Monday, 30 March 2015

Guster at Bush Hall, London - 04/03/2015

Following the release of latest album Evermotion, Guster returned to London earlier this month for a one-off, intimate gig at Bush Hall. Although the album arrived in the UK only a few days prior to the gig, initial online previews had already indicated a strong transition from 2010's Easy Wonderful, with this latest effort driven towards a more spacious and atmospheric sound - a clear departure from its predecessor. This long-awaited performance marked the band's first London show in nearly a decade, a fact that was no doubt reflected by the anticipation of the thriving crowd, in both the lead-up and all throughout the 90-minute set.

The band opened the show with a haunting rendition of 'Ruby Falls', in which the heightened dynamics of the extended outro was enough to rival the studio version that appears on 2006's Ganging Up On The Sun. Acoustic fan favourite 'Do You Love Me' followed, though it was the defining synths and powerful vocals of 'Endlessly' that, as the first of the night's tracks to come from Evermotion, proved an early highlight and ultimately set the momentum for the proceeding songs. Other standout tracks from the new record included 'Long Night', and 'Kid Dreams', the latter of which translated fantastically in a live setting, but was perhaps most noteworthy due to the irresistible fusion of keys and bass. Though the band effortlessly switched instruments throughout the 20-track set, it was the bass that my ear was tuned to throughout, and along with Ryan Miller's impressive lead vocal, I found this aspect of the instrumentation to be most key to my overall enjoyment of the performance.

Although the set naturally centred around Evermotion, the band's previous three albums shaped the remainder of the gig, with material being equally drawn from Easy Wonderful and Ganging Up On The Sun. Their 2003 release, Keep It Together, was also touched upon, as the crowd were treated to the album's title track, along with 'Diane' and an unexpected final encore of 'Jesus On The Radio' - all of which made welcome additions to an already brilliant song line-up. While the absence of material from their first three studio albums was perhaps a bold move, the setlist was satisfyingly varied enough to appeal to both the long-time and casual fan. The much-loved 'Satellite' received a particularly rapturous response, adding further weight as to why the latter half of Guster's catalogue is arguably their best, however the new material truly shone in the fine acoustic settings of the ever-consistent Bush Hall, and with the tight musicianship of the band adding further substance, the night ultimately belonged to Evermotion.


Sunday, 1 March 2015

Hidden Treasures: Ball & Chain - Bus Stop

Bus Stop were a North Carolina-based, pop/rock band, formed in 1990 by vocalist Evan Olson and lead guitarist Britt "Snuzz" Uzzell. Completing the line-up were bassist Chuck Folds and drummer Eddie Walker, though the band is also notable for the involvement of Chuck's brother Ben, who contributed piano to a number of tracks over the course of their four LPs. I first came across Bus Stop after hearing a brief snippet of their music on a TV show. The clip was literally a ten-second instrumental intro section, but it was punchy and energetic, and I was immediately hooked. The track in question - 'What You Do' - and the album from which it appears - 2000's Japanese compilation release, Ball & Chain - offered me a solid introduction to the band's music.

The most endearing aspect of Ball & Chain, is how stylistically diverse it is. There is no one sound that dominates, with a tracklist spontaneously spanning multiple genres throughout its 23 songs. The strongest tracks appear in the album's first half; 'Arrow From My Heart' makes for a timeless, mid-tempo opener, accompanied by spacious riffs that run alongside effortless vocals, while the rock-infused, sharp hooks of the aforementioned 'What You Do', progress to an even more satisfying guitar solo. Another key moment, and an overall vocal highlight of the record, is the infectiously melodic title track, with the addition of Ben Folds on piano, further complimenting what is probably the most 'complete' sounding song on the album. On the latter half of the record, standout moments come by way of the funk-driven 'Mr. Midnight', while the breezy, euphoric instrumentation of 'Livin', Lovin' revisits the sublime tone that is captured so well on earlier parts of the album.

Ball & Chain was Bus Stop's final release, and as of yet, the only album of theirs that I have been able to find a physical copy of. It is hardly surprising that their music is difficult to obtain, considering that all of their material was released prior to today's digital age, in which music is so readily available. With that being said, I am eager to track down Bus Stop's other LPs, if only to see how they fare in comparison to the strength and consistency that is so evident on Ball & Chain.