Hailing from Buffalo, New York, veteran American rockers Goo Goo Dolls returned to the UK for a run of shows, kicking off in Norwich last week and concluding at West London’s Hammersmith Apollo, in support of the group’s eleventh studio album Boxes, released in May.
Formed in 1986 by continuing members Johnny Rzeznik on guitars and vocals and Robby Takac on bass and vocals, the group’s first two records featured Takac exclusively on lead vocals, bar a couple of songs on sophomore album Jed. But it was Rzeznik’s slow shift to frontman that coincided with the group’s rise in popularity, culminating with their 1998 hit studio record Dizzy Up the Girl, which went on to be certified 3x Platinum in the US and Gold in the UK, largely due to the runaway success of hit single Iris.
Tonight’s Hammersmith Apollo show, the group’s first London gig since playing the same venue almost three years ago during their tour of 10th album Magnetic, kicked off with latest single Over and Over, the enamoured crowd singing along with the new record cut as Rzeznik got them going, pacing about the stage, picking up his wireless mic and giving up guitar-playing duties to make the rounds.
A Boy Named Goo album opener Long Way Down took long-standing fans back to 1995 next before Rzeznik picked out the signature opening guitar lick of Slide on his acoustic guitar, the second single from 1998’s breakthrough album Dizzy Up The Girl, the US number one hit riling the Hammersmith crowd. “It’s really good to see you all again, it’ been a while but not much has changed” Rzeznik said, addressing his audience for the first time before the band broke into rock staple Big Machine from 2002’s Gutterflower.
Magnetic lead single Rebel Beat was up next before Rzeznik and crew tore into 2002 single Here Is Now. The familiar opening bars of Black Balloon had the crowd on edge as the second cut from their 1998 hit record took off, the uplifting single a firm fan favourite, demonstrated by voices from the audience audible over the frontman.
Rzeznik and Takac switched vocal duties next with the former band lead taking over for Gutterflower cut Smash, Rzeznik taking the opportunity to stroll about the West London stage, followed by a huge spotlight manned from the venue’s balcony as Takac’s gritty vocals and upbeat track diverged from the rock-ballad make-up of Rzeznik’s tracks.
As Rzeznik took over lead vocal duties once again, he took time out to acknowledge the rollercoaster journey the band had taken as they found success: “This next song is the first song that we ever got played on the radio” he said, to cheers from the audience. “All of a sudden your life changes. One day you have nothing, the next day you have a little too much. But we made it through that and came out the other end.” He continued, lightly strumming the guitar intro to their 1995 hit single Name. “The best part about it is that it’s 20 years later and I still get to play this song for all you people”
First single from the new record So Alive demonstrated a more poppy direction for material from Boxes, elements of groups like Maroon 5 and Imagine Dragons filtering through in the veteran rockers’ sound with the 50-year-old frontman giving up guitar duties to move about the stage before Naked from 1995’s A Boy Named Goo gave something back to the group’s longer-term fan base.
Takac took over for 1993 record Superstar Car Wash cut Already There, the early ninties garage rock flavour oozing through, ahead of his take on Prince’s Sign O’ The Times single I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man, Takac’s second section unfortunately giving many in the balcony the respite needed for a loo break or to grab another drink.
Rzeznik returned to the fore for a slow introduction to Magnetic single Come To Me, picking out a sign presented by a Belgian fan reading ‘Come In Belgium’, the frontman jesting “I didn’t realise it was better than any other place to come. Sorry, I had to comment on that because it’s so naïve yet so dirty!”
“I wrote this next song for my wife. I love this song and I love my wife so I’m glad I wrote it” the frontman said. But it’s a really syrupy, straight love song and it really makes some men cringe when they hear it and I get it” he continued. “Every night there’s always one guy who got dragged here against his will by his wife, I completely understand that you do shit for the woman you love that you really don’t wanna do. And I understand ‘cuz I had to sit through an entire Matchbox Twenty show for my wife” he jested to huge laughs from the crowd. “It’s a joke!” he said to those in the crowd disapproving of his jibe. “It’s 3AM my ass, let’s get out of here.”
Following more from Boxes and Let Love In, those opening bars of their most enduring hit rung out to the biggest cheer of the night, enticing even those in the balcony to get to their feet as the group put out a heartfelt rendition of 1998 hit single Iris, which spent a record of 18 weeks at number one on Billboard’s Hot 100 Airplay chart in the US and easily outlived the Nicholas Cage and Meg Ryan film City Of Angels it was written for. The crowd were so audible over the Buffalo-native’s amplified vocals to the point where he simply handed over huge sections to them to sing for him.
Billed main set closer Broadway, also from Dizzy Up The Girl, was skipped tonight as the band took their leave of the stage to return for only a single encore track – Boxes album closer Long Way Home.
While never reaching the dizzy heights of Dizzy Up The Girl’s success since it’s 1998 release, Goo Goo Dolls stand determined in producing new and relevant material while continuing to tour heavily. And tonight’s packed-out Hammersmith Apollo show demonstrates that their legacy is enduring even beyond their biggest hit, which they will, no doubt, continue to play each night.
Goo Goo Dolls head back to the US next, seeing out the year with a massive 29-date tour winding up in Indio, California’s Fantasy Springs Resort Casino.
Live review of Goo Goo Dolls at the Hammersmith Apollo by Kalpesh Patel on 14th October 2016.
Kalpesh has more music photography up on his flickr stream here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/somethingforkate