The Zambonis – Durham – Whittemore Center Arena, University of New Hampshire, NH – 2001-04-27

The Zambonis
Where: Durham – Whittemore Center Arena, University of New Hampshire, NH.

When: 2001-04-27

I first heard of Guster when I spent my freshman year of college in Connecticut. A friend of a friend was in a band called Rane, who had played some shows with the Boston-based Guster, and my friend, who had been a fan ever since they started out as “Gus,” got me addicted. I have seen the quirky trio many times since then, and they have never failed to entertain. I have seen them descend from the ceiling of the Orpheum Theatre in tuxedos to the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey, and I have seen them open a show at the BankBoston Pavilion by showing live video of them boating in from Boston Harbor and eventually making their way onto the stage. This being the last week of their current tour, I was curious to see what was going to happen.

I received the Guster newsletter via e-mail two days before the show, and it read something like, “Please come to the show early to see our friends, The Zambonis, who only play songs about hockey.” After I visited The Zambonis’ web site and realized that it wasn’t a joke, I wondered how a band was going to fill an entire set with songs about hockey, but they managed to do just that for a full 45 minutes. Stylistically, songs ranged from punk to surf to run-of-the-mill garage rock, but one thing remained the same: Every damn song was indeed about hockey. The band has actually released quite a few albums. Predictably, the four guys walked onto the stage in hockey jerseys, padded hockey shorts, and helmets.

The kids sitting in the row behind me began to beg for a cover song about midway through the Zambonis set, and I could tell I wasn’t the only who felt the novelty was wearing off quickly. Perhaps the most interesting moment of the set was a song called “Guster Plays Hockey,” which the Zambonis claimed to have written 20 minutes before they took the stage. “This is our last show of the tour…which started today,” they said towards the end of a set that was uplifting, because it made me feel as though I may actually have a shot at a music career. If a band whose most emotional song is “The Referee’s Daughter,” I just may have a shot.

Finally, and to the relief of many, Guster walked onto the stage, accompanied by the theme from The Price Is Right. The immediate response from the crowd was an intensively positive one, and it remained that way throughout the course of the show. The unique trio (two guitarists and one percussionist) played at UNH last year, but that show was across the street at the much smaller field house. “This is our first ever attempt at playing any sort of arena,” guitarist and singer Ryan Miller said at the beginning of the set. “I have to confess, a lot of dreams are coming true playing an arena tonight,” he added later, gratefully. The mirrorball, light sticks, and unique lighting helped them bring a comfortable atmosphere to what normally serves as the site of UNH Wildcats’ hockey games.

The group focused on material from their most recent release, Lost And Gone Forever. The trio also mixed in tunes from their earlier two efforts, Parachute and Goldfly, as well as two new songs and a psychedelic cover of the Zombies’ “Time Of The Season.” Another highlight was when they broke out into chunks of “Axel F,” the theme from Beverly Hills Cop, and Van Halen’s “Jump,” all in the middle of their own song, “Bury Me,” a tune that gave percussionist Brian “The Thundergod” Rosenworcel a chance to show off his impressive conga skills. There was also an intriguing instrumental version of “Happy Frappy,” full of trippy keyboard effects. Other, more normal highlights included the beautiful “Airport Song” and “Parachute,” which both (pardon the cliché) sent shivers down my spine.

“We’re gonna walk offstage, you’re gonna clap, and we’re gonna come back out and play more songs,” Ryan Miller said at the end of the band’s regular set, removing any doubt about what was to come. The first encore consisted of an odd rendition “Center Of Attention,” as well as “Mona Lisa.” Then came the second encore, which, to top it all off, closed out the show with Brian Rosenworcel taking over the singing/screeching duties on a cover of James Taylor’s “Fire And Rain,” as Ryan Miller took over on percussion and Adam Gardner kept his guitar. It was a fun way to end a great show, and my friend Mike summed it up best when he said, “If James Taylor was dead, he would be rolling in his grave.”