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Back when he was an aspiring musician trying to make it big, John Rzeznik used to make the trek from his house on the East Side to the North Park Theatre on Hertel Avenue.

“It was one of the only places in town where you could see an art film, y’know?” he said last week. “So the place means something to me.”

But when the lead singer of the Goo Goo Dolls walks inside the theater tonight, it won’t be to see a show. Tonight, he and his band will be the show.

In the midst of their intimate, acoustic-themed “Otis Midnight Sessions” tour – which stopped by the Bear’s Den at the Seneca Niagara Casino in Niagara Falls earlier this month – the band will perform at 8 p.m. in the recently reopened North Park Theatre. Initially plotted as a “thank you” to Goos fan club members, tonight’s sold-out gig has evolved into a full-blown movie shoot for a documentary/concert film, with the band joined by Los Angeles indie-folk-classical outfit Run River North during a program that is certainly the most ambitious musical undertaking of the Goos’ career.

Tonight’s event marks the first time the Goo Goo Dolls have played a show in Buffalo since a fan-appreciation show in the Town Ballroom, to herald the release of their 2006 album “Let Love In.”

The Goo Goo Dolls have sold some 10 million albums and are easily the most commercially successful rock band to have emerged from Buffalo. Such staggering success also suggests that, at this stage of the game, the band members would have little time for parochial concerns, Buffalo among them. But they were looking for a reason to play at home.

Rzeznik said he and Robby Takac asked their former co-manager, Marcel Thimot, who is now vice president of booking for Live Nation, if a show at the North Park was possible “or if we were just dreaming. Marcel is a very resourceful guy, and he made it happen.”

Takac said Rzeznik has always wanted to do this kind of tour.

“You’d figured we would’ve done it by now, considering our biggest hits were at least partly acoustic in nature! Of course, it’s much different when you’re up on the big arena stage with big amps and electric guitars, but doing this doesn’t feel unnatural to me at all,” he said. “I always thought it was weird when bands would be like, ‘We’re going acoustic for this album, man’ – because we’ve always done songs this way over the years. So many of the songs were written this way in the first place, that it feels more like returning them to their roots than radically reworking them.”

Rzeznik agreed. Asked why now seemed like the right time to take on such a venture, he replied with typical dry wit: “Well, we had some time off before the summer tour starts. And I didn’t feel like sitting around the house doing nothin’.”

For tonight’s show, fans will see and hear Goos’ songs presented in an ambitiously overhauled format, with Run River North joining Rzeznik, Takac and others in an 11-person ensemble.

It sounds like one of the most challenging undertakings of the band’s career.

“I’d have to say yes, you’re right, it is,” Rzeznik said with a laugh.

“But, man, I’m telling you, it all came together really quickly. When we first all got in the room together to rehearse, I admit, I was freaking out, wondering how in the world we were gonna be able to add them into the sound and make it work. It’s a huge band! But very, very quickly, it became obvious that it was going to work. Ultimately, what we ended up with was the ability to bring back so many of the parts that we wrote and put on the actual recordings, which you often can’t reproduce live. So really, we just brought out what was already there.”

There is, of course, more to it than that, and part of “it” involves the up-and-coming Run River North, who have been opening the shows on the Otis Midnight Sessions tour.

“Our manager also manages Run River North,” Rzeznik said. “The first time I heard them was in the recording studio, and I heard all these vocal harmonies, and these incredible musicians, violins, mandolins, and everything. I was just completely blown away. So we kinda kicked around the idea, and said ‘What if we teamed with them just as their album is being released, and went on the road giving them a chance to play for our audiences, and at the same time, fulfilling this concept we’ve had for so long?’ Everything just lined up.”

Over the years, Goos gigs in Buffalo have become increasingly rare, with the exception of memorable city shows like the 2004 City Hall gig, or the 2006 Town Ballroom release party. By this point, people have grown accustomed to seeing the band at the Darien Lake Performing Arts Center whenever they are in the area.

“It’s different than Darien Lake, it absolutely is,” Rzeznik said. “Having grown up in the city … you know, I used to hop on the No. 7 bus, and take it all the way down Broadway to downtown, at 10 years old, by myself. I’d go to the top of City Hall and just look out over the whole thing, the whole city. It was so impressive to me, and so beautiful, with all the church steeples, and the incredible architecture. I don’t know if that many people ever do that, but they should. It really gives you perspective.”

“So to play that City Hall show, well – it was just incredible on so many levels. When we play in the city, there is a sense of shared history there that makes it feel special.

“I mean, we had to play in Buffalo, you know? It just feels right.”

email: jmiers@buffnews.com
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