Iris DeMent once showed up at a Goo Goo Dolls show at the Beaumont Club in Westport to hear the song "Iris." (Don't tell her the song isn't about her.)
Over half the seats in Starlight Theater were empty Monday night. But don't pity the Goo Goo Dolls. The bustling swarm at their merchandise stand never ebbed. Only about 3,300 fans attended the show, but a large percentage of them spent more on T-shirts and other Goo Goo Doll merch than on tickets.
The popularity of the band from Buffalo, N.Y., is waning. Yet the saga of the Goo Goo Dolls offers a lesson for any band that wants to get famous: Find an extraordinarily attractive front person. He/she can extend a band's commercial viability long past the expiration date levied by the cruel rules of pop music.
Much of the female-dominated audience was at Starlight to drink in John Rzeznik's good looks. The 41-year-old singer resembles Jon Bon Jovi's handsome kid brother and flashes a smile that rivals Julia Roberts'.
Much to the band's credit, however, not once did the show evoke a tawdry Chippendales-style exhibition. Instead, the Goo Goo Dolls were friendly, humble and self-effacing. They seem to be fully aware that they're a lucky bar band that managed to beat the odds.
A large part of the Goo Goo Dolls' success stems from their strong relationship with fans. They spent their 90-minute set reading handmade signs, slapping hands and making eye contact with the entire audience.
"It's a family show, kids," Rzeznik laughed when his banter with the audience took a bawdy turn.
It's appropriate that the balmy evening's most memorable performance involved a fan. An enthusiastic woman who identified herself as "Laura" helped sing "Name." The goofy fun that ensued seemed slightly out of control.
"It's like we're drunk at the bar," Rzeznik exclaimed. Their biggest hit, "Iris," sounded better than ever. Yet only a handful of the band's songs are truly exceptional. They manage to sell lesser material with charm and enthusiasm.
The band's innumerable maudlin ballads were broken up by several slices of big
dumb rock. Prior to becoming staples on soft rock radio, the Goo Goo Dolls were a delightfully trashy loud rock band. The ridiculous punk-based "Slave Girl," featuring lead vocals by bassist Robby Takac, was particularly rewarding. He also revealed himself to be an astute observer of Kansas City's outdoor art: "You guys have some weird statues of kids pissing on stuff."
Not unlike the Goo Goo Dolls, Lifehouse is struggling to re-gain its popularity while maintaining some dignity. Dozens of fans walked to the front of the stage to have their picture taken with Lifehouse vocalist Jason Wade. "I feel like an Olan Mills backdrop," he sighed.
Lifehouse would be perfect for the role of "rock band" in a Hollywood blockbuster. It's straight from central casting. Lifehouse even has the mandatory monster hit. "Hanging On By a Moment" was one of 2001's biggest songs. It elicited an ecstatic response, but the beautiful ballad "Everything" provided more genuine depth. Even so, Lifehouse's relentless competence can't hide the fact its music lack a single distinguishing feature.
Internet phenomenon Colbie Caillat's likable folk-rock has racked up more than 13 million plays at MySpace. Caillat is positioned to become a sort of Jack Johnson for the Nickelodeon set. Yet her fine band, strong voice and winning songs were overshadowed by Caillat's abysmal stage presence. Instead of making hundreds of new fans, her set served as background music for sales of Goo Goo Dolls merchandise.
| Bill Brownlee, Special to The Star