Concert Review: The Goo Goo Dolls (Palace Theater, Albany, New York, May 11, 1999)

The Goo Goo Dolls performed their hits when they stopped by the Palace Theater last Tuesday night. They also offered some songs that weren’t hits — although casual radio listeners and non-fans might not have noticed, since everything the Goo Goo Dolls played sounded like most everything else being played on every “modern rock” station in every town in America, every hour, every day.

To the Goo Goo Dolls’ credit, however, they didn’t leap into the pop pasteurization vats after alt-rock radio had already been homogenized — but instead created the filters though which today’s countless gallons of sop are strained. You want to do a Replacements’ tribute? It needs to sound like “Name.” You gotta do a power ballad for a movie soundtrack? It must conform to the “Iris” standard. Need a crunchy mid-tempo rocker for the teenage boy demographic? Please see our “Long Way Down” assortment.

But what about that concert, dammit? Well, it sounded the way a radio-ready rock concert needed to sound, with founding Goos John Rzeznik and Robby Takac grandly broadening their core hard guitar pop sounds with help from drummer Mike Malinin, guitarist Nathan December (also an R.E.M. sideman . . . talk about choice gigs!) and keyboardist Dave Schultz. And it looked the way a contemporary radio-ready rock concert needed to look, with flashing lights and a mysterious backdrop that wouldn’t have been out of place on a Led Zeppelin album cover, had it had more runes on it.

And, of course, the audience reacted the way that a contemporary radio-ready rock audience needs to react. They screamed for the good stuff (the hits and most of Takac’s spotlight numbers), they screamed for the bad stuff (guitar tech problems through the first three numbers) and they screamed for the innocuous stuff (Rzeznick doffing his hat to let his perfectly tousled hair spill out, heart-throbbingly). They also even screamed for the weird stuff, like watching the wounded Takac (who plays Igor to Rzeznick’s Doctor Frankenstar) rolling around the stage on an office chair. The show must go on? Guess so.

All this screaming, however, ultimately poses a danger for the Goo Goo Dolls: If audiences cheer no matter what they do, then why should they bother to do really cheer-worthy things? And here’s hoping they know the right answer to this question, ’cause I sure don’t. Fastball probably don’t either — and aren’t actually likely to face the dilemma, based on the tepid set they offered Tuesday. In summary, the Austin trio should have called themselves “The Fastballs” since they ply a wan version of the bland power pop that groups like the Shoes, the Romantics and the Vapors once crafted. Only not as well.

Which leaves Frogpond, who earned whatever small amount of notoriety they’ve enjoyed to date from their brush with Everclear’s Art Alexakis, who allegedly attempted to extort points and payment from the group after producing their debut disc. Shortly after that debacle, the one-time “girl band” lost two of its members, went co-ed, recorded their sophomore album-and somehow, in the midst of all that, managed to blossom into a fabulous rock ensemble. Frogpond got the best sound mix Tuesday night and exploited it with a smash-and-bash set that evoked Last Splash-era Breeders (if the Deal sisters had been able to play their guitars just a bit better) or Liz Phair (if she had lived up to the promise of her debut album). Listen up for ’em on a homogenized rock radio station hear you real soon, y’hear? They’ll be the ones who don’t sound like everybody else . . .

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