Monday, 10 October 2016

Goo Goo Dolls - Buffalo Balladeers Serve Up Fist-Pumping Pop Joy - O2 Academy Leeds, Leeds, 09.10.16

“We’ve gotta come back to the UK sometime soon so we can watch QI again,” the eternally youthful Goo Goo Dolls frontman John Rzeznik states to a chorus of high, throaty laughs and deep chuckles that ripple through the near-two thousand people before him. “It used to be drugs and women – and now it’s just Stephen Fry.” It’s refreshing patter from the man, a step away from the somewhat banal and cliché lines enjoyed by many vocalists, and he visibly delights in the oddity and quirkiness he evokes with such comments.
John Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls, performing live
in 2016. (Courtesy of
This six-date UK tour – of which the O2 Academy in Leeds is the second stop – is pretty much the band’s only touring commitment behind latest effort Boxes that sees them venture outside North America. It’s curious how they’ve never broken the UK the way they did the US – though few post-grunge bands ever made huge waves here in the era of Cool Britannia. It’s arguably more surprising that they didn’t break through afterwards though – from their roots, the Buffalo band shifted to alt-rock balladeers in the mid-nineties, before their change to chart-humping pop rock in the last decade. They sound commercial and hungry – yet they remain an act known to the wider European public as somewhat of a one-hit wonder, which is rather a shame.

Their show tonight roughly splits three ways and touches upon all the key musical iterations of the band, with particular emphasis on Boxes and 2013's previous record Magnetic (the two albums contribute over a third of the setlist between them). From the hand-clap-heavy piano-pop of So Alive, to the scuzzy snarl of guitar on Long Way Down to the soft rock strumming of Black Balloon, Rzeznik and bassist Robby Takac (the only other permanent band member and co-founder thirty years ago) steer their set through an uplifting and joyful hundred minutes, mining a richly melodic vein in their songcraft. Opener Over and Over takes an echoing soundscape of chords over a violently percussive bass approach and marries it with a fist-pumping stadium-sized chorus. Rebel Beat is a slice of equally defiant power-pop that encourages arms aloft by the dozens.

Rzeznik is no fool either, and doesn’t overreach in pursuit of high range; he lowers his register for several older tracks, most notably on grungy-highlight Naked, and ably sidesteps any potential bum notes. Takac gamely takes lead vocals twice in the evening too; the highlight the first time is a well-worn version of classic track Smash, all sharp angst and sweaty spirit, whilst later on, it’s his tribute to the late Prince with a cover of I Could Never Take The Place of Your Man (recorded on their third album Hold Me Up) that is the show-stealer, featuring some scintillating guitar fretwork from Rzeznik. The pair, plus touring musicians Brad Fernquist, Korel Tunador and Craig Macintyre, are a slick unit too; they deliver fully-realised performances of Souls in the Machine, with its folksy, Midwestern strut, and are equally comfortable with the band’s biggest charting hit stateside, the gorgeous ballad Name, a song that brings a tear to the eye of several ladies (and a few men) in the house.
Robby Takac of the Goo Goo Dolls performing live
in 2016. (Courtesy of  Las Vegas Informer.)
It’s a testament to the band that their show doesn’t feel like an extended build-up to that ubiquitous number that made their name in Britain. Still, after rousing performances of pop-rockers The Pin and Stay With You, and to delirious screams, Iris is duly delivered. It’s worthy of the hype too – Rzeznik’s crowning songwriting achievement transcends its live setting as the crowd holler back the iconic refrain at him and Takac. It’s a beautiful moment, and perhaps it would have been better to finish the show right there, rather than rolling out two more tracks in the aftermath of the communal, emotional high. Still, Broadway goes down a storm, and encore Long Way Home reaffirms their singalong-songwriting chops. As Rzeznik and Takac say their goodnights and vanish quickly as the house lights pop up, they leave a few thousand devoted acolytes sated and satisfied. It’s a shame that the Goo Goo Dolls aren’t bigger in Britain, yes; but from their energetic performance here, they’ll remain America’s top pop-rock export and best-kept secret for a while yet.

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