The 1990s weren’t just about Britpop, grunge, the Spice Girls, and *NSYNC. They were the decade of the film soundtrack, a time when songs like (Everything I Do) I Do It For You, My Heart Will Go On, Love Is All Around, and Born Slippy leapt from the big screen to the top of the charts and into the collective consciousness.
Chances are, you still know the words to It Must Have Been Love or I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing if tonight’s Goo Goo Dolls gig is anything to go by. Iris, their timeless contribution to 1998’s otherwise forgettable City Of Angels, prompts a singalong so loud that it just about drowns out the five men performing it through a giant sound rig.
Closing out the band’s main set, the quintessential power ballad gets the night’s most frenzied response. That’s no surprise, really. What’s unexpected is the number of people in Brixton Academy who can’t have been much older than 5 when John Rzeznik first uttered: “And I’d give up forever to touch you”.
Like audience member Jake who, after his cardboard sign is noticed from the stage, is reluctantly invited to play lead guitar on Name. It’s an even older song that, despite Rzeznik’s initial trepidation, the young fan knows inside out.
Such familiarity isn’t just down to the enduring legacy of these songs. Millennials, who’d have trouble picking Nicolas Cage and/or Meg Ryan out of a line-up, are clearly discovering The Goo Goo Dolls through the band’s new work. Up at the front Over and Over, from their current LP Boxes, is met with genuine hands-raised excitement rather than the arms-crossed indifference that tends to greet anything from any band’s 11th album.
So Alive, another new one, does a good job of melding Rzeznik’s ear for melody with massive hooks straight out of the Imagine Dragons playbook for mainstream success. It even has a built-in “hey hey hey” call-and-response section that the singer-guitarist, bounding across the stage while raising his arms like an MC, uses to full effect.
A natural evolution of the group’s sound, like the poppy Rebel Beat from 2013’s Magnetic, the R&B groover doesn’t feel out of place in a set that slides easily between the extremes of Sympathy (performed solo and acoustic by the frontman) and Robby Takac’s punk-leaning offerings.
The energetic bassist-singer, who faces the London heatwave by rolling up his jeans and going barefoot, lends his gritty voice and hand actions to such hard hitters as January Friend and Smash, leaving Rzeznik the guitarist free to roam the stage and relive The Goo Goo Dolls’ garage band origins.
Naked, from their 1995 breakthrough A Boy Named Goo, is even edgier and has the frontman blistering through a solo of unexpected intensity. But, for the most part, the 21-song set focuses on the group’s oh-so-melodic greatest hits, and the three LPs that cemented their reputation.
The multi-platinum Dizzy Up The Girl, celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, is well represented with triumphant renditions of the fist-pumping Dizzy and Slide, a soaring Black Balloon, and beautiful-but-bleak show closer Broadway (with its immortal line “The cowboy kills the rock star” and the less than optimistic refrain “See the young man sitting in the old man’s bar, Waiting for his turn to die”).
Gutterflower, the 2002 follow-up, gets the love it deserves as the band (also featuring touring members Jim McGorman on keys, guitarist Brad Fernquist, and drummer Craig Macintyre) give their all to the likes of Big Machine (despair dressed up as a crunchy rock anthem) and the majestic Iris part two, Here Is Gone.
And 2006’s Let Love In, while not as commercially successful as its immediate predecessors, gives us the rousing title track, eternally optimistic piano and strings ballad Better Days, and chest-thumping Stay With You. Just like the rest of the set, all three are played with passion, and embraced with open arms by young and not-so- young alike.
Review of The Goo Goo Dolls at Brixton Academy on 26th July 2018 by Nils van der Linden. Photography by Kalpesh Patel.