Goo Goo Dolls, Sugar Ray, Fastball Saturday at the New World Music Theatre

Photo credit: Jae-Ha Kim

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
Aug. 9, 1999

“It’s weird to play in front of tons of people,” John Rzeznik said backstage at the New World Music Theatre prior to the Goo Goo Dolls’ set Saturday night. “We’re more adept at working a smaller crowd.”

That may be. But I can think of few current bands that’s music is as tailor made for arenas than the Goo Goo Dolls.

The group knows how to do a rock show right. Fronted by singer-guitarist Rzeznik and bassist-backup vocalist Robby Takac, the group from Buffalo, N.Y., charged into a fast-paced set, mixing the punk-influenced rockers with their better known ballads.

Both men–particularly Rzeznik–worked the stage. Running from one end to the other, he tossed out guitar picks, acknowledged gifts thrown at him and generally just made a point of making the audience feel as if it was in a relatively intimate gathering rather than a fog-encased enormodome.

And after 13 years together–nine of them spent in obscurity, but the last few headlining or opening for the likes of the Rolling Stones–they had a little fun adding some theatrics to their show. At one point, glittery confetti fell from the sky as they launched into a song. For a group that’s credo generally falls into the less is more category, this was a big deal.

The meat of the Goo Goo Dolls’ live shows always have been their rock songs. Their pulsating rhythms and clean guitar lines are as recognizable at Rzeznik’s husky vocals.

So it’s ironic that their hard-earned success came via not one ballad, but two. Rzeznik seemed embarrassed by this earlier in his career. But these days, he stands proudly behind the bittersweet “Name” and the beguiling “Iris.”

Early in the concert, it was obvious that the band wasn’t going to restrict itself to the arrangements on their recordings.  For “Slide,” Rzeznik–who switched guitars after just about every number–strapped on an acoustic guitar and sang a slightly slowed down version of the song. It was a subtle difference, but one that was appreciated by anyone who has heard the song played ad nauseum on the radio.

Most often compared to the Replacements, the Goo Goo Dolls straddle the line between polished pop and unabashed chaos. But the lyrics–the soul of their music–reveal compassion and longing.

Sugar Ray could’ve learned a thing or two from the headliners. Frontman Mark McGrath is about as handsome as male singers come these days, but once you’re done looking at him, there’s not much more to do. Sure, “Fly” was fun to hear, but the rest of the set was unmemorable, except for McGrath’s nonstop yammering.

Fastball–the first band to hit the stage–fared much better. Playing cuts such as “Fire Escape” and “Out of My Head,” the Austin group showcased its winning blend of guitar-driven rock, two versatile vocalists, clever lyrics and energetic pop melodies.

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