Goo Goo Dolls not ready for shelf

Photo by Jae-Ha Kim

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
May 31, 2002

Back when the Goo Goo Dolls debuted, they were a straggly threesome that put little thought into on-stage wardrobe. They just rocked the house like the best little garage band from Buffalo, N.Y., that they were.

These days, the look is more refined with expensive haircuts, leather pants and even a little eye liner. But the sound hasn’t changed much. Sure, there are more ballads than before, but the deliciously raucous rock ‘n’ roll spirit remains the same.

At a sold-out concert Wednesday night at the Riviera Theatre, the group–now augmented by two additional musicians, including guitarist Greg Suran of Chicago’s Cupcakes–put on a solid concert in a stifling, humid atmosphere. At least one fan passed out from the heat. As singer-guitarist John Rzeznik pointed out, he himself was “sweating like a hooker in church.”

The nucleus of the band has always been Rzeznik and bassist Robby Takac. If Takac sings less these days, it’s not difficult to figure out why. Rzeznik’s radio-friendly songs are the ones that became hits.

“Iris” (a song much better than the movie “City of Angels,” for which it was written) and “Name” took the group out of obscurity. And Rzeznik’s handsome face is the one the camera focuses on in videos.

But if Rzeznik is the heart of the group, Takac is the punky spirit of the band’s past. As one fan noted, throw a little leather jacket on the fringe-haired bassist and he could have passed as one of the Ramones. Never mind that his songs tend to sound the same. You never get tired of hearing Takac’s whomping bassline as he spits out the lyrics.

The group’s latest album, “Gutterflower,” has received mixed reviews. So when Rzeznik spotted a fan holding a sign that read, ” ‘Gutterflower’ is your best album yet,” he asked for (and received) the poster.

“I should send this to a music critic or two,” he said.

True, the Goo Goo Dolls don’t produce the type of serious music that critics do backflips over. Rzeznik can rock out with the best of them, but he is a master tunesmith when it comes to penning the type of ballad that needs just an acoustic guitar for accompaniment. He can turn a song about heroin addiction (“Black Balloon”) into a searing anthem. His songs have heart and, when he sings them, you care and, just as important, you feel.

The Goo Goo Dolls closed their set with a faithful cover of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ “American Girl.” How fitting for a group of American boys from Buffalo who grew up to be rock stars.

Sense Field opened the show with an earnest but bland set that included the radio hit “Save Yourself.” Frontman Jon Bunch seemed to be an amiable enough fellow, but he probably should have passed on an opportunity to surf the crowd. The tiny girls up front waiting to catch a glimpse of Rzeznik had a difficult time balancing the tall, lanky singer on their heads, which resulted in him flailing about akimbo. It was the most awkward thing I’ve seen in a long time.

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