We are slightly more than halfway into the Goo Goo Dolls 15-song co-headlining set at BB+T Arena on Saturday, August 10th, 2019, and frontman Johnny Rzeznik is shot out of a cannon. “I see all you hippies on that lawn out there!” he addresses the crowd. “You need to put down your bongs, put down your vape pens, and put your hands in the air!” Rzeznik is in the process of introducing the 8th song of their set, ‘So Alive’ off of 2016’s ‘Boxes’ album. He is holding a black electric guitar that reminds me of a trapper keeper I had in 6th grade: white splotches of paint streaking the body, contrasting black splotches across the white pickguard. It’s radical.
“We’re going to try some of this audience participation shit! It’ll be just like that Queen movie….” He continues before instructing the audience on the syllables they will need to repeat: a series of “A’s” and “Yeahs.” He is disappointed with our first attempt at the call and response. “What was that shit? This is fuckin’ PHILLY!” he chides us. His second try goes much better and we are rewarded with the conclusion of the song. My mother, who has accompanied me to this concert in order to see the 2nd headliner of the night, San Francisco’s Train, does not know who the Goo Goo Dolls are. Eyeing up the Buffalo, NY 5-piece dressed all in black T-shirts on the stage before her, she surmises that the lead singer “looks like Pat [Monahan, lead singer of Train, who she most definitely has a crush on] except “more hard rock!” I’ve got to give Moms credit. We’re only about a half-hour into their set and she’s hit the nail on the head. I confer that they used to be a much harder, punkier band back in the late 80s and 90s. She thinks their name is silly. “I can see how it would work back then, but not now. Especially since that name has such a funny connotation!” I neglect to inform her of their previous moniker, “The Sex Maggots.” [Totally true, look it up.]
However, much like the proverbial caterpillar turning into a butterfly, sometime after shedding that early name, the Goo Goo Dolls lightened up, switched from bass player Robby Takac on main vocals to guitarist Johnny Rzeznik, and started churning out some solid soundtrack-worthy hits. In fact, I bet you didn’t know that early on they had cuts on both Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare AND Pauly Shore’s ‘Son-in-Law!’ So very true! They even appeared on 90210! Personally, It was 1995’s Angus soundtrack that landed the band on my radar, with their alt-rockin’ tune ‘Ain’t that unusual’ (sadly absent from the night’s set.) This concludes the “Goo Goo Dolls Hollywood History” portion of the article, now back to their BB+T performance…
The band had moved briskly through the first half of their set, illuminated by a giant video wall and just over a dozen moving lights. They blasted through the first 2 songs, ‘Stay With You’ from their 2006 album ‘Let Love In’ and ‘Big Machine’ from 2002’s follow up to ‘Dizzy Up The Girl’ entitled ‘Gutterflower’. Their logo loomed over them on the video screen for any fairweather Train fans who might not know who they are (looking at you, Mom) before morphing into a psychedelic swirl of black and white.
Their 3rd track was 1998’s top-10 hit “Slide” and by now the dolls (Goo Goo, not New York) had everyone’s attention. Concertgoers finally had the chance to sing along that they have been waiting for and by the end of the tune Rzeznik was fired up enough to address the crowd and ask how everyone is feeling. His gaze must have fallen on a curmudgeon however, as he continued: “How do I always find the one guy who is pissed? There must be 10, 15 thousand people here and I always see the angry guy. Fuck it, let’s do this!” Welcome to Philadelphia, boys!
As the video backdrop changed from vintage footage of a city into outer space, the band ripped through another ‘Gutterflower’ cut [Here is Gone] preceded by the only tune we’d hear from 2013’s ‘Magnetic’ album [Rebel Beat]. Some small black balloons had been popping up from the pit since the onset of the show, a harbinger of the full-on drop to come. When the Goo Goo’s finally broke into the 5th track from 1998’s ‘Dizzy Up The Girl’ [can you guess? ‘Black Balloon’!] a plethora of void-balls descended from the back row of the seated sections and bounced their way haphazardly up to the pit. Not to be outdone, dozens of smaller black balloons arose from the front rows, floating about aimlessly. Foolishly, I took out my phone to record the event and was promptly bonked in the head by one of the larger balls, much to the delight of the rows behind me. Whoopsie!
