by Mike Sorensen
On the second official night of summer, the heat and humidity were settled heavily over Maryland Heights, MO as the co-headlining tour featuring pop-rock icons Train and Goo Goo Dolls rolled into the Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre. Either of these acts would have been a great draw for a summer concert, but putting the two of them together added up to an unforgettable night of sheer fun.
Starting off the night, Allen Stone brought his soul-filled R&B set to the stage in eastern Missouri. Alongside his own numbers such as the opener “Brown Eyed Lover” and “Chippin’ Away,” Stone and his band belted out an amazing rendition of Bob Marley and the Wailers’ “Is This Love.” By the time he walked off the stage after delivering “Unaware,” “Taste of You,” and “Voodoo” to the crowd, it’s not at all a stretch of the imagination to say Allen Stone won himself and his band a whole slew of new fans.
With the sun sinking down behind the lawn of the Amphitheatre, Goo Goo Dolls stormed the stage like they owned the place, and from the crowd’s response, it would be hard to dispute that. With John Rzeznik leading the charge and bass player (and original front-man) Robby Takac attacking the stage from every angle all at once, the band took charge and put on a show! From the opening notes of “Stay With You” and “Big Machine,” the whole band – Rzeznik and Takac, with Brad Fernquist on guitars, Jim McGorman on keyboards and guitar, and Craig Macintyre behind the drums – showed why fans have been onboard with them from the early days. The crowd sang along with nearly every number, including “Slide” and “Here is Gone,” while the titular “Black Balloons” filled the air in both the seats and the lawn.
Mixed among the hits like “So Alive” and “Name,” the new single and title-track to forthcoming album (releasing in August) “Miracle Pill” slotted in perfectly. For a song that had only been released to the wild for roughly a day, the audience was still right with them, singing along. For a band whose thirtieth anniversary is a couple of years behind them, it says a lot about their longevity when they release new music and the fans jump on it immediately.
Closing out their set, Goo Goo Dolls delivered some of their biggest hits to the biggest reactions. After “Over and Over” from 2016’s “Boxes” album and “Better Days” from 2005, the crowd exploded with the opening notes of “Iris,” the band’s biggest single. The night wrapped up with a trip to “Broadway” for the band, with the audience still singing along with every word and soaking in every note.
After the sun finally set and the temperature edged down just a touch, the sounds of a locomotive filled the Amphitheatre, prefacing the entrance of Train. With no hesitation at all, Patrick Monahan and crew launched right into “Calling All Angels” and didn’t take the foot off the gas from there. After delivering a blast – literally, with confetti! – with “If It’s Love” and “Get To Me,” Train hit the ode to their home town with “Save Me, San Francisco.” Following “Cab,” Monahan introduced the song “Bruises.” With original collaborator, Ashley Monroe, absent for the show, the accompanying vocals were handled adroitly by show-opener Allen Stone. This was followed with the hit “Meet Virginia,” and then into the second collaboration of the night when John Rzeznik of Goo Goo Dolls joined the band on stage for a cover of Tom Petty and the Heartbreaker’s “American Girl” (with a little taste of “Free Fallin’” thrown in for good measure!).
After the epic team-ups, there still wasn’t any time to catch a breath. The back half of the set was highlighted with even more hits, including crowd-pleasers “Marry Me,” “Drive By,” and “Angel in Blue Jeans.” Monahan took a back seat and worked the mic for back-up vocals while lead guitarist Luis Maldonado and his big brother, Hector, on the bass, traded vocal duties for the Queen/David Bowie classic “Under Pressure.” After again letting the vocals be carried by others – in this case, the packed house singing the chorus of “Hey, Soul Sister,” which was declared as “so much better than Boston!” to the roaring approval of the crowd (see also: that hockey thing that happened) – Monahan took the time to introduce the rest of the band. Along with the Maldonado brothers, the stage was packed to the gills with the talents of Jerry Becker on keyboards, Matt Musty behind the kit, and the killer duo of Sakai Smith and Nikita Houston providing the lush, filling back-up vocals. After the “Heart and Soul”-fueled “Play That Song,” the Amphitheatre came alight with thousands of cellphone flashlights – the modern Bic lighters – for Monahan’s rendition of “Great Escape.” Bringing the show to a close in a flurry of sparks, streamers, and sparklers on the stage, Train ended the night with “Drops of Jupiter,” another crowd sing-along favorite.
Train and Goo Goo Dolls both showed why they’re still top acts in the pop-rock game, and bringing Allen Stone along with them touched on the next generation of artists that they’re helping to shepherd along. The audience was there for every second, from classic cuts, mega-hits, and brand new tracks. And that’s the best kind of summer concert you can hope for in any genre.