By Aneetha Ramadas
“I learned to play guitar just so I could play their songs.” I’m at the concert theatre in Temecula, CA's Pechanga Resort & Casino, sitting next to a Super Fan. Not just an “I have all their CDs” fan, but a “Yeah, Johnny knows me” fan. Waiting for the band to take the stage, I’m thinking back to when I even last thought about the Goo Goo Dolls on a semi-regular basis. It’s a lot of pressure sitting next to a fan like this. Still, emotions start to flood in as I remember the days when I could not stop listening to their music.
When 1998’s Dizzy Up the Girl came out, I wanted so badly to believe in love because of Johnny Rzeznik. I’ll be honest; I wanted to be in love with frontman Johnny Rzeznik. The soulful pop-rock, slightly bitter lyrics and his playful cool attitude were the perfect intoxicating mix for an angsty-but-hopeful 12-year old. And that hair. Oh, that hair.
There is more than one Rzeznik-inspired haircut on some of the younger men in the crowd tonight. Trying to sum up the crowd is close to impossible. Couples young and old (we’re talking teenage to enjoying retirement together) as well as groups of friends of all ages are buzzing excitedly.
“I’ve only seen them three times this year,” laments a woman in the row in front of me. Suddenly, the lights dim and the band walk onstage. Bass player and original singer Robby Takac is grinning broadly. Drummer Mike Malinin is all business and ready to go. Then Rzeznik swaggers out chewing gum and lightly tossing his hair. They launch into the first chords of the night without a single word and the crowd is going crazy. I’m 12 again.
They start the set with “Sweetest Lie,” the first track off 2010’s Something for the Rest of Us. With an upbeat pop-rock tempo offset by almost rueful lyrics, the song is characteristic of the band’s perfect blend of slick, catchy melodies and earnest songwriting. The adolescent in me can’t help but let out a little squeal. Without so much as a pause, they move right in to “Big Machine” off 2002’s Gutterflower, which is a definite crowd-pleaser. This wordless entrance and transition sets the tone for the night. No banter, no B.S., just music. The Dolls proceed to barrel through a 20-song set in just over an hour and a half.
The few times Rzeznik or Takac pause to speak are to introduce touring members of the band or tracks from their latest album. At the brief mention a new single to be released later in 2011, the crowd erupts. Clearly this audience can’t get enough of the little scraps of conversation the band is providing. Perhaps it’s the tediousness of a 2nd night show at the same location, or perhaps they just don’t feel like talking, but the band is not in a bantering mood. Still, their actions portray a sense of playful joy at being onstage. Rzeznik and Takac mug for the cameras. During songs, the guys grin at each other knowingly.
I keep waiting for the band to pause and actually play with the audience a bit, but those thoughts only linger for the three seconds between songs while Rzeznik changes his pre-tuned guitars. But as soon as the band launches back into playing, I can’t help but appreciate the insanely solid performance. Old favorites such as “Slide” and “Iris” and sound just as sincere and fresh as some of the newer tracks, like the touching “Something for the Rest of Us.” Black balloons bounce gently over the audience during the crowd favorite. During a short intro to the song “Home,” Rzeznik acknowledges and mocks the lack of chatter from the band by responding to an incoherent scream from a female fan. “What’s that?” Rzeznik teases, “Shut the f*** up and sing?”
And that’s exactly what they do for the rest of the set. As the band closes out the night with my personal favorite, “Broadway,” I sing at the top of my jaded 25-year old lungs like no time has passed since the song was released. The capability of this band to stir up genuine joy and feeling through their music is really incredible. At the end of the concert, fans stream out of the room both surprised at how short the set was and full of praise for the quality jammed into those short 100 minutes. I have to agree. There’s no question I wanted more, but I was also fully satisfied. I saw the band perform all my favorites and great new music, inspiring me to start listening again. If that isn’t the mark of a successful concert by a seasoned band, I’m not sure what is.
Meowing behind the mic with Cat Wilson