This is really the only gimmick the GGD’s employ during their hour or so on stage, and the rest of their set proceeded without dragging once, despite me not knowing many of the tunes. Highlights for me include the punkier tunes fronted by bassist Robby Takac, who took the stage in no shoes or socks with his jeans rolled up as if he expected a flood, his black t-shirt reading “Hysteric Glamor: Acoustic Ladyland.” He pounds his 4-string Yamaha bass, a myriad of non-descript stickers adorning them. Among them: a jolly roger and the Canadian flag. His first offering, “Free of Me” rocks hard. His second, “Bringing on the Light” has an almost Alkaline Trio vibe live. My Mom dances around. “I can see the punk now,” she says. Everybody freaks out when the band leaves the stage and Johnny starts plucking out “Name,” the band’s first hit, solo on an acoustic. But you already know that, much like the public freakouts that happen for closers ‘Iris’ and ‘Broadway’. Those are staple Goo Goo moments, and the band doesn’t disappoint. “This would have been the perfect opener,” Mom suggests regarding Iris, “Did they write this?”
However, rather than wax poetic on the Double G Doll’s previous hits, allow me to expound on their newest cut of the evening, ‘Miracle Pill’, from their forthcoming album of the same name, the band’s 11th. Ever the rock and roll realist, Rzeznik intros the song, “We have a new album coming out…. Don’t patronize me… just go out on to the internet and steal that fucker! Just come back and see us next year!” and blasts into the title track to a backdrop of falling pills, like a deranged real-life Dr. Mario scenario. The band rips through the new material with gusto, most likely stoked to be playing a new tune. Rzeznik hits the chorus:
Baby, would you be my miracle pill?
And I could be somebody else
So sick of living inside myself
For someone who’s been rocking the same haircut for over 30 years, I have a hard time believing Rzeznik truly desires this escape. Especially since, just moments before, he addressed the crowd after a beautiful performance of ‘Name,’ the song that catapulted them to radio success almost 25 years ago, with his heartfelt appreciation: “Thank you for remembering that song, and thank you for keeping this band alive!” Stay you, Johnny. Stay you. [and don’t you EVER change that doo, my goo.] As the sun set on their closing tracks, the strobes activate and every phone in the place goes up. A girl dancing in the aisle videos herself singing into her boyfriends face; he sways just out of frame awkwardly, clutching a White Claw. A flailing 5 year old is whisked briskly to the front row by his parents. An older guy in a Hawaiian shirt one row behind me is losing his mind, singing along to every word.“I think they warmed everybody up!” observes Mom.
Around 9:20 a train whistle erupted from the sound system at BB+T. True to form, I was in line for a White Claw. Trooper that she is, my mother waited for me to obtain it before we hurriedly rushed back to our seats for the opening bars of ‘Calling All Angels’. Train came out like a freight…. err… like a freighter. Let’s just say they came out with the force of a… locomotive engine. The audience was already dancing and singing whole-heartedly from the gate. This is a band who has plenty of hits to spare, so bookending the set with crowd favorites and sprinkling more than a few covers throughout the night was not going to be a problem for Mr. Monahan and company. Now going on their 26th year as a band, Train announced this 39-date co-headlining amphitheater tour with the Goo Goo Dolls (and special guest Allen Stone) back on November 9th, 2018, the same day they dropped their 17 track ‘Greatest Hits’ album, which combines 15 cuts from their first 2 decades as a band with the new single ‘Call Me Sir’ and… not kidding… a cover of George Michael’s ‘Careless Whisper’ featuring Kenny G. The first of those 2 new tunes we were treated to at BB+T, the 2nd, thankfully, was left to the album. No offense, Kenny.
