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Environmental causes share the stage at Springfest

Sunday was Earth Day, so it seemed wholly appropriate that Guster brought its Campus Consciousness Tour to UB on the most gorgeous of spring days.

The tour is the band's attempt to hit its target audience -- composed mainly of college students -- where it lives: in the dorms and surrounding housing on campuses across the country.

Traveling by biodiesel-fueled tour bus, Guster has teamed with Reverb, a nonprofit started by the group's Adam Gardner and his wife to fuse band fan bases with environmental causes, and is attempting to provide a forum for the exchange of ideas concerning the degradation of the environment. This involved a discussion forum held by the band in the early afternoon, as well as information and interactive booths set up around Alumni Arena.

Somehow, all of these good intentions got a bit lost over the course of the long day, which commenced at 2 p.m. with local bands Floozie, Love Puddle and Standard of Living playing in the parking lot, and ended more than eight hours later with a set from groundbreaking Philadelphia hip-hop band the Roots.

The Guster tour was amended with the Roots and Canadian alternative-metal band Finger Eleven, among others, so that the end result was pleasantly diverse, but the eco-friendly subtext was made a bit diffuse by the sort of catch-all aspect of the booking. The result? It all felt like just another concert, albeit a pretty good one.

Of course, the natural beauty of the immediate environment was not accessible to students and general public fans once the event proper got started. The concert was held inside the cavernous Alumni Arena, a great place to dig a sporting event, but a miserable venue for a concert, its incredibly high ceiling and cement walls creating a rather hellish echo chamber for the unwitting musicians on the stage. There was also a policy of no re-entry in effect throughout the show, so once you entered the gig at 5 p.m., if you felt like leaving before 11 p.m., you weren't getting back in.

Guster frontman, vocalist and guitarist Ryan Miller -- no, not our Sabres' world-class goaltender -- kicked off the show by commenting on the rather surreal nature of the hybrid Campus Consciousness/UB Springfest gig and didn't address the crowd on the philosophical subtext of the concert, but none of this got in the way of the band putting on a killer show, despite the painfully bad sound.

Guster is touring in support of its strongest album, the delightfully esoteric and giddily tuneful "Ganging Up on the Sun."

The group has been around for more than a decade, originally refining a sound based on acoustic guitars, hand percussion and a charming blend of folk and pop. "Sun" takes the band to a new level, however, its rich textures, blend of electric guitars, exotic drumming and sunny vocal harmonies re-created with vigor in the concert setting.

The band opened with "The Captain," a subtly building bit of electric folk, and followed it with "Barrel of a Gun," its "4-3-2-1" chorus echoed by the enthused crowd. The song is a percussion-led folk-rock march with nicely stacked vocal harmonies and was an early high point.

"One Man Wrecking Machine" displayed a nicely interpreted Byrds influence in its arpeggiated guitar figure, and "Manifest Destiny" provided the set's epicenter, its piano-led Beach Boys-heavy power-pop coming pretty close to the sublime.

Southern Ontario's Finger Eleven has come a long way since emerging more than 10 years ago under the rather unfortunate moniker Rainbow Butt Monkeys.

Today, the band is a progressive-leaning alt-metal outfit led by singer Scott Anderson and powered by the razor-wired twin guitars of Rick Jackett and James Black. The band's new album, "Them Vs. You Vs. Me," was granted an airing before the Springfest crowd, and first single "Paralyzer" was particularly well received.

Jason Mraz brought his funky jazz-pop to the stage and was welcomed by the crowd, which at this point was revealing itself to be perfectly comfortable with the huge stylistic leaps between artists.


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