Goo Goo Dolls' success no secret in Reading Sovereign Center show

Concert ReviewNovember 9, 2011The Morning Call

The secret of The Goo Goo Dolls’ music may be that there’s no secret.

The band’s songs really are workmanlike – nothing ground-breaking. They simply convey emotions – the emotions of us all – wrapped up in stirring music, so that you can easily relate to them. Oh, and they’re performed well.

They were  performed extremely well – 23 of them -- in a 95-minute show Tuesday at Sovereign Performing Arts Center in Reading.

It was clear early in the show that it was a good night for The Goos – especially front man Johnny Rzeznik. And with the Goo Goo Dolls, how Rzeznik does determines how that band does – that’s how essential he is.

After the band opened with “Still Your Song” (one of four songs they would play from their latest album, 2010’s “Something for the Rest of Us”), Rzeznik started one of the band’s biggest hits, “Slide,” on acoustic guitar. It was ragged and raw, nicely so, and all the better for its authenticity.

“You got to sing it!” he told the near-sellout crowd, and they did. He followed that with “Here Is Gone,” his voice clear and strong, and a good “Big Machine.”

Rzeznik and bassist Robby Takac seemed exceptionally connected to the audience.

“Hey, Reading, what’s up?” Rzeznik said before commenting on a woman’s sign asking him to marry her and getting into a light-hearted spat with a woman in front who booed when Rzeznik aid the band was from Buffalo, saying it was because she was a Philadelphia Eagles fan.

“You f-----g b---,” he said. “Have another beer and shut the f--- up. … I’m kidding!”

He said it seemed the band had played Pennsylvania 312 times on its current tour.  Takac told how his family would take “station wagon vacations” to Reading’s outlet malls. “Thank you, Reading, for supplying me with sweaters!” he said.

Perhaps the highlight of the concert came early, when, just a third of the way through, the band played a building, soaring, layered “Home,” also from the new disc. “Guys, help me out,” Rzeznik told the crowd.

And they followed that with a striking, muted “Black Balloon,” for which the crowd tossed around scores of blown-up black balloons. It got a big cheer, and Rzeznik smiled.

But there were plenty of other lesser high points. A rich “Name,” the breakthrough hit that changed Goo Goo Dolls from a punk band to adult contemporary hit makers, had Rzeznik on acoustic guitar, and later  Rzeznik, Takac and a back-up guitarist (the touring band also has a keyboard player) lining up at the front of the stage to play. It also got a big cheer.

They played “Let Love In” big, and, on “Better Days” late in the show, Rzeznik asked the crowd, “Are you with me?” and smiled to the balcony.

Not every song was great. The four songs sung by Takac were good – especially good was the new “Now I Hear,” on which Rzeznik played lead guitar. But those songs are essentially a nod to the band’s punk days, and almost interrupt the concert’s flow. Even Rzeznik seemed disconnected on a couple of them.

And when all of the big, soaring hits are lined up, it becomes obvious how much alike they sound. “Stay With You,” was good, but the show had a good number of similar songs that were better.

The band’s huge hit, “Iris,” also was a highlight – the crowd cheered its first notes -- and Rzeznik sang it with passion, nearly speaking rather than singing some of its words, then yelling others above a singing voice. The audience sang the line “You bleed just to know you’re alive!” and Rzeznik sang the last chorus nearly a cappella, with the audience swinging along.

And they started “Broadway,” which closed the main set, the same way – a cappella as the crowd sang along before the band kicked in, and played the rest of it delightfully loose.

The encore was great. It started with a muscular, powerful “Naked,” on which Rzeznik played a strong solo. Then, seemingly impromptu as Rzeznik waited for a correctly tuned guitar, he said, “gather ‘round kids, we’re going to play another one,” and played a great “Sympathy” alone on acoustic guitar.

The night ended with “All Eyes on Me,” with another Rzeznik solo, and a girl from the crowd jumping on stage to dance.

“Thank you a lot for coming out,” Rzeznik said. It was no secret the night was a success.