Having moved over 10 million albums and 30 million tracks, it’s fair to say Train is deserving of a ‘Greatest Hits’ collection, and throughout the night we would hear 13 of the 15 collected greatest hits live, along with renditions of Queen’s ‘Under Pressure’, Tom Petty’s ‘American Girl’, Jay Z’s ‘Empire State of Mind’, and even Led Zeppelin’s ‘Heartbreaker. It’s safe to say that Train knows how to rock a crowd, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that front-man Pat Monahan (formerly of Led Zepellin cover-band ‘Rogues Gallery’) is a handsome devil, beloved by moms, aunts, and older sisters everywhere. If you’ve never seen him before, picture Jason Bateman’s younger, better-looking brother fronting a rock band. You get the picture. Oh, and he knows how to work the room too. “We’ve been waiting all tour to come here,” is his opening quip. “This is our favorite place!” I have to wonder in how many cities he says that. Referencing the audience’s singing along he says, “Soooo much better than New York!” A quick scan of previous articles on this tour prove that this comment HAS appeared before, insert [your city] here. Regardless, Pat knows how to get a rise out of his adoring fans. I’ll give him that one.
Full disclosure: I mostly know Pat from his guest appearances on the Howard Stern show. There’s a slight chance that might also be where my mother first encountered him, but it’s more likely it was actual radio play than his real-life exploits that garnered him her attention, as in the late 90s and early 2000s you really could not escape the music of Train. I was reminded all night of how many of their songs I knew the melody and words to, without owning a single album. I even found the stuff I didn’t know pretty catchy, and who doesn’t love a Tom Petty cover? Train had something for everyone in this set, and it was clear why they scored the closing slot of the evening. Momma Dukes was actually surprised to learn that the Goo Goo Dolls had been a band for longer! Along with their featured slot came two times the video walls, displaying a breathtaking vista as the 7-piece took the stage. With 5 band members and 2 backup singers (randos with tambos?) Train hit full force for their 2nd track: ’50 ways to say Goodbye’ from their 2012 album ‘California 37’. Everyone knows the words, everyone dances. The screens display 3 sugar skulls in hues of green, white, red: La Bandera! The three-piece Mariachi from the official video suddenly appears on the upper screen, filling in the brass part. Sadly, Hasselhoff does not reprise his cameo. Sparklers spark, confetti cannons erupt, people throw cameras onto the stage and Pat takes pictures and [precariously] throws them back. The entire venue is on its feet and this is only the 2nd song of their set… Train knows how to kick off a concert!
Prior to playing ‘If It’s Love’, the 1st of 4 tunes they would visit from 2012’s ‘Save Me, San Francisco’ Pat took a moment to introduce new drummer Matt Musty, who replaced Drew Shoals after last Summer’s tour with Hall & Oates. Shoals has gone on to resume his law career, and this now marks the 3rd drummer for the band after original drummer Scott Underwood departed in 2014. In fact, the last original member of Train (besides Monahan) was guitarist Jimmy Stafford, who left the band in 2016. ‘Call me Sir’ came next in the set, and has the distinction of being the only tune of the night not penned with an original member of the band, as it features as the single on the greatest hits album and was not released until 2018. It’s a fair tune, but as Tom Haverford would say… is it a banger? Time will tell. Following that was the eponymous ‘Save me, San Francisco’ and was accompanied by a shower of beach balls, large and small. The smaller, orange balls were emblazoned with the Train logo. Although these are meant to be bopped about the venue, the gentleman in front of me snagged one and quickly tried to hide it under his seat. No dice bro. I saw you. You’re probably the same dude who scowled at Johnny Rzeznik.
Next up was ‘Angel in Blue Jeans’, the only cut from 2014’s “Bulletproof Picasso” album that we would hear, and also a great indicator of how Train titles their tracks in order to ensure maximum female fandom! Their smash hit ‘Marry Me’ would come later in the set and have every wedded Woman in the room reaching for their iPhone. These dudes know what they’re doing, trust. The only oddity of the evening would come in the form of Pat’s cover of Jay-Z’s ‘Empire State of Mind’ featuring guest vocals from opener Allen Stone. Whenever a front-man feels the need to provide context on the microphone for why he is performing a song [this was the lead into the penned-in-NY ‘Bruises’, also a duet with Stone] it’s never good. This was actually ok for what it was, but like… it’s weird to hear songs about ‘hearing it for NY’ in NJ, and also: you’re from Erie, PA anyway, Pat! At one point he even told the crowd a secret (?) – his grandfather was born in Philly! Wow! We can kind of claim you, or would have until all of those NY overtures!
