It's been said that pop music has never been more raunchy and in-your-face than it is right now -- and while there's some validity to that point, those making it usually ignore the equal-and-opposite reaction occurring on the other end of the spectrum. The fact is, white-bread pop-rock has seldom had more cachet among self-anointed young hipsters than it does right now -- as evidenced by the appeal of Guster.

It’s been said that pop music has never been more raunchy and in-your-face than it is right now — and while there’s some validity to that point, those making it usually ignore the equal-and-opposite reaction occurring on the other end of the spectrum. The fact is, white-bread pop-rock has seldom had more cachet among self-anointed young hipsters than it does right now — as evidenced by the appeal of Guster.

Guster is one of the more puzzling acts to emerge from the post-hippie morass of East Coast academia in recent years. While the group cut its teeth on the same college circuit that spawned Phish and the Dave Matthews Band, the trio absorbed little of the attendant musical sophistication; instead they proffer a strain of acoustic bubblegum that traces its inspiration back to easy-on-the-ears forebears like the Association and Bread.

The band leavens its somewhat thin sound with a wacky attitude that owes enough to the Barenaked Ladies to make one think that Canadian content statutes had been extended below the 49th parallel. Frontman Ryan Miller punctuates the post-grad tomfoolery with a bit of pull-my-finger prattle, but there’s nothing remotely raw in simple campfire singalongs like “Fa Fa” and “I Spy.”

As mellow as the onstage proceedings were, however, the crowd — rife with beer-chugging, obscenity-spewing knuckleheads — was one of the rowdiest to assemble in Central Park this concert season.

The far more nuanced perf of alt-country pioneers the Jayhawks didn’t make much of an impression on the assembled throng. But that didn’t seem to surprise frontman Gary Louris, who shrugged off tepid audience response and gained a palpable energy boost after leaping off the stage to confront a patron who’d been lobbing missiles stageward for much of “Ohio.”

The Jayhawks didn’t go out of their way to win over novices, emphasizing slow-burning elegies such as “Blue” and “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” over more forceful rockers — although they did cap off their set with a strut through Grand Funk’s “Bad Time to Be in Love.” For those already familiar with the band’s charms, the vocal duets between Louris and keyboardist Jen Gunderman — as well as the surprisingly lush instrumental interplay — insured that even the quietest songs seldom sounded sweeter.

Jayhawks; Guster

Central Park Summerstage; 7,000 capacity; $25

Production

Presented by Heineken. Reviewed Aug. 19, 2000.

Cast

Musicians: (Jayhawks) Gary Louris, Marc Perlman, Jen Gunderman, Tim O'Reagan; (Guster) Ryan Miller, Adam Gardner, Brian Rosenworcel.
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