Review/photos by Thomas S. Orwat Jr.
Niagara Falls, NY- ‘Fantastic,’ ‘Outstanding,’ ‘Incredible,’ ‘The show of the year,’ and ‘WOW,’ were all adjectives that were used to describe the performance of the Goo Goo Dolls on Saturday evening. The multi-platinum selling band from Buffalo, which consists now of just the duo, John Rzeznik and Robby Takac (plus three talented hired touring musicians), played an hour and 45 minute long acoustic set, referred to as, “The Otis Midnight Sessions,” in the very intimate setting of the 440 seat Bear’s Den Hall, located in the Seneca Niagara Casino. This was an extremely unique event; one of the most popular bands in the world performing in the best venue in WNY. This resulted in tickets for this show selling out in less than one minute when they went on sale over two months ago.
The show started with singer/guitarist/songwriting superstar, John Rzeznik, causally walking on stage and taking a seat in the center. For the first 10 minutes of the show, it was only Rzeznik on stage. He then proceeded to explain the inspiration to the first song of the set, “Sympathy.” Right from the start, Rzeznik seemed very comfortable in this setting; he has performed a handful of solo shows over the last year. These prior solo shows may have even been the catalyst for this entire tour.
After his stripped down version of “Sympathy,” Rzeznik talked about the recent earthquake that rattled his house in Los Angeles, CA, and how he, immediately afterwards, put on his steel tip boots and frantically jumped on his computer to Google Buffalo, NY real estate. “Fuck this shit, I’ll take the snow,” declared Rzeznik, hinting about returning back home and getting the hell out of LA. The hometown crowd ate that up and roared with applause. He then proceeded to talk about how he fell in love with a girl that he met on his first trip to California in 1990, and how that inspired him to write a song. Rzeznik then progressed into the oldest song of the evening, and hardcore fan favorite, “Two Days in February,” from the 1990 release, ‘Hold Me Up.’ A few verses into the song, bassist Robbie Takac, with acoustic bass guitar in hand, joined in, to the delight of the crowd.
Throughout the evening, the duo of Rzeznik and Takac were accompanied by their long-time touring musicians, Brad Fernquest-guitar, mandolin, Korel Tunador – keyboards, guitar, and new drummer- Craig McIntyre. In addition, the band, Run River North, who are the opening act for almost all of the dates on the “Otis Midnight Sessions” tour, accompanied the band on several tracks throughout the evening. Run River North did not open on this evening due to the fact that the casino usually doesn’t allow opening acts, because they want people out and gambling. This didn’t sit well with Rzeznik, who voiced his displeasure with this when introducing Run River North to the audience.
However, Rzeznik didn’t let that bother him for too long. For most of the evening, he was in great spirits, joking and really flourishing in this intimate, storyteller format. His somewhat self-deprecating sense of humor makes him more likable, and disassociates him from the stigma of the typical bratty and arrogant rock star. He explained, during the evening, that he doesn’t read his reviews, and he doesn’t do Twitter, because he takes comments from other people too personally. So his 14-year-old niece runs his Twitter page for him.
Before the band’s first break out hit, “Name,” was performed, Rzeznik explained that before that song was popular, the band’s audience consisted of “sweaty guys with no shirts, beating each other up, and a girl with a spider tattoo on her head.” But then, “Name” became a hit, and girls started going to their shows. He also stated that he was upset, at first, that the song was getting airplay. He felt that other, more alternative songs of his should have been played instead, because he was a “snobby little indie rock punk.” But, his manager set him straight, telling him he has no right to dictate what people enjoy listening to, and that he should be grateful that they are listening at all. Rzeznik said that he never forgot that, and, to this day, he is very grateful that the song still gets played.
Like many great entertainers, Rzeznik is not only funny, but he can also be very genuine and sincere. Before the song, “Acoustic #3,” Rzeznik told a touching story about his mother, who died when Rzeznik was in his mid-teens.
Bassist, Robby Takac, also had a few moments in the spotlight. He brought the house down when he took over lead vocals on “Already There,” which was inspired by a particular long, cold, Buffalo winter. He also performed his two songs, “Bringing On the Light,” and “Happiest of Days” from the recent, ‘Magnetic’ release. Takac sounded great vocally, and his song really translated well in this setting.
One of the highlights of the show was when legendary virtuoso drummer, Kenny Aronoff, joined the band for the hit song, “Broadway.” With the song being performed acoustically, Aronoff’s hard-hitting style brought the energy level of the song to a previously unexplored territory.
But, the moment in the show that completely captivated the audience was the powerful and emotional version of the #1 hit, “Iris.” Hearing this song performed in such a small and acoustically brilliant venue was a musical experience that many will remember for a very long time. You could clearly hear all of the subtleties and nuances of this brilliant and passionate piece of music. It was absolutely stunning!
The band returned for one encore, the song, “Become.” During the song, each musician walked off the stage at different intervals, leaving just Rzeznik and Takac. In the end, only Rzeznik remained, finishing off the show just like it had started, with just him on stage.
This was an incredible and almost surreal concert experience. The stage was almost as big as the seating area. It was an intense show, and even though it was acoustic, the power of the band’s music, at times, felt as if it was being supplied by a 747 jet engine. The Goo Goo Dolls, once again, made their hometown very proud and continue to be one of the most important bands in music.
2 Two Days in February
3 We’ll Be Here (When They’re Gone)
6 Already There
7 We Are the Normal
8 Black Balloon
9 Come to Me
10 Rebel Beat
11 Can’t Let It Go
12 Think About Me
13 Better Days
14 Bringing On the Light
15 Happiest of Days
16 Slow It Down
18 Acoustic #3
Thank you to Jill Augusto for allowing us to cover this show. Also thank you to Dana Kaiser. For more on the Goo Goo Dolls, check out our interview with Robby Takac here.