With the temperature surpassing 90°, Monday evening in Central Park was definitely a hot one to say the least. It’s a good thing there was a surplus of beer and wine on the premises to cool everyone down for a great night of music. I love Summerstage even in the sweltering heat. People arrived early to hang out on the turf, lay out their towels and blankets, and enjoy the company of their friends. It felt slightly festival-like, which is a cool feeling considering you’re in the middle of Central Park in New York City. When Kishi Bashi hit the stage with his violin and loop pedals, excitement began to fill the air.
If you have not heard of Kishi Bashi, I encourage you to make that a priority in your life. In trying to come up with one word to describe his vibe, I’d have to go with “badass.” This guy was sweating from head to toe in his shirt, tie, and jeans, complete with some stylish shades. His sense of rhythm was obvious right away as he created a completely full sound on stage with just his violin, his beat boxing, and his loop pedals. If you closed your eyes, you would have thought there was a synthesizer, a bass player and two other vocalists on stage with him the entire time. This alone, made Kishi Bashi a fascinating performer. His beats were strong and his sarcasm was fierce, which works for me. He opened with “It All Began With A Burst,” which was more than fitting.
He continued on with crowd favorites “Atticus, In The Desert” and “Bright Whites.” His vocal abilities were obvious in his sheer range and power. He is such a smooth performer in every way. Other cool moments included when Luke Reynolds and Dave Butler, of Guster, joined Kishi Bashi on stage to rock out to “The Ballad of Mr. Steak.” Keeping consistent with his constant jokes about the heat, Kishi Bashi was on fire in every way. This guy was dancing up a storm despite the temperature. He did “Philosophize in it! Chemicalize in it!” with Reynolds and Butler before sending them off stage for his final song of the evening, “Manchester.” The layers in this song are musically complex, but they blend together so beautifully that the product truly sounds simple. It was so full and well rounded, like a great story being told with just a violin and vocals. With the end of his set, and a roaring applause from the audience, we began to prepare for Guster!
The breeze was well deserved, and the audience’s energy level was fueled as Guster entered the stage and opened with “I Spy,” followed by “Careful,” and “Doin’ It By Myself.” These guys are tight, yet beyond chill. Being the third time I’ve seen them live, they truly never disappoint. They kept things going with a booming “Barrel Of A Gun,” which had the crowd singing and swaying along. The drums were on point all night, but this one definitely was the most fun for the rhythm section of the group. This is probably the moment when I noticed Luke Reynold’s bass face. It was the happiest stank face I had ever seen, and it was clear that this guy was feeling every single note he was playing. It’s fun to watch people like that. When the band is feeling the music, the crowd gets into the groove as well. The band graciously paused after the first six songs to break out some water guns and aim them at the sweating audience. This action was met with roaring cheers and support. It was fun a fun way to cool down and vibe with the band.
The sun was finally beginning to go down, and the temperature was slowly, but steadily on the decline. Guster began to play “Ruby Falls,” which was a standout track of the evening, as the trumpet was absolutely refreshing. Ryan Miller and Adam Gardner’s harmonies were spot on, as per usual. Miller’s energy, as a front man, is very unique. He manages to be relaxed and totally chilled out, yet brings such warmth and excitement to the venue. This was perfectly demonstrated as they played “Do You Love Me,” a rather upbeat and happy tune. Miller’s smooth tone and lovely demeanor allows the song to shine, while still remaining completely low-key.
It was about this time that I began to search for a new spot to enjoy the music from. At a venue like Summerstage, I like to roam around and catch the concert from different areas of the venue, which is another reason it reminded me of a festival. I appreciated the assortment of activities going on, as well as the varied levels of interest people had in the performance. Some people were up front, standing up, cheering and singing along to every song; some were checking out the beer and wine; some were further out on the turf enjoying a nice conversation with friends; and others were relaxing on the bleachers. This is how outdoor, summer music should be enjoyed, and Guster was the perfect backbone to it all. As I took a seat on the bleachers, I enjoyed “Bad Bad World,” “Lightning Rod,” and “Never Coming Down.” Next, all I heard from the stage is Miller asking, “are we gonna do it?” to his band members. They invited Kishi Bashi on stage to accompany them with a fun and boisterous cover of “Come On, Eileen” by Dexys Midnight Runners. This was an energy surge for the audience, and it was wonderfully enjoyable.
I rose from the bleachers when I head the first few chords of my favorite Guster song, ”Happier.” This song will always do it for me. I can’t pinpoint exactly what it is that makes me feel so good when I hear this track, but it never fails to make me smile. I watched as members of the crowd were throwing fists in the air and chanting along to the chorus, “Go on, if this will make you happier. It got you this far, do what you have to.” The breakdowns were strong and the harmonies were rich. The vocal overlap between Miller and Gardner was perfect, and the energy in the venue felt great. They continued with “This Could All Be Yours,” which was wonderfully chipper.
As for encores, they played “Long Night,” and then announced that Guster has been playing music together for 24 years. Miller musically thanked everyone for still coming out to the shows, which was highly entertaining. They proceeded with “Satellite,” which is one of my favorite songs of theirs, from a melodic and lyrical standpoint. Everyone was feeling the good vibes and not wanting the evening to end when Miller announced the last song of the evening. As I had guessed since we hadn’t yet heard this track, the last song was “Demons.” Couples cuddled and danced, friends swayed along, people lay out on the ground and looked up at the sky, and others simply watched as they finished the last few sips of their beer. As the notable electric guitar riff rang out one last time, the evening was officially over, and Guster had once again, completely made my night.
Article: Alex Feigin
Photos: Shayne Hanley