MANSFIELD — There are enough similarities between Guster and Dispatch that it’s hard to believe the two bands had not shared a local stage before Saturday when they teamed at the Comcast Center.
Though Guster started five years earlier than Dispatch did, both bands sprang from college-coffeehouse culture — the former at Tufts and latter at Middlebury — and built national audiences from a Boston base. Both bands feature three main men; both began as acoustic folk-pop outfits that now brandish a fuller sound and auxiliary musicians; both are social activists, touting educational, environmental, and equality projects.
But there are also sharp differences between Guster and Dispatch. Dispatch experienced a meteoric rise, drawing big crowds to its live shows almost strictly on grass-roots fan networking. The band sputtered by 2002 and had a “farewell” concert in 2004 that drew 100,000 people to Boston’s Esplanade. In 2011, Dispatch regrouped for an album and subsequent tours.
Guster has steadily evolved hiatus-free over the course of six studio albums.
When it came to the music Saturday, the effects of that difference were pronounced, as Guster’s hourlong opening set offered more contours and depth than did Dispatch’s two-hour headlining set, which rode mainly on feel-good energy.
Guster wove a little melancholy and a little dry humor into songs that echoed the dreamy escapism of the Beatles and the Beach Boys. The minimalism of Guster’s early years helps the band keep itself from becoming overblown on the newer, bigger “Manifest Destiny” and “This Could All Be Yours.” Likewise, the broader dynamics at play in Guster today allowed for fresh looks at older fare such as “Airport Song” and “Barrel of a Gun.”
Dispatch worked through its menu of reggae, funk, and world-beat pop, opening the show with “Circles Around the Sun,” the title track from its most recent studio album, and probably the band’s leanest bit of rock ’n’ roll. But the limber grooves of “Open Up,” “Passerby,” and “The General,” songs where the musicians stretched out and the crowd bounced in approval, sounded more like the band’s comfort zone.
Dispatch also wove bits of classic rock into its own songs. “Mrs. Robinson” popped up in “Out Loud”; “Friend of the Devil” sprang from “Bang Bang”; and “For What It’s Worth” (and a bit of “Jump Around”) became part of “Cut It Ya Match It,” which was a big encore jam with Guster.
The pairing ultimately worked, with Guster’s craft blending well with Dispatch’s showmanship.Scott McLennan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ScottMcLennan1.