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Published: 2003/01/28
by Todd Justus

Guest, The Newport Music Hall, Columbus, OH- 1/17

The word is spreading. On a chilled Friday night in Columbus, a large,
spirited crowd has assembled for the second installment of The Newport’s
"Jamband Fridays" series. It appears that club owners across the country are
finally putting one and two together: if you sponsor a night for
improvisational music and bring in talented acts, people will show up en

But tonight, it’s apparent that the majority of the crowd is in the house
for Guest, the hometown act enjoying a big upswing. Through regular gigging
in Columbus, around Ohio and throughout the eastern half of the country,
Guest continues to build a sizeable following that feeds on the band’s tight
musicianship and versatile, often hypnotic jams.

The twangy groove of "Sold" opens the show with good harmonies and a quality
not unlike the rollicking songs of The Band, and serves as a great lead-in
to an actual Band cover, "The Shape I’m In." When I first started seeing
Guest, I would have put them at the opposite end of the spectrum as The
Band, whose earthy, homespun compositions would seemingly clash with Guest’s
more progressive style. These opening numbers, however, prove that Guest is
more than capable of shifting their sound (a skill further affirmed by the
inclusion of several songs from The Band’s "The Last Waltz" at Guest’s New
Year’s Eve show). Keyboardist John Hruby and guitarist Drew Santer lay down
masterful interpretations of Garth Hudson’s and Robbie Robertson’s parts to
great effect.

A kicking intro section leads into "My Lie" as the band returns to original
material, and the feel-good tune gets a loud and recognized reception from
the audience. In the "Temperance" that follows, I’m struck by Guest’s
ability to make their playing seem effortless. As one listens to the
individual players, the talent level of each member is striking. When taken
as a whole, the sounds reach a new level in a sum-of-the-parts kind of way
that is indicative of a really good band.

Through "Temperance" into "Joe Cain," I begin to notice the top-flight light
show and production. Guest is on cruise-control, and all of the factors that
supplement the music are equal to the task. A spacey jam morphs into a dance
groove before switching into an 80s cover that I can’t place, "Natural One."
This is followed by some outstanding Shakedown Street-like work by Slayton,
and before I know it Guest has managed to immerse me in the flow of the set.
One song passes, then another…the range of the beats runs from left to
right and back again before some well-built crescendos beckon the end of the
set. And this, I think, is where Guest really succeeds: you get so into the
songs and the performance that you lose track of the set. The lights come up
for set break, and you’re ready for more.

Scofield’s "Uberjam" kept the crowd’s attention during the intermission
before Guest assumed their positions for the closing set. "Take 2" leads
off, with its Yes-like vocal flavor and develops into one of the best jams
of the night. It’s inside this that the rhythm section of drummer John
Garrett, bassist Mark Montrella and guitarist J.R. Hecker shines through in
creating a textured and unrelenting backdrop. From here, Guest shows its
creative wit by peppering the song with quotes from the film "Friday," and a
taste of "Ding Ding Dong" from the "Friday" soundtrack, to the delight of
the audience. I’m told by a knowledgeable fan standing next to me that this
transition is a rarity, as movie quotes are usually segued out of "Little

I’m pleased to hear the cover of The Fixx’s "One Thing Leads to Another."
Guest is consistently able to play 80s covers in a manner that demands you
take them seriously. As "The Word" starts up, I’m happily lost again. Guest
can not only put you "in the moment," they can keep you there for as long as
they want to. As saxophonist Steve Buttree emerges from the backstage area
to join in the fray, the groove gets only deeper. A crazy jam is backed up
into a crazier jam, and the band starts to thrive on the grooves they’re

And it really is a different sound. You’ll undoubtedly hear the Umphrey’s
or Bisco comparisons when people discuss Guest, but they’ve created their
own interpretation of what was once considered the "East Coast" sound in the
jam world, and they’ve done it well. Flashes of House blend with Industrial
and straight-up rock & roll in an unpredictable way, and just when it seems
like I have their number, they break off Cypress Hill’s "Mary Jane" and a
trance-inspiring "Ida Weller" to close the set.

Two great sets of music are often worthy of a two-song encore, and tonight
was no exception. First up, The Band’s "Ophelia" seemed like a lullaby of
sorts to send us into the night. "At the Screen" ended things on more of a
Guest note, and was played as consistently as the evening’s first song. I
file out of The Newport seeing no reason why Guest will not grow
exponentially in 2003. This is a band that you’re going to see at the bigger
festivals and playing larger venues in new markets. The word is spreading. I
recommend you listen.

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