75 years have passed since Dorothy first clicked her heels together, but there’s still no place like home.
Just ask Buffalo’s own Goo Goo Dolls, who returned to their erstwhile stomping ground Tuesday night for an intimate engagement inside the newly renovated North Park Theatre on Hertel Ave. John Rzeznik and Robby Takac had an entire city in their collective palm before ever setting foot on stage and not even the melancholy menace of late-April showers was going to prevent them from seizing the moment.
Passersby probably thought they had just wandered into a hostage situation given how many news outlets swarmed the premises hoping to catch an impromptu glimpse of our native sons, but we wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. While they’ve come a long way from being the rambunctious Replacements-loving punks for whom The Continental served as a personal playground once upon a time, the Goos are and always will be our band.
Their songs are forever tattooed on Buffalo’s increasingly thick skin as reminders of how the city and its residents have changed, for better or worse. We’ll always remember the first time we heard “Name” on the radio or how proud we were when “Iris” became the most-played song of 1998 across all radio formats. We’ll always be cognizant of how each album signifies not only the musical evolution of the band itself, but of our personal progressions as human beings from then to now.
One of my earliest introductions to the band stems from the summer of 1993 when the band’s fourth studio album titled “Superstar Car Wash” worked its way into heavy rotation. I was hanging out inside The Stuffed Mushroom in North Buffalo following one of my dad’s softball games and heard “We Are the Normal” blasting out of the barroom speakers for the very first time. I was hooked instantly, and, despite being only five years old, I knew that what they were playing was exactly the type of music I wanted to listen to for years to come.
I came to appreciate such an experience that much more upon discovering their Buffalo heritage, because I devoured the records, studied up on their history, and felt a thriving sense of pride whenever they received the slightest hint of national attention. No matter how much asininity outsiders chose to engage in regarding Buffalo or Western New York in general, the young optimist in me saw the Goo Goo Dolls’ ascendance as a sign that anything was possible.
All those feelings came rushing back when Rzeznik walked out onto the North Park stage to play “Sympathy” with nothing but an acoustic guitar and a stool. If he was feeling any pressure associated with being able to deliver in front of his hometown, he never let it show. He was primed from the opening note, and, when Takac joined him a few minutes later, it was off to the races.
Billed as “The Otis Midnight Sessions,” their show took a page out of Vh1’s “Storytellers” book with Rzeznik sharing various anecdotal asides about how each song came together. “Slide” was introduced as the so-called “darkest song of the ‘90s,” “Already There” was prefaced by Takac’s recollection of looking outside his boyhood window, and Rzeznik noted how “Better Days” has transcended its initial intention as a Christmas song.
The acoustics inside the theatre laid the groundwork for a near-flawless evening of music played and sung with all the passion, sincerity, and nuanced musicianship we’ve come to expect from them. Rzeznik’s voice was in rare form and Takac’s magnetic personality made it impossible not to feel as if we were in the midst of a truly special occasion.
Speaking of “Magnetic,” I found myself digging the material from the Goos’ latest, because the addition of Run River North to the mix made each track swing in ways I never felt while listening to the record.
The Los Angeles-based alternative folk outfit utilized strings and haunting six-part harmonies to bring “Come to Me” and “Rebel Beat” to life while simultaneously making a case for their own headlining status down the road. Lead singer Alex Hwang has the charisma to command attention and the requisite skill to maintain it once the initial high wears off, which enables the rest of the band to operate as a well-oiled machine.
Perhaps their contribution reached its peak during “Black Balloon,” a fan-favorite from 1998’s “Dizzy Up the Girl,” in which they made a beautifully bleak ode to a friend in peril even more affecting through their use of a violin arrangement that appeared to slide seamlessly into the song’s overall structure.
At a time when groups such as Mumford and Sons and Of Monsters and Men are offering up a brand of pseudo-folk that is often more cloying than endearing, it’s nice to know that Run River North is out there to clear up any misunderstandings the public may have about what modern folk music should sound like.
After hearing them together, it’s hard to argue that the Goo Goo Dolls and Run River North weren’t destined to collaborate at some point throughout their professional lives. On the one hand, you have a group of hungry Korean-American upstarts eager to learn and, on the other hand, you have a seasoned duo willing to open their hearts and show them the way.
I don’t think anyone wanted to see it end, but we all knew it was imminent from the moment “Iris” reached its final chorus. Months of anticipation had culminated in a show that actually lived up to the hype preceding it, and Buffalo couldn't have been happier.
Our infrastructure has suffered and our schools are tanking, but we’re on the verge of better days and we’re going to keep on fighting to the sound of the rebel’s beat.
When the end of the year rolls around and the flurry of lists begins, the Goo Goo Dolls at North Park has to be considered among the best, because, for one night on Hertel Ave., a supposedly dying city was alive with the sound of homegrown music.