“Wow, man. Hertel Avenue. Whoda thunk it?” Robby Takac was goading the crowd at the North Park Theatre on Tuesday evening, but he didn’t need to. The assembled were already with Takac and his partner in the Goo Goo Dolls, John Rzeznik, from the moment the house lights dimmed.
Takac had a point, of course. Until recently, the North Park appeared poised to go the way of so many iconic Buffalo landmarks over the years – a once beloved piece of our culture gone to seed and left abandoned.
But on Tuesday, the Goo Goo Dolls threw a party, made a movie of that party, played within the Buffalo city limits for the first time since 2006, and raised money for the North Park’s ongoing renovation.
It would be impossible to view the whole thing as anything less than a raving success, on all counts.
Outside the North Park an hour before show time, fans gathered, old friends driven apart by the responsibilities that come with growing older got reacquainted, and Goos lovers posed for pictures in front of the North Park’s marquee.
Longtime friend of the band, and Buffalo icon in his own right, Lance Diamond showed up, and was flocked by fans eager to have their picture snapped with him. Concert-goers visited a bar adjacent to the theater and indulged in pre-show drinks on the patio, people-watching and sharing memories of seeing the band in Buffalo over the years. (A favored memory, not surprisingly, involved the Goo Goo Dolls’ 2004 City Hall concert, a rain-soaked bacchanal that has proven to be unforgettable.)
Hertel Avenue was buzzing.
Inside the renovated theatre, the lights dimmed to create a lush, velvety atmosphere as the countdown to showtime commenced. Again, the atmosphere felt more like a family reunion than a mere concert. This was a limited seating show, capped somewhere in the area of 500 patrons.
These turned out to be the hardest of the hardcore Goos fans, folks who’d grown up with the band, some of whom appeared to be bringing their kids along for what might have been their first taste of the band.
If there were any first-timers there, man, they got lucky – this was a truly special show for the band. When the lights were finally dimmed the rest of the way, one was struck by the physical beauty of the space itself.
As Rzeznik, emerging alone, grabbed an acoustic guitar and delivered an emotional version of “Sympathy,” it was apparent that the beauty of the space would be matched by the excellent quality of the sound – as close to flawless as these things can get.
The Goos were wrapping up their Otis Midnight Sessions tour, a stripped-down, acoustic format that found Rzeznik, Takac and band joined for most of the evening by members of Los Angeles indie-folk outfit Run River North, who opened the evening’s festivities with a soul-stirring and well-received set of their own.
Rzeznik’s songs were very well-served by this arrangement, their nuance and craftsmanship consistently shining through, particularly when the Run River North strings and backing vocals were in full effect, as they were on “We Are the Normal” and “Black Balloon” – the strongest, most emotional takes I’ve heard in the dozens of times I’ve seen the band over the years.
The guys appeared to be enjoying the evening as much as the crowd, members of which finally got up to dance and sing along with fervor during “Slide,” and stayed up for the duration of the show.
Rzeznik joked with the crowd, smiled more often than usual, dropped F-bombs like they were going out of style and then apologized for doing so, and told stories of growing up in Buffalo, fostering a genuine “We’re all friends here” vibe.
Takac, playing an acoustic bass, still thumped away like a madman, recalling the low-end wallop of one of his heroes, Tome Petersson of Cheap Trick.
This was Buffalo’s band, celebrating the resurrection of a Buffalo landmark, and sharing in the general air of optimism as the city finally appears to be making significant strides forward.
One song in particular seemed to sum up the tenor of the evening. Rzeznik prefaced the performance of the anthemic “We’ll Be Here (When You’re Gone)” with a story about traveling on Route 5 many years ago, looking at the soon-to-be-abandoned steel plant and wondering what was going to happen to Buffalo when those jobs left town.
“But we’re all still here, aren’t we?” he asked the crowd, which responded with a sustained shriek.
Yes, we are. And on Tuesday, we were allowing ourselves to indulge in a little bit of civic pride, courtesy of the Goos.