At the halfway point of their set, Pat asks the crowd “Does anyone remember this one?” and begins their hit single ‘Meet Virgina’. My Mom likes this one. Oh, Pat, you devil. Of course, we remember! The lead single from their self-titled first album would be the only one off that record during the night, and it still holds up nicely. Now that we are eating out of the palm of his hand, Pat asks if it’s ok if they play a little Tom Petty? I’m cool if that’s all they play, but instead, we just get two tunes crammed together: a nice long version of ‘American Girl’ (perfect for their fan base) with some ‘Freefallin’ tacked onto the finale… alright, crowbarred into the finale. Next up are the back-to-back tearjerkers: ‘When I look to the Sky’ (penned for Pat’s late Mother) and ‘Marry Me.’ Eyes water, couples get closer, I go get another White Claw.
Having introduced his younger brother Luis earlier in the set, Pat now introduces the crowd to Bass player Hector Maldonado and announces “Here is a treat for you…” as they launch into Queen and Bowie’s ‘Under Pressure.’ Luis takes lead. It rocks, in a similar fashion to when I watched Taylor Hawkins do literally the exact same thing last Summer while Dave Grohl [presumably] swilled Jagermeister just off stage. Déjà vu! Rounding out the end of the set are ‘Drive By’, ‘Hey, Soul Sister’ and heart-and-soul clone ‘Play That Song’- three hits from the later eras of Train. Sparklers go off, the classic Train ‘Crown’ logo appears, the crowd smiles, records and sings every word- fulfilled by the parade. Their 2016 cover album ‘Train Does Led Zeppelin II’ flew under my radar but they rip through a faithful version of ‘Heartbreaker’ and toss in a little of Aerosmith’s ‘Sweet Emotion’ just to remind us they can rock. This fact has not been lost on me, as guitar wizard Luis Maldonado has been shredding all night, including at one point a pretty damn sweet dual-necked guitar. I’m a fan.
The evening’s closer is… shocker… ‘Drops of Jupiter,’ Train’s massive 2001 hit and also the song with which I am most familiar. My Mom sings along, emphasizing the extended “Heyyyyyyyyy” in unison with Pat, waving at him from the 5th row. She asks me to take a picture of us with him in the background and will later request via text that I send her them immediately. This is the first front-man since Sting that I have seen my Mother go gaa-gaa for, so Pat must be doing something right! If they keep on this track, there just might be a Greatest Hits Volume II in their future… sometime in say, 2040?
[Photos by Jen Strogatz]
[Article by Aaron Ruxbin]
You can view the full setlists below:
GOO GOO (15 songs):
- Stay With You (LET LOVE IN)
- Big Machine (GUTTERFLOWER)
- Slide (DIZZY UP THE GIRL)
- Rebel Beat (MAGNETIC)
- Here Is Gone (GUTTERFLOWER)
- Black Balloon (DIZZY UP THE GIRL)
- Free of Me (BOXES)
- So Alive (BOXES)
- Name (A BOY NAMED GOO)
- Miracle Pill (MIRACLE PILL)
- Bringing on the Light (MAGNETIC)
- Over and Over (BOXES)
- Better Days (LET LOVE IN)
- Iris (DIZZY UP THE GIRL)
- Broadway (DIZZY UP THE GIRL)
TRAIN (18 songs):
- Calling All Angels (My private nation)
- 50 Ways to Say Goodbye (California 37)
- If It’s Love (Save me, San Francisco)
- Save Me, San Francisco (Save me, San francisco)
- Angel in Blue Jeans (Bulletproof picasso)
- Meet Virginia (Train )
- Marry Me (Save me, San Francisco)
- Drive By (California 37)
- Hey, Soul Sister (Save me, San Francisco)
- Play That Song (a girl a bottle a boat)
- Drops of Jupiter (Drops of Jupiter)