Concert ReviewMarch 3, 2013Tampa Bay Times

Busch Gardens’ Bands, Brew and BBQ series would seem, on its face, to be the living antithesis of Tampa Bay Beer Week.

Here, in the home of Cigar City and Cold Storage and Saint Somewhere, is a multinational beer conglomerate hocking the myriad iterations of InBev in a theme park, with a series of chart-topping bands as a soundtrack. There’s very little craft or boutique about it.

Still, the appeal is undeniable. A hundred different beers for $30? With the Goo Goo Dolls providing live entertainment? What child of the ‘90s could say no?

The Goos must have brought a chill in from Buffalo, N.Y., because temperatures hovered in the low 50s all day Sunday – which, as it turns out, wasn’t entirely unwelcome; it even gave the evening a strong Oktoberfest feel. A large, if late-arriving, turned out to sample the brews and get a taste of late-'90s nostalgia.

In terms of critical respect, the Goo Goo Dolls probably deserved more than they got. Over the past 25 years, the Westerberg-worshipping outfit has blended grunge and power pop in a way that somehow broke through to the mainstream. But ever since Iris, Johnny Rzeznik and company have seemed content to cater to the adult-contempo set, with a succession of ever-less-punk-sounding singles.

For all he lacks in vocal and guitar-playing range, even today, Rzeznik remains a dynamite hook-writer – Cant’ Let It Go, a solo acoustic number from 2006, sounded just as effective on Sunday as Name, the Goo Goo Dolls’ mid-‘90s breakthrough single.

Rzeznik has long possessed pinup-quality looks, but by about the fourth or fifth time bassist Robby Takac took the mic on Sunday – including on the temperature-appropriate January Friend – you got the sense the Goos didn’t care much for strutting around like rock stars.

The band engaged in minimal stage banter (who can blame them, given the inherently corporate nature of a gig like this), but for the most part, they played like professional punks, not pop hangers-on. Yes, they let the crowd handle the vocals on Slide – as sure a sign as any that a band is sick of a single – but they offered an effervescent version of Black Balloon that sounded little like the studio version.

Classic singles like the soaring Iris, driving Naked and a closing cover of Tom Petty’s American Girl all showcased the Goos’ more organic side. The latter song, in particular, was a fine example of everything the band should be striving for – punk, power-pop and Americana, in equal measures.

They did play some new material from upcoming 10th album Magnetic, including first single Rebel Beat. That song, unfortunately, marks a regression for the Goos, as well as a repudiation of their punk roots. The synthy beat is catchy, as is the chorus, but the song itself is relatively toothless.

You can tell there’s still a punk band inside the Goo Goo Dolls dying to get out. When they do, all of us ‘90s fans will feel vindicated for sticking with them.

Until then, hey, we can always enjoy the beer.

-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*