- The Washington Times - Friday, October 23, 2009

When Guster released “Lost and Gone Forever” in 1999, the musicians had already gained a modest following with their coffeehouse-friendly sound.

The band’s approach was simple and somewhat eccentric. There was no bassist. There were no electric guitars. There was no drum set. Instead, Guster’s two vocalists traded harmonies while strumming their acoustic guitars, and percussionist Brian Rosenworcel banged his fists over a combination of bongos, congas and other hand drums.

With producer Steve Lillywhite lending his sonic polish to the material, “Lost and Gone Forever” became Guster’s breakthrough album.

“In a lot of ways, it was our first professional recording,” bassist Adam Gardner says from Portland, Maine, where he lives with his wife and daughter. “It gave an accurate snapshot of who we were at the time, and it still seems to hold a special place in the hearts of our core fans. We recognize that, so we thought it made sense — especially since we’re still finishing up a new record — to embark on this fall tour.”

Mr. Gardner is referring to the “Lost and Gone Forever Ten Year Anniversary Tour,” a monthlong affair that launches next week. For the first time in Guster’s history, the four musicians will take the stage for two separate sets, one of which will be devoted entirely to the “Lost and Gone Forever” track list. The second set will include selections from the band’s upcoming album.



“We plan on releasing the new record by springtime next year,” Mr. Gardner says, noting that recording sessions have been more sporadic this time around. “It’s been a little bit different now that three of us are dads. We typically go to residential studios and live there for several months until the record is done, but that’s not practical now that we’re family men.”

Joe Pisapia, a versatile musician who joined the band in 2003, has been instrumental in widening Guster’s sound. Keyboards, electric guitars and traditional drums have all made their way onto the group’s recent albums, which sound more like the work of a genuine pop band than an earthy, unplugged ensemble.

Nevertheless, Guster’s most endearing quality may be its refusal to take cues from anyone else. Few bands move between quirky folk music and rock songs with such ease, and the group has become known for its witty banter onstage. Additionally, Guster often uses its platform for a more serious cause: environmentalism.

Five years ago, Mr. Gardner and his wife founded Reverb, a nonprofit organization devoted to turning rock tours into environmentally friendly events. Reverb has since “greened” more than 75 major tours, including jaunts by the likes of Jack Johnson, Phish and the Dave Matthews Band.

During Guster’s two-day residency at the 9:30 Club next week, Mr. Gardner plans to do some “muckety-mucking on the Hill,” having previously testified before Congress about his band’s experience with biofuels. Although he talks excitedly about his plans to meet with several senators, the conversation drifts back to Guster’s D.C. shows, one of which is scheduled for the night before Halloween.

“We’ve been playing D.C. since we graduated college,” he recalls. “We used to play this Georgetown club called the Bayou, and we’re fortunate enough to still have a following in the area. As for the upcoming shows, we certainly encourage our fans to come and try out their costumes before Halloween night. Anything is possible.”

Guster’s performances on Oct. 28 and Oct. 29 are sold out.

‘Tangled’ tour

Guster may be eccentric, but Dan Hicks is one of the most endearing oddballs in rock ‘n’ roll history. A pioneering member of the same San Francisco-based movement that spawned the Grateful Dead, he has spent more than four decades exploring the intersection of folk, country and jazz.

“Everything I do seems to be career-occupied, whether I’m doing graphic arts for album covers or figuring out new songs,” he says. “Everything seems to be connected.”

Mr. Hicks’ latest project is “Tangled Tales,” a genre-hopping album that makes room for swing rhythms, country guitar and female harmonies. Although several songs were originally written in the 1970s, much of “Tangled Tales” deals with the singer’s thoughts on life in the 21st century.

“Songs like ‘Diplomat’ and ‘Let It Simmer!’ have a little bit of philosophy going,” he explains. “I like to think I’m a social commentator with that stuff, so it’s my take on the way life is right now. But I think there’s enough variety from song to song that you couldn’t say it’s locked into one theme. Maybe that’s why I called it ‘Tangled Tales,’ because it’s sort of a catch-all summary for everything on the record.”

Nowhere is Mr. Hicks’ eclecticism more pronounced than on the album’s title track, where he scats the melody like a veteran jazz vocalist. Two female singers join him during the chorus, adding their harmonies to his string of nonsense syllables.

“They were very meticulous, those girls,” he says. “I had to write everything out phoenetically — you know, like ‘s-c-o-o-b-y d-o-o’ — so we could sing the same thing at the same time. Now, when we do it live, I think they sing it more accurately than I do.”

After busying himself with musical projects for nearly half a century, Mr. Hicks has grown to enjoy many aspects of the creative process. Still, he reserves most of his love for the stage.

“The role I like best is performing,” he asserts. “That has to include travel, of course, which is not a real biggie for anybody, but the payoff is getting up there and performing.”

Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks will visit Wolf Trap on Oct. 23. Tickets for the 8 p.m. show begin at $22.

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