Review: Goo Goo Dolls feel right at home at Meyer

Concert ReviewApril 28, 2014Greenbay Press Gazette

It was hardly coincidence that Sunday night’s Goo Goo Dolls concert at the Meyer Theatre felt like an evening spent with old friends.

After 25 years of playing countless venues in the city — some long gone, few better suited for such an intimate acoustic concert than the Meyer — that’s essentially what the relationship between Green Bay and the Goo Goo Dolls has become. One always makes sure to work a stop in town into its travel plans, and the other always finds time to catch up with them when they’re here.

So it just felt right for The Otis Midnight Sessions Tour that John Rzeznik and Robby Takac pulled up a couple of stools, a sold-out crowd of about 1,000 grabbed a seat, and for an hour and a half everyone enjoyed each other’s company. It was all so well-worn and comfortable that if you felt like showing up in your stocking feet, as Takac did, all the better.

And who could know a Goo Goo Dolls concert as a stay-in-your-seat affair would be so satisfying? Apparently everyone but the guy who repeatedly yelled out, “Stand up, old people!”

On this night, it was more about sitting back and soaking it up than it was rocking it out, although the Goos managed that, too.

On a stage dotted with globe-shaped paper lanterns, Rzeznik at center stage and Takac slightly farther back to the side — never without that big-kid grin on his face, his head keeping the beat of the music — it felt closer to a Bohemian lounge than a concert hall. Their “IKEA light show,” as Rzeznik called it, kept their three backing players on guitar, drums and keys/accordion in the soft glow of the shadows (and perhaps lessened the blow of longtime drummer Mike Malinin no longer in the fold) and set the tone for what was very much a “VH1 Storytellers”-esque evening.

Rzeznik, in high-tops, camouflage cargo pants, a black V-neck T-shirt and looking noticeably healthy and happy, was generous with the stories that inspired songs like “Two Days in February” (a girl during his first time to Los Angeles) and “We’ll Be Here (When You’re Gone)” (about the closing of factories in his hometown of Buffalo, N.Y.). He told of how “Better Days” was originally written as a Christmas song, and “Black Balloon,” prettied up and buoyed by the addition of the two violinists from well-received opening act Run River North, was written about an old friend battling addiction.

His ease with the evening’s format was evident in his wit, talking humorously about growing up with four older sisters and his experience performing the national anthem at Lambeau Field last December. Singing in frigid temperatures has a similar effect as swimming in really cold water, he joked. “I went upstairs and changed my clothes. I looked like a Ken doll.”

When he muffed the words to “Two Days in February,’’ he looked over at a laughing Takac and said, “All of a sudden this just turned into a frickin’ Jason Mraz song. And you know why? Because I forgot the (expletive) words.”

Rzeznik has always been a songwriter whose lyrics have been weighted by emotion, and the acoustic setting was a chance to hear every word anew of “Name” and “Slide” with an appreciation for all the nuances that get lost when songs become monster radio hits. It’s hard to imagine his voice sounding better than it did on “Iris,” delivering the last chorus with just the slightest accompaniment from the band.

Takac, whose gravelly voice has always leaned more to the band’s early punk roots, changed up the pace by singing “Already There” off the band’s 1993 “Superstar Car Wash” album (Rzeznik later did “We Are the Normal” off the same record) and a pair of songs off the current “Magnetic” release.

He showed off his razor-sharp recall of the band’s history with Green Bay by referencing an early gig the band played with The Replacements “right across the street” (at the former City Centre Theatre; now the vacant Confetti’s building).

He also told of how, when the band was getting ready for its first tour in 1988, their football-loving tour manager was packing up things to put in the the van when he realized they should probably have a garbage can. He came out of his house with a Green Bay Packers Ray Nitschke waste basket.

“And you threw up in it,” Rzeznik said to him.

“I did,” Takac replied, before dedicating “Bringing on the Light” to “the great philosopher and Green Bay Packer Ray Nitschke.”

Maybe it was those personal Packers stories or that they know Green Bay so well Rzeznik could joke that “they sell beer in church” here. Maybe it was their excellent taste in opening acts and the savvy move to share the stage with various configurations of the musicians in that band throughout the night. Maybe it was the smile “Rebel Beat” put on your face.

Or maybe it’s that both the Goo Goo Dolls and their music just have a knack for speaking to people, and for Green Bay fans, perhaps never quite as from the heart as Sunday night.