Blowing Through
On the move with the indie-rock band Guster, due back in Philly next month
by Bill Donahue

In order to anticipate what to expect from a Guster show in Philadelphia, look no farther than the central tenet of the film “Forrest Gump”: You never know what you’re going to get.

“Philly has seen its share of theatrics at Guster shows,” says Brian Rosenworcel, longtime drummer for Guster, the Boston-born alternative/indie-rock band that formed in 1991.

In the past, many of these “theatrics” have involved a certain winged mascot from a certain professional football team. There was the show where said mascot took whacks at a piñata. There was one show that involved said mascot, a plunger and a papier-mâché menorah. (The guys from Guster are Jewish.) And, of course, there was the time when two mascots from their respective sports teams, both of whom were big Guster fans, engaged in an on-stage wrestling match.

“Every show is unique,” Rosenworcel promises. “We like to have people join us on stage, because it’s fun to have an event during a show, and we have a set list that’s going to make you uncomfortable.”

He cites a recent show, during which he got out from behind his drum kit, took center stage and crooned an obscure tune from the “Fifty Shades of Grey” soundtrack. Rosenworcel’s time in front of the mike has become something of a tradition at Guster shows, though he prefers to sing what he calls “power ballads” from the 1980s.

“Last night in Toronto,” he says, “we knew the guys from Barenaked Ladies would be in the audience, so we had this elaborate prank where we said it was our first-ever surprise karaoke and we would be pulling names out of a hat to have people to come up and sing. The first name we pulled was Ed Robertson, who is the Barenaked Ladies’ lead singer, and we made him sing ‘Careless Whisper’ [by George Michael].

“As we kept going through the names,” he continues, “eventually it became clear each person [invited on stage] was a member of Barenaked Ladies. It was good because they pranked us when we toured together.”

In other words, Guster shows aim to uplift and entertain, as fans will discover on Jan. 23 when the band returns to southeastern Pennsylvania for a show at The Fillmore Philadelphia in the city’s Fishtown neighborhood. Last time Guster played in Philadelphia, the band sold out two back-to-back shows at Union Transfer—an unsurprising feat, considering its devout fan base. Known for radio-friendly hits such as “Satellite,” “Do You Love Me” and “One Man Wrecking Machine,” Guster has built an army of loyal fans, many of whom have followed the band since its modest beginnings as an early ’90s college band.

“When we first started, we did everything on a grassroots level, printing up newsletters at Kinko’s and sending them out bulk rate to be in touch with fans,” says Rosenworcel. “We always felt really involved and invested and connected to our fans, so if you’re looking for reasons as to why we have persisted, I think it comes from those roots. And we’ve just kept that connection going.”

It has also continued to produce new music. Earlier this year the band released its seventh studio album, “Evermotion.” Like its six predecessors, “Evermotion” has an atmospheric quality, with melancholy lyrics set to mostly poppy, feel-good music that makes people want to dance. With every album, Rosenworcel says the band works to create something distinctive and classic, as though “we have something to prove.” This commitment may help explain why Guster songs have earned spots on soundtracks for notable films such as “Disturbia,” “The Five-Year Engagement” and “Wedding Crashers,” as well as TV shows such as “The O.C.”

Despite Guster’s longevity, Rosenworcel and his band mates still enjoy touring; they now tour with a full crew in a proper bus and trailer, as opposed to the road-worn van from their early DIY years. There are also spouses and children to consider, though sometimes families come along for the ride. (“Having kids on tour is good for us and for them because it provides a frame of reference for when Dad is away,” Rosenworcel says. “They hear the sound check. They see what everything is like.”) Above all, the members of the band—and, of course, their fans—are still having fun in an industry that has become increasingly inhospitable to recording artists and performers.

The music industry grew more perilous in light of unsettling global events that continue to dominate the headlines. In the aftermath of the early November terrorist attacks in Paris, which included the slaughter of innocent concertgoers at an Eagles of Death Metal show, Guster was eager to return to the stage.

“We were shocked and horrified,” Rosenworcel says of the Paris attacks. “Never mind that it was a band on stage somewhere. It was unbelievable, and we realized in that moment that we were in a unique position as performers to be able to help people heal. By going on stage and playing music that uplifts people, we’re doing our part. Love wins.”

Photograph by Zoe-Ruth Erwin