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Goo Goo Dolls give their all in Darien Lake show that’s heavy on their voluminous catalog of hits

DARIEN – These homecoming gigs are always special. When our own Goo Goo Dolls come back to Buffalo – well, almost Buffalo, Darien Lake being the midpoint between our town and Rochester – the marriage of civic pride and great pop-rock songs never fails to make for a special night.

Saturday, the Goos took a break from their co-headlining summer tour with Matchbox Twenty to give us a 90-plus minute tour through their greatest hits, with a few rarely performed nuggets thrown in for good measure.

John Rzeznik, Robby Takac and Mike Malinin offered one of the strongest of the many, many, MANY shows I’ve witnessed them play, from rough-and-tumble gigs at the old Continental to major arena showings. What made this one special? The relaxed mastery with which the band took to the stage and retained throughout the set. These guys have been around, and man, they’ve got it down by this point.

Add to this the fact that, by halfway through the show, one couldn’t help but realize, with jaw hanging open, how many memorable songs this band has created. Most of them were written by Rzeznik, but Takac’s songs – and he took the spotlight for several of them – offer a direct conduit back to the band’s earliest days, when the group sounded an awful lot like Cheap Trick covering Replacements songs with a five-beer buzz.

The Goos arrived following a man in a bear suit, who waltzed onto the boards with arms akimbo, while the PA blasted Disney’s “The Bear Necessities.” This was hilarious, and the crowd ate it up. Then the lights went down, and the band arrived with “Last Hot Night,” a Tom Petty-like rocker from the new album, “Magnetic.” The buoyant vibe of that new record pervaded the set, and Rzeznik – newly married, sober and seemingly at peace with himself – brought it to the fore and embraced it.

The crowd, not surprisingly, was way pumped, and gave the band as much as the band gave them throughout the evening. The Goos have tons of hits, and they played most of them on Saturday. “Slide” came second, and it was smooth, the groove a touch slower than the record, and all the more sultry for it. “Naked,” from 1995’s “A Boy Named Goo,” was exuberant and enthusiastically received. “Here Is Gone” revealed the darker, more introspective side of Rzeznik’s writing, but those darker lyrics were delivered via another killer, hook-heavy melody.

The lawn was only a bit more than half-full, but everyone who came out seemed to be well-acquainted with the band’s repertoire, and singing along was the order of the evening. When Takac took the mic, after revving up the crowd with a “Well, Buffalo, how the hell are ya?” type rap, he brought the uber-tight band back to its punk roots. His “January Friend” was a raver.

Of course, the band played its biggest tunes, among them “Name,” which Rzeznik prefaced with an amusing story about realizing he’d had his first hit, getting a check in the mail and having an epiphany that he’d never have to work a day job again. “Iris,” “Better Days,” “Black Balloon,” “Broadway” – there’s a reason this band has racked up more hits on Adult Contemporary Radio than any other in its peer group. These are songs that stick to the ribs.

Another joyous victory lap from the Goos. Our boys have done us proud.
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