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Guster blows in for wildly entertaining show

Something happened to Guster while it was playing plucky alt-pop tunes for the college kids. Guster became a great band. The members have deepened as songwriters, blossomed as players, broadened their aesthetic -- and they've done it without losing their signature sense of humor.

Last week the group rolled down the Bank of America Pavilion's aisles on Segway scooters to the strains of ``Born to Be Wild." (Guster loves an absurd entrance as much as it loves a great hook. In 1999 the trio, dressed in tuxedos, was lowered from the rafters in a futuristic apparatus to the theme of ``2001: A Space Odyssey.")

On Friday they wore crash helmets and Members Only jackets, which nicely complemented the `` SNL " cowbell bit that came later in the show. It's been 14 years since singer-guitarists Ryan Miller and Adam Gardner and drummer Brian Rosenworcel began soothing the savage breasts at Tufts, but geek power still rules.

The original threesome has recently welcomed a new fourth member, multi-instrumentalist Joe Pisapio , to the line up, and was occasionally joined onstage by an impish percussionist named Scooter who looked 12 but is reportedly 19. Guster is touring in support of its fifth album, ``Ganging Up on the Sun," a quietly burnished and beautifully constructed collection whose pleasures are subtler than the jovial quirks of the band's earlier work.

Ominous, winsome ``Lightning Rod," the dense chamber-epic ``Ruby Falls," and ``One Man Wrecking Machine," the album's melancholy first single, sounded still richer and warmer on stage than they do on disc. That fresh depth enlivened old favorites, as well. ``Fa Fa" and ``Barrel of a Gun," ever sweet and charming, were toned and sinewy. It's like the adorable slacker tunes had joined the gym and gotten ripped.

New England singer-songwriter Ray LaMontagne played an opening set that was by turns lavish and maudlin, transcendent and frustrating. The artist introduced songs from his forthcoming sophomore album, ``Till the Sun Turns Black," that are very much of a piece with the sincere, soulful shuffles that fill ``Trouble," LaMontagne's much-loved debut.

Plagued by a baffling sound mix, however, the up - tempo material sounded earthy and massive and the ballads simply drowned. The loud chatter didn't help, either, although enthusiastic clusters of devotees insisted on an encore, a rarity for an opening act.

Joan Anderman can be reached at

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