REVIEW: Train and Goo Goo Dolls follow single(s) path to success at MusikfestBy JOHN J. MOSER
Both late 1990s alt rockers Goo Goo Dolls and 2000s radio-rockers Train made their careers through hit singles.
And both also followed that path to success at Musikfest’s main Steel Stage on Tuesday, giving the festival’s first sold-out audience of the year pretty much everything it expected to hear, and the way it expected to hear it, in a co-headlining show.
Goo Goo Dolls, which played first, opened with hits: “Stay With You,” which, now more than a dozen years since it was a Top 5 hit, sounded a bit more mellowed and reserved before soaring -- perhaps even better capturing the song’s promise of fidelity. And then right into a more muscular “Big Machine,” a Top 10 hit in 2002.
The songs’ familiarity was almost comforting. When, without hesitation, the band jumped into its hit “Slide,” a twitter went through the crowd, and singer Johnny Rzeznik remarked, “I figured you’d know this one.”
But like that song, some of Goo Goo Dolls’ hits now are more than 20 years old, and the band couldn’t help but let them evolve in the way the band has.
“Here is Gone,” for example, sounded heavier and more ominous. Rzezznik started its breakthrough 1995 hit “Name” alone on acoustic guitar in a spotlight before the band kicked in behind him -- still gentle and almost bluegrass.
“Better Days” took on new meaning -- a plea for the future in uncertain times -- and the group’s biggest hit, “Iris,”was triumphant. Rzeznik asked the crowd, “come on, sing it with me," and it did, loudly and emphatically.
And 1999′s “Black Balloon” was wonderful -- sweeping, majestic and, yes, also more mature.
Aside from the hits, the balance of Goo Goo Dolls’ 15-song, hourlong set also was very good. That includes its more recent songs: 2013′s “Rebel Beat” was thumping and upbeat. “So Alive” from 2016, even if it doesn’t measure up to the standard of the hits, was OK, and Rzeznik made it an audience call-and-response.
The same was true for 2016′s “Over and Over,” which for a late-career song was a standout, and its lyrics, “Turn it up/And start again” sounded like a lyrical manifesto for Goo Goo Dolls.
Two songs sung by bassist Robby Takac (who from the stage called Musikfest “one of the coolest things going on in this whole country”) also were good. “Free of Me” from 2016 was a nice switch-up because of its rock approach. Four songs later, Goo Goo Dolls approached “Bring on the Light” similarly, and with similarly good results.
Only the new song “Miracle Pill,” from a new album Rzeznik said is coming out in fall, was weaker -- a middling, stuttering rocker.
For such a short set and one so focused on its most popular material, Goo Goo Dolls skipped its chart-topping, gold 2004 hit cover of Supertramp’s “Give a Little Bit.”
But it closed with its 2000 “Broadway,” closed the set, and for how much the 2000 hit was ominous and dour, on Tuesday, it seemed far more enthusiastic and, unexpectedly, more hopeful.
That’s how a hit can evolve.
Train also opened with a hit -- one of its biggest, 2003′s chart-topper “Calling All Angels,” and it, too played the songs as if they still meant something.
That was especially true for vocalist Pat Monahan, who wailed on the song as if his life depended on it more than 15 years later on the lyrics “I won’t give up/You don’t give up,” and rarely let his enthusiasm wane throughout the 18-song, 85-minute set.
“Lets fill this place with love and positivity," he told the crowd. "Throw those hands up to the sky.” And they did.
Monahan changed the lyrics on the 2010 No. 1 gold hit “If It’s Love” to say, “I’m not in it to win it/I’m in it for Pennsylvania.” And far more than Goo Goo Dolls, Monahan engaged the crowd, reminding them he is from Erie and, when he asked them to sing along and they did, responded to cheers, “So much better than Jersey ... Man, it’s great to be back home."
Monahan even wailed with urgency on lesser hits such as “50 Ways to Say Goodbye,” and “Save Me, San Francisco,” during which there was over-sized beach balls bouncing around the crowd. “Angel in Blue Jeans” chugged along and soared.
Monahan, backed by a seven-member band (including two female singers), seemed to give his most to “When I Look to the Sky,” which he said was a song he wrote after the death of his mother.
He followed that with an equally beautiful song, the platinum “Marry Me,” which was lovely and heartfelt, even if his voice seemed to have not recovered from the previous song.
But it was telling that, beyond those big hits and a few deeper cuts -- 2012′s “50 Ways to Say Goodbye” and 2005′s “Get to Me” -- Train had to fill its set with several covers.
It brought out opening act Allen Stone for a short version of Jay Z’s “Empire State of Mind” before Monahan duetted with him on a great “Bruises,” Train’s underappreciated shot at Americana. Stone sang far better than he did any song in his set.
But while Train’s cover of Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers’ “American Girl” with a snippet of “Free Fallin” was very well done, it seemed apropos of nothing. Same with David Bowie and Queen’s “Under Pressure" -- a gutsy song to cover, and one on which Train did great, with guitarist Luis Maldonado singing Freddy Mercury’s part, even the scream at the end.
Train got back on track with a fun and playful turn on the hit “Drive By,” but unlike the way Goo Goo Dolls evolved its songs, Train’s breakthrough 1999 hit “Meet Virgina” was played with a far more rock approach, and not necessarily for the better.
Train wound down its set with its biggest hit, “Hey Soul Sister.” Every band should have a six-times-platinum hit like that to wrap up a show, and Train played its best, even adding a snippet of Drake’s “In My Feelings.”
A sweet, wonderful “Play That Song,” with Monahan again singing seemingly with all he has, was the spot at which the band would have ended its main set, but Monahan simply told the crowd to stay with them, and Train launched into a cover of the hard-rocking early Led Zeppelin song “Heartbreaker,” ending with a snippet of Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion.”
Train’s show closed with its second biggest hit, “Drops of Jupiter (Tell Me),” and the audience seemed satisfied the band had played all of its biggest songs.
Stone opened the show with a six-song, 28-minute set of blue-eyed soul, succeeding when he kept songs in a lower range to sound like Gavin DeGraw or Daryl Hall but having less success when he sang falsetto.
Regardless, Stone, backed by a four-man band, was fearless in his singing, even when his intention outreached his talent.
He also did his job of hyping the crowd for the headliners.https://www.mcall.com/entertainment/lehigh-valley-music/mc-ent-review-musikfest-train-goo-goo-dolls-20190807-vmfo7ujd2vf4xnn46dejczaif4-story.html