I'm not that guy. I liked them then, but there were way too many bands I liked a whole lot more to really say that they stood out - until they started writing pop songs.
I turned to my wife a few songs into the Buffalo trio's show last night at the Greek Theatre and said, "I know you'll say I'm crazy, but the Goo Goo Dolls may have ousted Bon Jovi in my book..." To her credit, she didn't call me crazy - but she did give me the scrunched-up 'you're crazy' face, followed by a 'who are you, and what have you done with my husband' smirk.
Bon Jovi's reign of pop-rock supremacy began September 19, 1988, the day New Jersey was released and I first listened to the cassette in my high school parking lot. The album remains one of my all-time favorites, and to this day I maintain that "Lay Your Hands On Me" is one of the best opening tracks ever - live and on record. Yet, with every passing year, they fall a bit further down my musical hierarchy.
I still like them, I just don't love them. The easy explanation is that I outgrew them. The more complicated explanation details why I outgrew them - Bon Jovi shifted gears. They used to feel inspired and radiated an energy, now they're more inclined to repackage old plot lines to appease middle-aged women and win over country converts. That's fantastic marketing, I just don't fall into either group - I've lost the connection that burned throughout the '90s.
Which brings me back to the Goo Goo Dolls. I feel a connection to their songs that intensifies with every listen. "Iris" boasts one of my all-time favorite lyrics. "Broadway" is lined with brilliant wordplay. "Name" flames with passion. "Better Days" is a majestic snapshot of the human spirit. "Dizzy" swirls like a whirlwind.
Because the band are a master class in pop-rock songwriting, I don't mind that I can't seem to connect with their live show. I feel the songs - and as any music fan will agree, that's more than enough to make any concert a night to remember.
I like frontman Johnny Rzeznik, he just doesn't grab me live. It's as if he doesn't own the songs and he's just borrowing them, using them as a backdrop for the music video being choreographed each night onstage. The lighting is impressive and the smoke is a nice touch, but it's like watching 3D television - you ooh and aah a few times, but you never really feel like you're one with the show.
The band sounded great at the Greek Theatre, the performance just wasn't dynamic and alive - it's as if all of Rzeznik's focus is on looking the part of a VH1 heartthrob, and he's lost the spark that fueled him back in the more high-impact days of Hold Me Up and Superstar Car Wash. Bassist Robby Takac injects the show with a punk rock tailspin on the four tracks he sings, but I need more.
My solution? Strip the Goo Goo Dolls to their core and put them on a club tour. Don't just forget about style, go out of your way to defy it. You don't worry about your hair, you worry about staying hydrated. The focus should be on sweating through every song in an over-packed room where you can look your fans in the eye and visualize your connection. In the more intimate setting, you're pressed to interact, something that was non-existent last night.
Let the audience feel you feeling your music, then capture that energy and carry it over to the larger stages... Shift gears.
Could the Goo Goo Dolls be bigger than Bon Jovi? Not likely. But as far as being better goes, they've already got the songs. You know what that means? That's right - whoa, oh, they're halfway there...
I can say this much - if both Bon Jovi and the Goo Goo Dolls were in town on the same night, right now I'd be hard-pressed not to support the boys from Buffalo. Sorry, New Jersey.
GOO GOO DOLLS SETLIST
1- Sweetest Lie
2- Big Machine
5- Here Is Gone
6- Another Second Time Around [RT vox]
7- Smash [RT vox]
8- Can't Let It Go
9- Black Balloon
11- Better Days
12- Stay With You
13- Now I Hear [RT vox]
14- Tucked Away [RT vox]
16- Let Love In
17- As I Am
18- All Eyes On Me
19- Acoustic No. 3
21- Not Broken