By Pavel Kondov
Goo Goo Dolls are one of those bands that are primarily known for one song, but if you delve deeper, their discography gives and gives. Starting out as garage punks in the late 80s, they went on to strike gold (or rather, platinum) with their 1998 album Dizzy Up The Girl and the immortal hit ‘Iris’, making a name for themselves as some of the irresistibly catchy pop-rock out there. The Goo Goo Dolls recently visited the UK for a three-date tour, playing the final night in front of a packed audience at London’s Brixton Academy.
The opening trio of ‘Dizzy’, ‘Slide’ and ‘Big Machine’ set the tone for what was to come for the entire concert – a barrage of well-written snappy and catchy anthems to love and life. Goo Goo Dolls’ songs can sound deceptively simple, but their clever arrangements provide a diversity of tone and mood.
Frontman Johnny Rzeznik was on good form – the years have given the pleasant raspiness in his voice even more texture, whilst retaining his range. His presence was a steady hand on the tiller, conducting his fellow musicians with nods and gestures, whilst cracking the occasional dry joke at the audience. Bassist Robby Takac, the only other original and official member of the Goo Goo Dolls, was a ball of energy, constantly running and jumping all over the stage. A capable singer in his own right, he would take over lead vocals on their punkier numbers like ‘January Friend’, and provide solid backing at all other times.
For ‘Name’ – the first big hit of Goo Goo Dolls’ career – a fan who held a poster asking if he could play the song on guitar with them was brought up on stage, thanks to the crowd’s cheers over Rzeznik’s initial scepticism. The lucky fan Jake did an admirable job at the acoustic, prompting the audience to start a chant of his name, and a now guitar-less Rzeznik to joke that he’s never playing one again – “I’m gonna do half the work to make twice as much money”.
Among the newer cuts in the setlist, ‘Bringing On the Light’ stood out – sung by bassist Robby Takac, the mellow intro and anthemic chorus gave an untraditional backdrop for his voice, against a lightshow that was echoing the song’s refrain by casting projectors across the smiling faces in an otherwise dark crowd.
Eventually, it was time for the song everyone was waiting to hear – the timeless gorgeousness of ‘Iris’, a song which has surely accompanied us through many youthful triumphs and tragedies of the heart. The ballad sounded as majestic as the first time I heard it, with its lush string arrangement and that deceptively simple guitar solo that filled every corner of the Brixton Academy. ‘Iris’ is far from being the Goo Goo Dolls’ only achievement, but even if they had only produced this one song, Rzeznik would still hold a place among the pantheon of songwriters.
The encore came in the form of ‘Boxes’ off their latest album with the same title, and ‘Broadway’ off Dizzy Up The Girl – their most successful record whose 20th anniversary is being marked with a special tour of the US later this year. This encore suitably rounded off an energetic set full of familiar classics and the best cuts from the Goo Goo Dolls’ more recent material, in a concert that is unlikely to have left a single attendee without a smile on their face on their way out of the Brixton Academy.
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