Goo Goo Dolls

28 August 2000

Colorado State Fair, Pueblo, CO


Every five years or so, I hear a song on the radio that really strikes me as powerful. Last Winter, "Black Balloon" filled the Adult Alternative airways, and from the start, I was impressed by the arrangements, and, in particular, the beginning and ending of the song--a backdrop of electric guitar harmonics in a minor chord, balanced against acoustic guitar strumming in the complementary major chord. Caught my attention.

So, I bought their recent album, Dizzy Up The Girl, which was unusual for me in that the album was recorded less than 15 years ago. At least one minor step towards me becoming somewhat familiar with what's hipp these days.

When I heard that they were on a bill with Tonic, I eagerly took the opportunity to get tickets. Shortly after I showed up at the 8000-or-so seat Pueblo Events Center, I sat next to a couple who had, like myself, attended a Who concert recently. Like me, they graduated from high school in the 1980s. All three of us realized that we were significantly above the median age of this audience, which was probably about 17-18.

As soon as arena personnel dropped the lights, I heard nothing but screaming, maybe about 3 db quieter than that of a Beatles Shea Stadium show in 1965. Out came Tonic, known mostly for their hit, "If You Could Only See.....". Their lead singer somewhat resembles REM's Michael Stipe in voice, and Wild Bill in appearance, mostly as a result of his cowboy hat and handlebar mustache. Their "Open Up Your Eyes" utilized a guitar riff somewhat resembling those on Eric Clapton's "Badge" or Ringo Starr's "It Don't Come Easy", both from around 1970. Also notable was their concert version of "(Why Do You Have To Be So) Mean To Me". Overall, Tonic sounds much like a mix of Pearl Jam and the Black Crowes.

After a 40 minute-long intermission, complete with two false starts, the Goo Goos danced out in front of the same screaming fans. With the opener, "Dizzy", the Dolls hit 114 decibels. Lead singer John Rzeznik bears some resemblance to the late Kurt Cobain, visually, somewhat in voice, and even in the guitar he started the show with--a Fender Mustang. Later the band offered one of their recognizable hits, "Slide", to unilateral approval.

Bassist Robby Takac handled lead vocals for about four of the evenings selections, but simply wasn't as impressive (or popular) as Rzeznik tonight. Takac's songs, such as "Johnny's Friend", "Amigone", "Full Forever", and "Extra Pale", all seemed like punkish, major-chord, not-overly-impressive tunes that served as token selections to allow Rzeznik time to rest his 400-grit sandpaper voicebox and socialize with the front row.

For the majority of the show, several in the audience held up both middle fingers. I felt a little out of touch, because I didn't understand what that meant in today's generation, other than maybe the "F@#$ You" my generation grew up associating it with. Rzeznik himself even asked the audience what the message was supposed to be. Confused, he decided to dedicate "Name" to one of the most visible offenders in the audience.

Around the time of "Broadway", John looked at one member of the second row and said, "You crack me up cowgirl!", after which she handed him her Stetson hat.

John must have played at least a half-dozen different guitars during the evening's set.

The Goo Goo Dolls live act this Summer included two supplemental musicians to complement the three official members of the band--an extra guitarist, and a keyboard player. Despite this, I still don't think they were able to closely reproduce the wonderful studio arrangements of "Black Balloon", to my modest disappointment.

John, etc. ended their set with their monster hit, "Iris", which was probably the most impressive selection of the evening. After an encore, the Dolls engaged in an interactive hand-clapping exercise with the crowd.

Overall, I felt sufficiently entertained this evening in Pueblo. However, I can't resist the temptation to make the following observations. As with perhaps too many bands this day and age, I'm having trouble identifying anything really unique about either Tonic or the Goo Goo Dolls. In a way, many Adult Alternative bands started out as punk groups that, over time, fell victim to dilution. When I'm able, for instance, to select Dolls songs that very closely resemble, in feeling, hits by other Adult Alternative groups such as Matchbox 20 ["Slide" vs. "3 AM"], Gin Blossoms ["Broadway" vs. "Hey Jealousy"], and Collective Soul ["Iris" and "Name" vs. "The World I Know"], something tells me that this modern Alternative generation of music, much like the generation of people accompanying it, is desperately searching for identity and originality.

I'm concerned that popular music really hasn't experienced anything significantly innovative since the dawn of music video and the proliferation of the synthesizer, both in the early 1980s. It's almost sad in a way. Everything just seems so middle of the road! What did Woodstock 1999 have to offer that was special? Well, the only thing I can think of off the top of my head is the violence, riots, and body surfing. Hello?

Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the show, but in a way, the extreme sound volume of these bands seemed overshadowed by the seemingly silent emptiness of the answer to the question, "What does this music stand for?" On that note, we must ask ourselves another profound question: When should we expect to see the "next" new band called, "Third Eye Blink 20"

[*** 1/2] - Steven T.

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