By Dan Poorman
“The history of rock ‘n’ roll is littered with terrible band names” — this according to John Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls at the Lakeview Amphitheater on a crisp Friday night.
And yes, “Goo Goo Dolls” is one of them, Rzeznik implied. “Too many ‘O’s,” chimed bassist Robby Takac.
The story goes like this: Rzeznik and Takac had a band called The Sex Maggots, but when a club owner refused to throw that on his marquee, they had five minutes to come up with another name. The guys flipped feverishly through a copy of True Detective magazine, found an ad for a “goo goo doll,” adopted the moniker in their hurry and soon became one of rock’s most cited success stories.
After signing to a label in New York City and selling 700 records, Buffalo’s own Goo Goo Dolls couldn’t part with the name, much to Rzeznik’s chagrin.
“We stayed with it, it’s still our name and it still doesn’t mean anything,” Rzeznik told a crowd of about 9,800 (as per an estimate by Lakeview staff) on Friday. At this point in his particularly humorous and chatty set, the frontman recounted his and Takac’s expectations as young indie rockers in the 1990s.
“We were ready to slip into obscurity and become cult figures,” Rzeznik said, “then I wrote this song and f—ed that whole thing up.” That’s when Rzeznik began picking “Name,” the single released in September of 1995 that catapulted the Goo Goo Dolls to national stardom. “I’m so glad I f—ed that up, because I got this,” he added, outstretching his arms to the crowd and basking in their uproarious applause. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
“Name” is one of those songs that seems to have lived its own life in culture; a life apart from its creators as a sort of lullaby, in that it’s a ballad folks of all ages can hum on command. Even more so are the songs “Slide” and “Iris,” which, much like the Third Eye Blind catalog, pretty much define a whole piece of the 1990s.
So of course, going to see a Goo Goo Dolls concert in 2017 is, for some, a chance to hear these iconic tunes played live. John Rzeznik gets that. With all the grace of a standup comic, the singer reflected on the troubles of being a Goo Goo Doll today when he introduced a brand new song, “Use Me.”
“I know the temptation to go to the bathroom during the new song,” Rzeznik said. “You know, ‘Gotta get back before they play ‘Iris.” But this may be the best song you never heard, Sir Walking Out.”
Rzeznik’s playfulness didn’t stop at his pointing out a gentleman walking up the aisle to the lawn area. The audience laughed as he suggested, “If you could just please politely cross your legs, hang out for a second and listen to this new song.”
After “Use Me,” (an admirably catchy cut, all things considered), Rzeznik said he’d hit the crowd with a song they knew, and started up “Come to Me,” an earnest love tune he wrote for his wife before their wedding day — one which resultantly has become a favored wedding song for couples across the country. The comedy kept on when Rzeznik mused on the reality of divorce statistics in relation to this song, saying, “Inevitably, it’s going to be attached to a bad memory for fifty percent of those people, so, you know, good luck with that.”
Rzeznik then dedicated “Come to Me” to every guy in the audience whose wife or girlfriend had dragged him along against his will. He related that experience to one of his own, when his wife made him sit through an Enrique Iglesias concert. After a shocking Nickelback joke (“Sorry, I wish I could play a Nickelback song for you, bro”), Rzeznik laughed, “Where was I going with this story?” and commended the dude-bro type in question for doing the right thing and showing up for someone he loves.
The delightfully zany (and barefoot) Takac, who for much of Friday evening looked like an exuberant kid jumping around his bedroom pounding on his sticker-laden bass in the throes of some rock star fantasy, also joined in on story time when introducing “Lucky Star.”
“This song was written just down the highway,” he said in reference to Buffalo, “and it was first played on stage, I believe, at the Lost Horizon in Syracuse.” A proud local audience cheered.
Musically, the band (as well as opener Phillip Phillips, with a stellar group of guys behind him) was on point on Friday. Rzeznik’s voice, at once a little gritty and modestly melodic, still holds up. On Friday, he sounded like the recordings his fans know and love; beyond his funnyman stage presence, he’s still an ace balladeer. He proved this chiefly on “Black Balloon,” “Iris” and “Acoustic #3.”
The current iteration of Rzeznik and Takac’s live band is pretty tasty, too, with multi-instrumentalist Korel Tunador and guitarist Brad Fernquist shining brightest on numbers like “Flat Top” and “Broadway.” Takac, in his few lead vocal duties, fell slightly short; his charismatic pop-punk rasp felt tired and quiet in the mix. His spirit and stage presence more than made up for these shortcomings, though.
In fact, “spirit” — that’s a good word to describe Friday’s Goo Goo Dolls concert. As far as I’m concerned, you know you’ve made it as a songwriter when the images you put to paper start literally flying around your show. Such was the case for Rzeznik and “Black Balloon,” when fans let loose a few real black balloons on Friday. Through his laughs, and as he grabbed one balloon that wound up on stage with him and twirled it about, Rzeznik seemed engaged with the Amp truly and spiritually.
“Thank you for giving this band a life,” he said, looking, by now, 100 percent cool with its terrible name.
“Tattered Edge/You Should Be Happy”
“Over and Over”
“Free of Me”
“Here is Gone”
“Come to Me”
“Bringing on the Light”
“Long Way Home”