Guster entertains Englert audience with an evening of hit songs and musical improv

Alternative rock band Guster mixed popular crowd favorites with humorous musical improv at the Englert Saturday night, and connected with their fans with a personal yet energized show.


Nichole Harris

The marquee outside of the Englert theatre is shown with Mandolin Orange headlining on Tuesday, January 28, 2020.

Addie Bushnell, Arts Reporter

The stage of the Englert Theater was bathed in blue and purple light as it welcomed popular ‘90s alternative rock band Guster and comedic master of ceremonies Connor Ratliff on Saturday for a night of crowd favorite tunes and musical improv. The band sat in a semicircle on the stage, as if casually joined around a campfire.

Guster was formed in 1991 and went on to experience commercial success in the late 1990s and early 2000s. They have since retained a large and loyal following across the country — including Iowa City — which surprised the band themselves.

“I had no idea we had so many fans in Iowa,” said lead singer Ryan Miller at one point during the two hour concert, bringing laughter from the audience.

Throughout the show, the band spent more time interacting with fans, who were prompted by Ratliff to come onstage between songs to have a quick conversation to inspire the subject matter for Guster’s next improvised tune. From beard products to daylight saving time, Guster had an abundance of quirky topics to choose from, and the quick ditties they came up with on the spot delighted the audience.

Around the middle of the show, which the band jokingly referred to as “halftime,” Ratliff collected several slips of paper that audience members had written messages on. One of the slips had been addressed to drummer Brian Rosenworcel, lamenting that, earlier that day, he had waved to Rosenworcel, but Rosenworcel hadn’t seen him. The band erupted into a sad, tender, yet hilarious ballad about bad timing and missed opportunities.

At the climax of the improvised tune, Rosenworcel asked if the person who’d waved at him would come up on the stage. Rosenworcel and the fan stood about five feet apart from each other and waved awkwardly for the duration of the song, sending the audience into hysterics.

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Although the comedic aspects of the show were enjoyable, the band shined the brightest when playing music from their studio albums. Guster just released their latest album, Look Alive, in January 2019, but both the band and the audience were most energized when reliving old hits like “Amsterdam,” a song off of the 2003 album Keep It Together, which catapulted Guster into mainstream music.

Guster’s members are now over 40 years old, but they’ve still retained their signature sound, full of soaring power-pop anthems and catchy hooks. Much of their music sounds like a mix of The Shins and a less angsty Weezer, but there are moments within their discography that feature a truly unique style.

One example is “Demons” from the 1997 album Goldfly. When guitarist Luke Reynolds began to pick the first few notes of the song’s gritty riff, the theater erupted into cheers that only grew louder as Miller showed off his beautiful falsetto during the chorus.

Although the set list was full of favorites, it wasn’t the songs themselves that made Guster’s performance so memorable. Rather, it was the genuine way that Guster interacted with and included their fans throughout the show. The audience was large, but Guster acted as if they were playing an intimate acoustic bar show for a group of close friends, creating inside jokes with their fans that were referenced throughout the show and even inviting one lucky man onstage to sing karaoke on a song of his choice. The result was a wonderfully personal performance that was filled with mutual affection between the band and the fans.