Eventim Apollo, London
The old Apollo theatre in Hammersmith may count as intimate to radio giants like Goo Goo Dolls but it’s cavernous for most on the circuit; the photo pit is bigger than some of the stages a touring band is used to. This didn’t faze Johnny Lloyd, though. Despite the scale and the rapidly growing crowd of unknown faces, the band looked and played like they belonged amongst the laser lights and dry ice.
The four-piece was tight, and a cut above the average guitar band. Their indie-rock had marked surf-pop undertones as they showcased tracks from new EP, The Dreamland. The title track, especially, was fuzzy and epic, whilst Pilgrims was heavy with reverb, jangling guitar and rumbling bass.
A steady stream of punters – Frank Turner included – had come primarily to see Johnny Lloyd, and a group of passionate fans ripped it up just behind Goo Goo Dolls’ die-hards at the front. It would be great to see this band on their home turf in a down-and-dirty rock club, but they proved that they’re already setting their sights higher and they’re more than ready for the big time.
Johnny Lloyd’s EP, Dreamland, is out now – available through Xtra Mile.
There was a buzz ahead of Goo Goo Dolls’ performance – whispers of long waits and bucket lists. Any apprehension about raised expectations was dispelled as soon as the band took the stage. Two of the three members have survived not only from the band’s late ’90s modern rock heyday but also from their origins as a punk-inspired trio in Buffalo in the mid ’80s.
Other than their scuzzy cover of Prince’s Never Take The Place of Your Man, not much survives from the formative years. Smash hit Slide replaced Sex Maggot decades ago. Still, the importance of the live performance remains. With close to twenty years of arena shows under their belts, they have it down to an art.
Hammersmith’s 8,500 capacity theatre is daunting for many but perhaps counts as intimate for these veterans. They knew exactly how to cover the expansive stage; just when bassist Robby Takac should throw in some rock move acrobatics or jump from the drum riser, and when to switch it up so Johnny Rzeznik could roam the stage while Takac took over on vocal duty.
The set was largely filled with hits and fan favourites from their 1995 album A Boy Named Goo, 1998’s multi-million seller Dizzy Up The Girl, and the underappreciated but excellent 2002 follow-up, Gutterflower. Nevertheless, the most recent singles clearly follow the winning formula, and were just as popular with the front-row fans as any of the past mega hits.
Usually, they let the music do the talking, so it was interesting to hear Rzeznik speak candidly about the life-changing impact of their 1995 breakthrough song, Name, which gave the blue-collar boys from Buffalo an instant taste of fame; “one day you have nothing, the next day you have a little too much.”
It turned out Rzeznik was on a roll, as he spotted a fan’s mistranslated sign: ‘Come in Belgium.’ After a few innuendo-filled jokes – “it’s naive, yet so dirty” – he conceded he just might “if you sort that EU shit out!”
There was even some refreshingly self-deprecating jibes at his own material, commiserating with anyone in the crowd dragged there by their girlfriend or wife – “I know what you’re thinking – the train’s leaving; play Iris already! Not a chance, bro!” With a twinkle, he joked that he could relate: “I had to sit through an entire Matchbox Twenty show – it’s 3am my ass!”
Speaking of Iris, the song written for the City of Angels soundtrack that catapulted the band to super-stardom. The response when it was, eventually, played was both deafening and bittersweet. There was joy, there were tears and it seemed like 8,500 people were word perfect. It’s one of those songs that really means something to so many, no matter its ubiquity.
I’ve seen many Goo Goo Dolls shows in New York over the decades – including their infamous outdoor home-town show during an epic thunderstorm – so it was nice to see that the slick performance translates so well on this side of the Atlantic. They’re experts at this and their boundless energy is infectious – they know exactly how to bring everyone into the experience and leave them wanting more.
The eleventh studio album by Goo Goo Dolls, Boxes, is out now.
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