When it was announced that Mason Jennings would be opening up for Guster this spring, we had to do a double take. It was a pairing too good to be true, almost like, when five years ago Guster opened up for Ben Folds Five. Then, tour dates were released and shows in Boston were nowhere to be found. How could this happen we thought? We remember seeing Guster busking demo tapes in Harvard Square. Next to Aerosmith, they’re the band this town is most proud to call our own. Well, for some, it’s Dropkick Murphys, but we’re pulling threads here.
And to top it off Boston loves Mason Jennings. We first caught wind of the Minnesota musician in 2001 when he was opening for then little known Jack Johnson at The ‘Dise. The audience, of mostly California surfer dudes from local colleges, knew they had something special on their hands when during “California (Part II)” Mason dropped the line “I’m gonna stay away from LA. I’m staying far away from there. I’m gonna go north of San Francisco where the air is clearer.” The audience, erupted in whoops and cheers. If Mason hadn’t won the audience over before that point he certainly did after that line.
Since then we’ve never missed a Mason Jennings show in the area. Going to seedy bars with like 30 people to see him in support of “Birds Flying Away,” back headlining The ‘Dise for “Century Spring,” solo acoustic for “The Simple Life” and then amazed at how he blew up with “Use Your Voice” and then signed to Isaac Brock’s Glacial Pace Records. We couldn’t have been happier for a guy. And before we knew it he was popular playing at clubs on Lansdowne St. It was then when we realized Mason wasn’t our best kept secret. The guy had landed on the map.
All of this is to say, that sometimes writing great songs, rewarding your audience and touring consistantly is a good recipe for success. Similar to say what Guster has done. It was a relief then, when the bands announced they would be playing the Opera House together.
There was no way we were going to miss this show. As Friday, 4/20 rolls around, we’re gonna spend each morning leading up to the show celebrating the plethora of albums and charting their growth and evolution of their sound. We’re hoping beyond hope that Mason will join the guys in Guster for a short set together. C’mon guys, we’re still stung by the teased possibility of what could have been at the Guster – Ben Folds Five show.
Mason Jennings – Eponymous
His debut album. Call it his business card if you will. Done mostly on four-tracks at a home recording for his own Architect Records. There’s always something about the energy and rawness of a musicians first record. It’s like they pour everything they have into it. This album is filled with great hooks, does it get any simpler or better than “Butterfly”? And stripped down arrangements. Mason hasn’t quite shed his love for Johnny Cash yet, the man in black’s influence permeates several songs, including opener “Nothing.” And yet, some would argue that Mason hasn’t come close to the epic grandeur of “Big Sur” on any of his other albums to date. Still for my tastes, the closing track is still what makes this album worth getting your hands on. “Darkness Between the Fireflies,” with it’s killer guit solo at the two minute mark, and lines like “honey I’m sure you’ve been loved before. Other men have held high places in your eyes. Jealousy has got no use for me. The past is beautiful like the darkness between the fireflies… You should know by now that someone’s always been there, long before ya / you’re never gonna be the only one.”
Devastingly good. And yet, it’s not so good that you just know the promise of the albums greatness will be fulfilled on further records.
Guster – Parachute
Two acoustic guitars, lots of harmonies, and those dang bongos. Has there ever been on paper, a recipe for disaster like Guster’s debut album? Ryan Miller, Brian “The Thunder God” Rosenworcel, and Adam Gardner recorded this in 1994 while still enrolled at Tufts. Some 12 years later, the album sounds dated, if only because of Guster’s current sound, but there’s no denying it’s uniqueness. While Guster sounds like the happiest band on the planet, “Happy Frappy,” their dark lyrics work against the upbeat jangly guitar and bongos sound.
“Scars & Stitches” a song about the tiny things that hurt and make one stronger. “I don’t mind falling down and scraping up my knees. Scars and stitches always fade and normally strengthen me,” sings Ryan.
“Windows” opens with a strumming guitar and underneath comes a violin. “A gaping wound tells the story of it all. You say go slow, somethings right behind me. Run away for only so long, it will not stop. Let me find my way. When nothing goes right, when days don’t come to night. All I see is the errors of my ways.” It songs like these, when the lyrics defy the melody, which makes Guster a force to wreckon with.
The album artwork also introduced the world to the unofficial Guster mascot, “Big Friend,” otherwise known as the menacing looking teddy bear thing. What’s also interesting about revisting this album is that lead vocal duties are shared almost equally by Ryan Miller (the high notes) and Adam Gardner (the deep voice). In later albums, one gets the impression that Adam Gardner is being phased out to nothing more than backing vocals. And yet, without the The Thunder God, one wonders where Guster would be today. It’s clear he’s the hook, line, and sinker on Parachute. He makes the whole thing utterly enjoyable. Though, as evidenced on later albums, it’s clear that the novelty of the bongos wasn’t the driving force behind the band.