The age old dilemma of having one band on the bill you (kind of, sort of, used to) like and one you (pretty much) hate was thrust upon me Wednesday night at Gexa Energy Pavilion. Back in the early '90s, I found the Goo Goo Dolls to have that same devil-may-care attitude of the Replacements. Sure, Goo music wasn't as interesting as the 'Mats and songwriter/singer John Rzeznick has none of Paul Westerberg's cloy wordplay, but nothing's perfect.
I grew to like the Goo Goo Dolls. I even liked it when they got all emotionally acoustic and scored an unlikely hit with "Name." I even liked it when "Iris" went through the roof even though the movie it was in really sucked. But then every song became a power ballad or a cover of a song that didn't need to be covered. The power ballad well soon ran dry and the most recent releases were catchy at best and vacuous at worst.
What about Matchbox Twenty? Music for yuppies was my first inclination. Rob Thomas' vocals always struck me as obnoxious and overwrought, like Eddie Vedder as the president of some frat house in Austin. Some folks claim that the band plays a radio friendly version of grunge. Case closed.
So with temperatures hovering close to 100 and with the lowest expectations imaginable, I made my way to the shade as quickly as possible and prepared for the onslaught.
The Goo Goo Dolls were OK. Equal doses power pop and power balladry, the augmented trio played the expected hits, only a few new songs and that mundane version of Supertramp's "Give a Little Bit" (a song that was mundane when it was first released back in 1977).
And while the new songs sounded better live (especially the single "Rebel Beat"), it was the older tunes that held sway. "Naked," "Another Second Time Around" and "Slide" were performed early in the evening and showed John Rzeznik and crew on top of their game. Looking quite a bit younger than 47, Rzeznik was funny and engaging throughout.
"How are you guys doing out on the lawn?" he asked before strumming the opening chords of "Name." "Out there is where all the interesting shit happens."
Of course, during "Name," the crowd swooned and swayed. For some in the audience, this might have been the only Goo Goo Dolls' song they knew. One guy even took it upon himself to propose to his girlfriend right then and there. Thankfully, she said yes and Rzeznik even took the time to wish the couple good luck.
A few songs later, the band played "Iris" and lighters came out as many sang along. "Iris" is a good song, a sappy ballad from a very sappy movie. But something about the song sticks to you, much like most of what the Goo Goo Dolls do. They are the acceptable, homogenized version of indie rock, all pretty and packaged up for the masses, but still capable of something more than radio-friendly fodder.
The same can't be said for the night's headliner, Matchbox Twenty.
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The first three songs of the set told a great deal of the story. "Parade," "Bent" and "Disease" drew high praise from the large, sweaty contingent; but these were approximations of real rock and roll. Rob Thomas bellows out his lyrics like forgotten Bible verses as the band pounds out its thick and gooey version of alternative rock. But there is really nothing alternative about this kind of music. This is product, nothing more, nothing less. And it's successful product. I watched as people around me mouthed every lyric while waving hands in the air as it these songs spoke to them, somehow told their stories, somehow resonated beyond the clichés and debris.
I walked away dismayed by the dumbness of what I had just witnessed. Matchbox Twenty can play their instruments well. Thomas can sing every note in key. But for me, it was music for strip bars and shopping malls, music made cynically for easy dissimilation and disposal.
I went home hot and bothered, but I still hummed "Name" and "Iris" as I made my way out of Fair Park. The music of the Goo Goo Dolls still gave me a faint, fleeting pleasure of music made for people before profit.