Goo Goo Dolls give Taste a big finish

Johnny RzeznikBy Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
July 8, 1996

Usually with a three-band lineup, at least one of the groups is a stinker. At the Taste of Chicago closing concert Sunday in Grant Park, the Goo Goo Dolls, Dishwalla and the Refreshments each gave a performance strong enough for a headliner.

But fair is fair, and the Goo Goo Dolls have been kicking around longest and have the most hit records.  So the trio from Buffalo, N.Y., took the coveted last spot on the bill at the free concert and played a rocking 80-minute set at the Petrillo Music Shell (that probably would have gone on longer if the idiots in the back of the park hadn’t thrown sod around, obviously annoying the band).

For most of their decadelong career, the Goo Goo Dolls have been relegated to unwarranted anonymity, thanks in part to poor marketing by folks who didn’t know how to sell the group and to a deceptively soft, silly name.

They skyrocketed to stardom last year on the strength of their bittersweet ballad “Name.”  The difference between the Goo Goo Dolls and most rock bands, though, is that guitarist Johnny Rzeznik has a voice that’s consistently alluring live, whether he’s singing a searing rendition of the Plimsouls’ “Million Miles Away” or conveying the chaos of “Long Way Down.”

The band started the show with a blistering version of “Naked,” threw in a reworked, speeded-up version of “We Are the Normal” (which they co-wrote with Westerberg) and ended the evening with INXS’ “Don’t Change” for its one and only encore.  Purring, “Don’t change for me/Don’t change for you,” Rzeznik could have been echoing the sentiments of the band’s  fans.

Dishwalla worked its way onto radio and MTV with the hypnotic ballad “Counting Blue Cars.”  But if the disenchanted vocals and signature chorus (“Tell me all your thoughts on God/Because I’d really like to meet her”) have made the song its calling card, then live shows will be the band’s legacy. Their album “Pet Your Friends” gives an indication of how strong the band is lyrically and how tight they are as musicians.  But it gives little inkling of the rambunctious chaos they can create onstage.

Except for a couple of numbers when he strapped on a guitar, J. R. Richards concentrated on just one thing:  singing.  The rest — his confident gait, the seductive glances into the audience — all seemed to come fairly naturally.

His vocals effortlessly blended with guitarist Rodney Browning’s leads and were offset by a taut rhythm section (bassist Scot Alexander and drummer George Pendergast).  This was especially evident when the band  covered Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love,” reworking the innocent, inquisitive ’80s dance hit into a predatory tour de force.

The Refreshments kicked the show off with an eight-song set that included their hit “Banditos” and a sassy new number, “Dolly.”  Some of their songs are bittersweet and melancholy, but most have a good-time feel that indicates these boys have spent more than a few hours in a bar.

This Tempe, Ariz., band won’t be an opening act much longer.

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