SAN FRANCISCO — The Goo Goo Dolls’ sound is so affiliated with ’90s alt-rock that it might surprise the uninitiated that the Upstate New York band’s 1998 breakthrough album, Dizzy Up The Girl, was their fifth LP. Frontman John Rzeznik, bassist Robby Takac and their bandmates at the time released their first record in 1987. The band had hits prior to Dizzy Up the Girl, yet it was that album that pulled the Goo Goo Dolls into the national consciousness, selling 6 million copies and going four-times-platinum, with five top 10 singles including “Iris” and “Slide.”
Rzeznik and Takac, the only members left from the 1998 version of the band (Mike Malinin, who played drums with the band at the time, left in 2013), brought the Dizzy Up The Girl 20th Anniversary Tour to the Fillmore Tuesday for a sold-out show at which they played the record in its entirety and dug up some much older tunes, B-sides and other hits. The Goo Goo Dolls played for more than two hours and showcased a catalog that spanned much more than 20 years.
Dizzy Up The Girl composed the first part of the performance, with Rzeznik and Takac and their three touring musicians kicking off with the propulsive, woozy “Dizzy,” seminal hit “Slide” and “Broadway,” with its well-worn grooves. On all but the first 60 seconds of the show opener, when the band seemed to be either out of tune or not in-sync with each other, the songs retained their studio quality. They, along with “January Friend,” “Black Balloon” and others were a bridge to the past, with Goo Goo Dolls not deviating from the versions that fans fell for in the beginning. The band played in front of a floor-to-ceiling, gold-framed album cover.
Rzeznik didn’t talk much at first, making a few stabbing attempts at the evening’s news—”Looks like the Democrats are gonna take the House!” which drew mostly cheers but a few scattered boos as well. “Someone booing that here is like finding a unicorn,” he quipped, adding how he doesn’t mess with politics anymore because both parties lie.
The fans sang the first verse on “Broadway,” and Takac sang lead on “January Friend,” the first of several. During hit “Black Balloon,” a handful of fans released black balloons, which would remain aloft for the remainder of the set. The frontman and bassist have a similar type of gravelly voice perfectly suited for ’90s alt rock, with the bassist’s a bit heavier. Not all of the album’s songs were hits, of course, and there was a bit of a lull between “Black Balloon” and the slowed acoustic pace of the appropriately titled “Acoustic #3.” That stretch of lesser-known songs, all upbeat rockers, could have passed for Soul Asylum tracks, especially when Takac handled vocal duties.
Rzeznik introduced the layered, intricate “Acoustic #3” as a really depressing song. The folky tune, awash in a sea of ’90s reverb, got the packed crowd moving again.
“You guys are cheering depressing music,” the frontman said.
That led into the theatrically dramatic “Iris,” on which the guitarist played a mandolin intro. The musicians perfectly recreated the song’s guitar solo, and fans belted away to the chorus. The set ended two songs later with album closer “Hate This Place,” after which the band cleared the stage, and a crew unceremoniously ripped the album cover from its frame, which was disassembled and carried away in pieces while Muzak played over the speakers.
Rzeznik then emerged by himself with an acoustic guitar for three songs: “Better Days,” off 2016’s Let Love In; “Sympathy,” from 2002’s Gutterflower; and “Come to Me,” from 2013’s Magnetic. He first talked about how a tour like this reminded him why he hasn’t played some songs in 20 years, implying that he’s botched a few performances along the way. Though he stumbled a bit on “Better Days,” he laughed it off and kept going. This stripped-back arrangement worked really well and was one of the highlights of the concert, along with the hits. Every note rang our clearly, alongside his gravelly voice, creating a nice change of pace from the first portion of the performance.
The rest of the band then returned for another eight or so fully electric songs, including “Fallin’ Down,” “Lucky Star” and “Stop the World,” which had a soulful organ breakdown midway through. Rzeznik then introduced the next song as “the first song that I ever got played in the radio.” He spoke about how the band wrote its first hit, “Name,” off 1995’s A Boy Named Goo, in a stuffy attic in Buffalo.
Follow Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter.