Even at 45, with his dimpled chin and rasp-edged voice, singer/guitarist Johnny Rzeznik still seems like a kid in a candy store on stage, matched in enthusiasm by bassist/vocalist Robby Takac, who only stopped pacing the stage long enough to sing one of his own songs or indulge in a few matador-like maneuvers with a mile-wide grin plastered on his face.
Then again, Takac at one point had Halifax confused with St. John's and apologized for not playing the city before, forgetting the Goo Goo Dolls' Metro Centre show a few years back on the 2006 Let Love In tour, but we'll let that slide. I'm sure compared to Buffalo, all other cities look the same.
With both the band and the fans in a festive mood, Rzeznik led his compatriots through the rockier side of a song catalogue also heavily laden with power ballads, leaning towards energetic pop-rockers like Slide and the chunky chords of Dizzy, saving hold-up-your-lighters-and-cell-phone numbers like Name and Iris for towards the end of the hour-and-a-half set.
Occasionally there were glimpses of the Dolls' punk roots, on Takac tunes like Tucked Away, sung in that curiously endearing voice of his, or in Rzeznik's Joe Strummer pose during Stay With You, with one leg forward and the other at a 45 degree angle behind him, bracing himself against the wall of sound coming from behind from drummer Mike Malinin and touring guitarist Brad Fernquist.
“I feel like I should be giving a lecture,” chuckled Rzeznik at one point, looking out over the Dalhousie University hall, before remarking how the chart success of Name in 1995 ensured that he wouldn’t have to go back to school. Unfortunately, this being the Cohn, it was difficult for fans to get up and dance to favourite tunes, although those that did were acknowledged by Rzeznik with a wink and a “Thank you,” before being ushered back to their seats.
After their chart-topping ballad Iris was greeted with an enthusiastic standing ovation, the Goo Goo Dolls returned for an encore that included the band’s most political song, Soldier, inspired by the story of an Iraq veteran who returned forever changed, and Broadway. The latter tune was delivered with a performance that burned as bright as the lights of the Great White Way, even though it’s really about a street in Buffalo, where old men go to drink their life away. Rzeznik may be moving back to the East Coast after a number of years of living in Los Angeles (chronicled in his song Big Machine), but don’t expect to see him in that situation any time soon.
Kicking off the evening, Mississauga’s Crash Parallel proved to be the kind of band that gets picked to open because it fits the genre without outshining the headliner. While the band has a talented frontman in singer/guitarist Tim Edwards, its songs are frequently laden with uninspired lyrics like “Today is the first day of the rest of your life” (Wake Up) and “The closer you get, the further I run” (Change the Weather) which even quantum physics can’t make sense of.
There were highlights, however. Casualties of War inspired by its work with World Vision rang with sincerity and dramatic urgency, and Edwards did a solid job of channeling Peter Gabriel on a cover of In Your Eyes. The current single Want You More is also a step up, a simple love song with reggae strumming under a bright pop melody that suggests that Crash Parallel may yet hit its stride.