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Live Sound Showcase: Guster

Alternative folk-pop mainstay Guster spent the start of the year on the road with a U.S. acoustic tour that not only showed off the band’s instrumental skills but also found it performing with an unlikely monitor setup.

Boston, MA (April 1, 2020)—Boston alt-rock band Guster are beloved as much for their humor as their musical prowess, which can include swapping a dizzying assortment of instruments during their shows and a drummer known for eschewing drumsticks—as well as singing off-key covers. Nevertheless, the decision to embark on an “unplugged” U.S. acoustic tour using Bose S1 Pro speakers as monitor wedges was no joke.

It might be billed as an acoustic tour, but the band’s gear complement on the current jaunt (canceled midway through due to the spread of the coronavirus) is unchanged from a regular all-electric show, according to FOH engineer and tour manager Jim Perry. “They were joking about it on stage yesterday, saying that the difference between their regular show and this show is that they’re sitting down.”

Indeed, the band brought along its usual backline gear. “They’re carrying all their Coffin cases and guitar vaults. And they have some cases for audio—we carry all their mic stands and XLR cables and stuff.”

Carrying control gear from Scorpio Sound for its recent acoustic tour, alt-rock band Guster used Bose S1 Pro portable P.A. speakers as monitor wedges nightly.

The mic complement is a combination of the band’s collection and the package Perry takes out with his other clients, including Nada Surf. “It’s a mix of Sennheiser and Shure, the usual stuff,” he says.

With the band’s equipment already taking up plenty of trailer space, he continues, “I wanted my audio rig to be as tiny as possible.” To keep things small, Perry is mixing on DiGiCo’s compact S21 digital desk, with a D2-Rack located on stage. “I’d never used the console before, but the band was working with Scorpio Sound in Bridgewater, just outside Boston—we’ve worked with them for a number of years—and the small-profile consoles they had available made the most sense. I just wanted something I could fit into the trailer and, if I needed to, squeeze into whatever weird corner I was going to be in for some of these theater and makeshift shows,” he says. “After the first few days of learning curve, I figured it out and got comfortable with it.”

Of paramount importance is the consistency the rig affords him and the musicians. “I’m running the FOH and monitor mix off the S21, so it’s pretty much the same show every day for the guys. Aside from me, out front, where it’s P.A. du jour,” he says.

The spread of coronavirus in the United States this spring forced Guster to postpone the rest of its Acoustic Improv Tour. The band notes on its website that shows will be rescheduled and all sold tickets will be honored.

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Despite the potential for a bad experience, “Most of the theaters have had decent stuff. Some of them bring in a rig from a vendor,” he says, “but it’s what I was expecting. It’s really different every day. We’ve only had one or two shows where, when I patched in, leveled off my graph, hit play on my music and walked around, I thought, wow, I have work to do.”

Perry spends a good portion of each day with his tour manager hat on, advancing upcoming shows, so he has to rely on house crews for setup. “Even if there’s just one person with the knowledge and fortitude to keep everyone motivated to help me, that’s all I really need. If there isn’t that one person, then I have to stay on stage and keep pointing at things.”

The decision to bring S1 Pro boxes on tour for onstage monitoring came at the urging of vocalist, multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Adam Gardner. “I have one at home,” Gardner says.

As it turns out, the band has had a relationship with Bose for some time, initially using the slimline L1 articulated arrays at house parties and side-stage pop-up surprise performances at their own shows. Gardner first experienced the S1 after securing a pair for an album release listening party on the beach at his annual On the Ocean festival in Maine.

“I loved the way it sounded,” he says. “Then I did some solo gigs with it and noticed how crazy guitar sounded through it, and how easy everything sounded. You could just plug into it and everything sounded how you wanted it to.”

The decision to bring S1 Pro boxes on tour for onstage monitoring came at the urging of vocalist, multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Adam Gardner. “I have one at home,” Gardner says.

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Gardner brought along an S1 for a couple of recent acoustic shows. “Jim saw me using it” and suggested it might work on the upcoming acoustic tour, Gardner says.

“I knew the value of having the same equipment every day, and having a monitor package would create a sense of consistency for the guys,” says Perry, who also works at venues including Music Hall of Williamsburg, Rough Trade BK and Brooklyn Steel when he’s home in New York City. “It also allows me to just plug them in, call up my scene [on the S21] and know that it was pretty close to yesterday. Keeping a timeline of five hours of setting up before doors, that seemed pretty valuable, even though I had only heard the box once. But I’ve been a fan of Bose my whole life.”

For this tour, Guster—Gardner on guitar, bass and vocals; vocalist and guitar/bass player Ryan Miller; and multi-instrumentalist Luke Reynolds, who’s been with the band since 2010—are supported by a cello and a violin player. The five musicians are arrayed across the stage in a semicircle, with a keyboard setup at stage right, and drummer and founding member Brian Rosenworcel at stage left, facing centerstage.

“They’re all seated,” Perry says, “so if we had different house wedges every day, their setup wouldn’t be as intimate. That wasn’t necessarily designed into the show, but it’s working out for us.”

Perry also uses an S1 at FOH as a squawk box. “Adam has a vocal line switcher so he can talk to me directly. I can take notes from him during the show if somebody is really not happy with something, if they need more or less of something” in the monitors.

“Since there are so many of us on stage with the added string players, the size has been really important,” agrees Gardner. “It has also been great with how they throw. We’re very close to each other, but we still have enough separation in our mixes. They’re very focused.”

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On any other tour, the band would be on in-ear monitors. “And sometimes, when Ryan and I sing in unison, it’s hard to tell whose voice is whose. The best way to differentiate is to go out of tune.”

On this tour, he says, “Our unison singing has been the best it’s ever been. Because we have our own unique mixes and it sounds very natural, we can differentiate our voices more easily. I’m having a better time singing on this tour than I’ve ever had.”

Bose Professional •

Guster •