By Emma Witmer
In the modern era of music, the age of the rock band has largely given way to the single-spotlight singer. Don’t get me wrong, the band is by no means dead. Musical giants like Mumford and Sons, Imagine Dragons, Arctic Monkeys and Vampire Weekend remain loyal to the united sound, single moniker image and enjoy prominent spaces on the charts today. Still, the sheer dominance of the rock band that can fill arenas has waned since the ‘90s.
But I miss rock bands. I miss the guitar solos and drums not recorded from a keyboard. The epic saga of the rock band, though, is riddled with substance abuse, infighting and earth-shattering breakups. It makes me wonder how any band could survive decades of success and still genuinely enjoy sharing the stage.
Well, The Goo Goo Dolls and Train do. Both bands share the kind of chemistry you hope to see from groups who have been playing together for so long. When their co-headlining tour hit the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre stage Sunday night, that became abundantly clear.
Whether they were in the lawn or claiming the coveted covered seats, the ‘90s and ‘00s radio-pop-rock fans bobbing along to Allen Stone’s opening performance were all soaked. Moms in old tour tees, dads hauling dueling beers to the wife, young couples on date night (and myself) all slicked back wet hair and watched the clock as the concert monsoon season raged on.
At 7:45 p.m., it was on. Former hard-living rocker and newly minted family man Johnny Rzeznik took the stage hauling a massive white guitar with black lightning bolts. Legendary bandmate Robby Takac and supporting musicians followed suit. The all-black-clad rockers launched into “Stay With You.” Headbanging commenced.
These guys love being on stage. Rocking through the band’s big hits and newer singles, Rzeznik and Takac committed to a ceaseless bounce, skipping around the stage, throwing out power kicks and thrusting mics into the air. At 53 and 54 years old respectively, these guys still bring the energy of rockers half their age. And like rockers half his age, when Rzeznik smirks at the crowd, the girls scream.
Rzeznik, in true star form, swapped guitars for every song, shredding electrics for high-energy tracks like “Big Machine,” and trading them out to pluck acoustics for undeniable sing-alongs like “Slide.” In a standout moment of the evening, all the lights dropped save a beam on the keyboard. With the melody to “Black Balloon” ringing through the air, massive black balloons rained into the crowd, bubbling from hand to hand. Honestly, chills.
Takac got a few moments in the spotlight as well, lending his vocals to “Free of Me” and “Brining on the Light.” I don’t know that I ever fully appreciated Takac until that moment. There’s a certain gruff, nasally controlled quality to his voice that is more reminiscent of the hipster folk bands of this era. I was into it. Midway through the show, Rzeznik took a moment to reminisce on one of the earliest moments of his career, the day he wrote “Name.”
“I asked myself, ‘What am I qualified to do in life?’” Rzeznik remembered, saying he reasoned he could bartend, or work at a gas station “shoving cigarettes through the bulletproof glass.” Or he could make music. So he sat down on the couch in his old apartment and wrote the now-iconic song. With the crowd on its feet singing his legacy, Rzeznik and Goo Goo Dolls’ lasting impact on its audience was clear.
“Thank you for remembering this,” Rzeznik said.
As Goo Goo Dolls’ hour-long set came to a close, my friend Lindsey and I received a confused look of approval from a beer-hawking concessions guy. We were headbanging to “Iris.” Did I first hear that song on the Treasure Planet soundtrack? Maybe (the song on the soundtrack was actually “I’m Still Here”). Was I ashamed of that? Hell no.
After an intermission long enough for what certainly looked like every woman in the venue to hop in line for the bathroom, the faint sound of an approaching train grew louder and louder until the whole audience caught the hint and started screaming.
“Callin’ all angels!” Train lead singer Patrick Monahan yelled into the crowd, beginning the first of many call and response moments with, “I won’t give up if you don’t you don’t give up.”
Suddenly, Monahan swept his hands down to the side, and the music was wiped out. The band re-entered with an electric guitar solo that sent the crowd leaping to its feet. Like Goo Goo Dolls, Monahan can’t help but have fun; he joked with the crowd about the “beauty” of “50 Ways to Say Goodbye” (a song about telling your friend that your ex died in a variety of accidents), and inciting mom-on-mom dance-offs in the pit. As Monahan put it, “This has been the most fun tour of our lives.”
And what’s Train without a few sappy moments?
Belting out the ballad, “Marry Me,” the band was backed by romantic clips from wedding footage, culminating with video from Monahan’s own nuptials. Overhead, cameras swept through the crowd, kiss-cam style, capturing sweet moments from couples in the crowd.
After a nearly complete sweep of Train’s discography, and a duet between Monahan and Allen Stone for “Bruises,” the moment finally arrived. “Meet Virginia.” OK, so not the moment you were thinking of, but it was my moment. Guitarist Luis Maldonado stole the stage by diving into an impassioned electric solo. You would think it was enough, but no.
“You’d think he would’ve given you another guitar solo, right?” Monahan yelled into the crowd.
And he did. He absolutely shredded.
Rezeznik returned to the stage to join Train for a jamming rendition of Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers’ “American Girl,” a nice little nod to the Florida audience. The number-one cover of the night, though, came when Maldonado broke out his double-neck guitar. Duetting with Monahan for Queen’s “Under Pressure,” Maldonado showed off his vocal range by getting about as close to Mr. Mercury as reasonably possible.
The only cringey moment of the night came when Monahan interrupted “Soul Sister” to sample Drake’s “In My Feelings.” That was truly painful.
Calling on the audience to finish “Play That Song,” the band shot red and write streamers into the air and exited the stage.
Needless to say, that didn’t last. The roar of an unsatisfied crowd brought the band back, performing Monahan’s single “Great Escape.”
Finally, the crowd went nuts as the familiar intro to “Drops of Jupiter” rang out. This was the real moment the audience had been waiting for. Train pulled out all the stops for this one. Pyrotechnics shot off and confetti rained over a crowd that was nearly drowning out the band just by singing along. As the confetti began to settle on the ground, and the band said goodnight, we suddenly found ourselves “back in the atmosphere,” hustling out to meet the traffic and ducking into the last bit of rain.
Here’s hoping that today’s bands have the same kind of longevity, chemistry and energy that these bands do in 20 years. That was hard to beat.