PHOTOS: Duster’s return revitalizes space rock at the Great American Music Hall

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Duster

Duster performs at Great American Music Hall in San Francisco on Jan. 24, 2019. Photos: Joaquin Cabello.

SAN FRANCISCO — After almost 20 years of absence, Bay Area alt-rockers Duster returned with a sold-out show at the Great American Music Hall.

Between 1996 and 2001, the San Jose act was one of the most influential bands in the genre. Duster is back in the studio and on stage with new songs the band has been working on since 2018. Duster’s space rock strains are both foundational and fundamental to alt rock and that showed on Thursday.

Duster

Duster performs at Great American Music Hall in San Francisco on Jan 24, 2019.

Multi-instrumentalists Clay Parton, Canaan Dove Amber and Jason Albertini opened their set with the lo-fi sounds of “Orbitron,” a cut from 1997 EP Transmission, Flux. That was followed by “Heading for the Door” and “The Twins / Romantica,” both 1998’s, Stratosphere—which, even if it’s not considered a masterpiece but a bundle of ideas—definitely shaped late 2000s indie rock.

Duster’s space rock has a languid structure with instrumental textures that blend the distortion and eternal reverb of the guitars with hypnotic sounds, simple rhythms and melodies. Through the atmospheres they create, they songs lead listeners on a musical journey similar to shoegaze and post-rock. That shown brightest on new song “Copernicus Crater,” as well as “Inside Out” and “Echo, Bravo.” Both of the latter cuts are from the group’s transcendental Stratosphere.

Duster

Duster performs at Great American Music Hall in San Francisco on Jan 24, 2019.

On its two albums and two EPs, Duster embodied the archetype of late-’90s indie rock that was completely marooned from pop, with slow tempo and vocals submerged deep in the songs. It was a response to the poppy music scene in those days. That’s the sound the band is trying to revitalize now. That showed on new track “Letting Go” and “Memphis Sophisticate,” from 1999 EP 1975. Duster’s sound is still about building a mood.

The set continued with “Gold Dust,” from Stratosphere; “Stars Will Fall,” from Transmission, Flux, and an encore that included another new song.

Follow photographer Joaquin Cabello at Instagram.com/joaquinxcabello.