Often, the aging band is a sorry sight. In a time when a Mercury-less Queen attempts to tour, and Metallica are celebrating their 30th year, it’s hard to take any band over twenty seriously. Luckily, the Goo Goo Dolls is not one of these bands. On a night that was as angry as it was angsty, Johnny Rzeznik & Co. banged out some alt-rock power ballads at the State Theatre Wednesday night, showcasing the emotion-heavy rock that made them famous many years ago. While the band has clearly matured since their heartbroken twenty-something days, The Goo Goo Dolls managed to put on a tight, professional show with a set list that somehow still seemed relevant.
An underwhelming Ryan Star opened the show with a collection of overproduced, under-thought pop rock of the Daughtry variety. Thankfully, his band frequently drowned out trite lyrics like the wince-inducing “if you want the best of me/ the best of me is here/ and if you want the worst of me/ the worst of me is here.” Tellingly, the crowd only rose to its feet once, when Star invited a pre-teen boy onstage. A rare weak point in Dan Smalls’ incredible fall lineup, Star’s music was in equal parts horrible and forgettable. Unfortunately, his spastic flailing and uncoordinated dancing were only the former.
As The Goo Goo Dolls took the stage, the audience couldn’t quite remember if this was their 25th anniversary tour, or a victory lap following A Boy Named Goo. Opening with “Still Your Song,” an angsty, guilt-ridden ballad off 2010’s Something For The Rest Of Us, the band seemed like they hadn’t changed at all. Flannel-clad and heartsick as ever, Johnny Rzeznik brought the same earnest yearning he puts into studio recordings.
For the rest of the evening, the band delved into older material, reaching back to the nineties for their characteristic tear-jerking power-ballads. Rzeznik, unfortunately, struggled to conjure up quite the same passion with the older songs. Admittedly, he’s been belting “Slide” since 1998, so perhaps “I wanna wake up where you are” doesn’t seem quite so profound at age 45. While his talent and voice were intact, that wasn’t quite enough to carry a band that was once at the forefront of the alternative rock scene. Whether Rzeznik broods about lost love or partner Robby Takac rasps through more upbeat songs, the Goo Goo Dolls are a band whose music thrives on its emotional content.
After several mediocre albums in the late eighties and early nineties, 1995’s A Boy Named Goo brought the boys their first commercial success. A far more polished and accessible effort than their previous albums, Goo set the stage for the band’s imminent superstardom. Three years and a major record deal later, Dizzy Up The Girl raked in the awards— and the cash. “Iris” topped the Billboard Hot 100 charts for eighteen weeks and earned Goo three Grammy nominations. The band has essentially been riding this grungey wave of success ever since.
Wednesday’s concert was no exception, as less than half of their set list was written after 2000. To their credit, the Goo Goo Dolls avoided the over-the-top light shows we see with other superstar alternative rockers. Opting instead for understated hues of red and green, the production rightly focused on the excellent performers. This was just one instance of surprising modesty from the Goo Goo Dolls. The band manages to attract hordes of screaming girls decades after their prime. “To be honest,” Rzeznik confessed at one point. “If I have to use more than two fingers on a guitar, I’m completely fucked.” Later, he casually told the story of a political argument he is currently having via Twitter. Clearly, Goo has made it to the 21st century.
This breed of grungey humility is sorely lacking in modern alternative rock. While Muse projects robots and lasers across shiny silver screens, Arcade Fire hurls giant glowing balls at its fans. At a certain point, you have to remind yourself that those mythical figures prancing across stage are actually real, live, talented human beings. With the Goo Goo Dolls, the focus was all on the music.
And boy, did the crowd love it. Screaming with delight at the opening chords of “Iris,” the odd mixture of college students, adolescent girls, and what appeared to be—gasp!— parents, danced and sang to each brooding track. The high points of the show— a tender, heartbreaking “Name” and a throbbing, punked-out “Dizzy”— were the sort of stirring masterpieces that initially garnered mainstream attention. With Rzeznik emoting before an awestruck crowd, it was hard to remember that this band has been around longer than most Cornell students.
So, the Goo Goo Dolls may never again top the charts. While no band can remain great forever, Goo’s sheer talent and joy are about as good as it gets. The lyrics to 90s hits may not taste quite as sweet a couple decades later, but frankly, the boys don’t seem too bothered.