Vocal, guitar, bass and piano duties seamlessly switched between members Adam Gardner, Ryan Miller and Luke Reynolds, while drummer Brian Rosenworcel kept the percussion going. The quartet was joined by a two-woman string section, adding an elegant depth to the lush, acoustic melodies.
The show was nicely split up with a half hour of performance, then a half hour of requests and finally another half hour of performance. The request segment was my favorite part of the night. They took suggestions from fans via a suggestion bowl, Twitter and straight from crowd.
Jeff Garlin acted as emcee during this portion. The first request was an odd one; a fan wanted Guster to back him while he sang “Mona Lisa” to his wife. The band obliged, but Garlin took the opportunity to smash a cake in his face mid-performance. (It was Reynolds’ birthday.) Garlin would later apologize endlessly for this act.
The last of the requests was from a man in the balcony who wanted to hear “Window.” The band said that they have a rule that they play that song where the person who requested it is sitting, so they traveled up to the balcony and played it while surrounding him.
For a band who has been around for so long, it seemed refreshing to mix it up with something different. They openly enjoyed having the opportunity to play deep cuts. They had only ever played "Empire State," for example, a handful of times live, but they were happy to revisit it.
Other highlights of the set included performances of "Homecoming King,” which features a shout-out to Massachusetts; “Satellite,” with the band members’ great harmonization coupled with fans singing along; and the closer “This Could All Be Yours.”
Following the latter, the band returned to the stage for the encore about which the audience was forewarned. As a tribute to Levon Helm, who passed away a day prior, they performed a beautiful cover of The Band’s “The Night They Drove Ole Dixie Down.”
Guster’s set may very well have been the best sounding set that I have ever heard. The band’s excellent musicianship, along with the the benefit of a nice theater and a good sound guy, made for an impressive experience. With eyes closed, it was like listening to a studio album.
I would love to see more tours that combine music and comedy in a manner similar to Guster and Jeff Garlin. It brings together different audiences, giving everyone a unique experience. Perhaps the best part? Zero wait between sets!