OTTAWA — The Goo Goo Dolls were not at their best at the National Arts Centre on Friday, but there was a reason. Dimpled singer John Rzeznik informed the crowd early in the show that he was feeling under the weather. “Sorry, everybody, I've got a cold,” he said. “But I'll make it through.”
With that, the charismatic frontman of the Grammy-winning U.S. band endeared himself to the predominatly female audience. Poor guy, we thought. Look how hard he's working to make us happy.
It was a decent, if not spectacular, show. Although Rzeznik's voice carried an extra rasp, the band was tight, the sound was excellent and the lighting design dazzled. The core Goo trio of Rzeznik, Robby Takac and drummer Mike Malinin was augmented by multi-instrumentalist Korel Tunador on keyboards, guitar and saxophone, and Brad Fernquist on guitar and mandolin, all helping to create texture on each song.
Looking like rock stars with their spiky hair, earrings and tattoos, the 40something musicians from Buffalo, NY kicked things off with Sweetest Lie, the first single from their ninth studio album, Something For The Rest of Us. People rose to their feet and stayed there, pumping their fists and singing along. “Man, thanks for having us back to this classy joint,” declared bassist Takac as he surveyed the situation.
The black-haired bass player took over the lead vocal duties for a couple of songs, resulting in some loss of momentum for the concert, but providing a break for Rzeznik's strained vocal chords. Rzeznik also limited his between-song banter as the concert progressed, although he kept up his efforts to connect with fans by cocking his head to the side, casting flirty looks and pointing at pretty young women.
It was a young crowd, not quite sold out, filled with women dressed for a night on the town and and men fortified with refreshments from the bar. Everyone sang along to the band's power ballads, especially towards the end of the show when the big hits came out. “It's hard to believe this song is 15 years old,” Rzeznik said when it was time for Name, their breakthrough hit. “I want to say thank you for sticking around with us that long,” he added.
The song had the warm and comforting feel of a cozy sweater, and you could see the couples draw closer to each other, snuggling together through it and a string of similarly soaring ballads, including As I Am and, of course, the Grammy-winning track, Iris,. While there was nothing offensive about the material, there was nothing particularly memorable either. The melodies tended to sound the same, bloated with flabby singalong choruses. It didn't help that Rzeznik didn't have the energy to give them much of a spark.
In the end, although Goo Goo Dolls have been around since the 1990s and a generation has grown up with their music, Friday's concert showed their limits. Power ballads are their bread and butter, and this band has been writing the same song for years.
In his first NAC appearance as a solo artist, former Barenaked Lady Steven Page gave a seamless performance, weaving together his Barenaked hits with his sensitive singer-songwriter material. Dressed in a sharp grey suit, Page sang and handled the guitar parts, both acoustic and electric, while a solid band backed him. Although their harmonies paled in comparison to the Barenaked crew, their playing was tight and focused. And with their streamlined rock-band approach, they sounded more like Sloan than the fun-loving Ladies.
A nervous-looking Page tended to ramble a bit between songs, but you had to give him credit for his honesty, especially when he referred to his recent struggle with depression. After guest-hosting a CBC radio program on mental health last month, he was bemused to find out that his record company wanted to release Overjoy, a song he wrote about drepression. He was obviously aware of how that would look: "Buy my album because I'm mentally ill," he said, joking about how he's becoming a poster boy for mental health.
Still, highlights of Page's set were his old Barenaked tunes, including Jane, Old Apartment, It's All Been Done and Brian Wilson, songs that recalled fun times in Canadian music.