Goo Goo Dolls balances calm with punk in Shoreline Amphitheatre performance

Audrey Mcnamara/Senior Staff

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As a genre, rock ‘n’ roll is steeped in presentation: the flashing, undulating lights; the excessive pelvis-thrusting showmanship resplendent in guitar solos; the long hair and headbanging; the blaring volume. But there are, submerged below this surface flashiness, small doses of substance — lyrical specificity, authentic concert dialogue, undeniable musical talent.

What years of experience performing often does for a rock band is increase its polish and diminish its rambunctiousness. The Goo Goo Dolls has been playing since its 1986 formation in Buffalo, New York, and as such, Friday night’s performance at Shoreline Amphitheatre — the first of the band’s summer tour — should have been characterized by an air of professionalism.

And half of it was: vocalist and guitarist John Rzeznik strode around with a performative soft-rock coolness and sense of superiority, around which vocalist and bassist Robby Takac zig-zagged, skipping in his socks and grinning nonstop. They worked as a polarized tag team, playing through the band’s discography in no particular order. They opened with a smashing performance of the top track of the band’s newly released EP You Should Be Happy — all pounding drums and heavy guitar fuzz, lyrically propelled by the gentle strain of Rzeznik’s voice — and then slowly played back to songs timestamped with different notches of fame.

Takac commented on the band’s initial concept of fame in an interview with The Daily Californian. “The bands we loved, you know, our heroes, were selling 10,000 to 15,000 records at the time; they weren’t huge bands,” Takac said. “(So) we didn’t have enormous expectations or anything other than we just wanted to play music and have fun and go out with our friends.”

Takac continued, explaining the importance of 1993’s Superstar Car Wash in giving the band its first charting single “Name” but not yet putting the band entirely on the map. “The song got big but the band really didn’t,” Takac said. “We had a bus and stuff but we were still playing to 200 to 300 people. It didn’t look like a career.”

The band’s performance of “Name” — midway through the set at Shoreline — was introduced by Rzeznik, leaning off the edge of the stage to study the front row of the crowd. He addressed an ear-plugged four-year-old, saying, “This song is much older than you are. … Just because it’s old doesn’t mean it’s not good. I just keep telling myself that.”

And the audience agreed — the entire amphitheatre swayed in time to the guitar melody. Even Takac, whose wild stage antics had thus far been unencumbered by Rzeznik’s careful methodology, slowed his pace through the end of the tune.

But from the final chord of “Name” until the end of the night, he did his part to counter the polish of Rzeznik, drawing out a disparity between freewheeling punk energy and a glossy purposefulness, which was surprisingly not as off-putting as it sounds.

Takac’s energy, in his words, was no different from that in the performances of his youth. “There is no difference between the performance you give to a full room of 10,000 people or, you know, five people in a little bar,” he said. “You should be giving your all and giving your best show every chance you have.”

When the band performed “Iris” — the song that truly made the Goo Goo Dolls, a wave of nostalgia swept through the crowd. Bathed in a soft purple glow, audience hands reached skyward to wave in time to the slow drumline.

Oddly enough, though, “Iris” wasn’t the band’s final song — unbeknownst to the members of the audience who stood up to leave after it concluded. Instead, the members of Goo Goo Dolls opted to play the remastered tune “Boxes” from You Should Be Happy as their encore.

Amid glaring red and orange lights, Rzeznik strutted across the stage, free of guitar, crisscrossing with Takac as he sang, “Your love’s the one love that I need to know,” from an album he had previously described as a positive recommendation to the world — “I’m not saying we all are happy. But we all should be happy.” And for the first time all night, he looked as happy as Takac.

Olivia Jerram covers music. Contact her at [email protected].