In VH1’s 1999 “Behind the Music” feature on the Goo Goo Dolls, producers chose to signify the band’s early failures with each return to the bleak and snow-buried streets of Western New York. Every time the Goos had a setback on the road, viewers were treated to the band’s slow-motion cruise of shame back to Erie shores, across railroad bridges and into an apparent never-ending abyss of bourbon and industrial blight.
Fifteen years later, that narrative’s lost its legs. The Goo Goo Dolls’ tour dates off I-190 have been treated like uproarious homecomings for nearly two decades, ones so celebratory of the band’s 28-year career that one show per season doesn’t cut it anymore.
On Saturday night, Buffalo’s punk-turned-pop rock icons arrived for the first of three area shows between now and August with the Midnight Otis Sessions tour, an intimate, acoustic-laden affair amid a standing-room-only crowd in Bear’s den of Niagara Falls’ Seneca Niagara Casino.
Now touring off 2013’s “Magnetic” and their just-released “Warner Sound Sessions Live” five-song EP, the Goos are down to a Nickel City twosome, with Johnny Rzeznik and Robby Takac sans longtime drummer Mike Malinin, who left the band in January. Come their summertime dates with Daughtry and the Plain White T’s, the pair may lean more on whoever provides regular percussion. But with the Otis tour’s stripped-down format, there’s never been a better time for the tandem to share the spotlight as a duo.
“This tour’s all about showing you who we are as a band, who we are as people,” announced Rzeznik, on stage solo to open the night. “A lot of times, we’re in a situation where we’re playing with the big lights and the big sound. Tonight our light show is provided by IKEA.”
Nestled below the red hue of bulbous patio lights, the Goos’ frontman settled in for what would a night full of relaxed, “MTV Unplugged”-style conversation with a boisterous crowd better suited for a Genny-slinging Kaisertown tavern than dolled-up casino theater. After the show’s starter, “Sympathy,” Rzeznik catered to the hometown attendees with details of how the aftermath of a recent California earthquake had him considering relocation.
“As God as my witness, I went into my kitchen and Googled ‘Buffalo, New York Real Estate.’ ”
This brought out the exclamatory hoots before Takac emerged with his bass for “Two Days In February,” a song fueled by Rzeznik’s self-described Polish passion. With the duo backed by both their touring band and members of Los Angeles’s Run River North, the Goos ripped through a number of Rust Belt-inspired ballads, old favorites and “Magnetic” amphitheater anthems.
“We’ll Be Here” – stirred by Buffalo’s loss of industry – transitioned into crowd pleasers “Name” and “Slide.” Neither needed to be stripped down to accommodate the night’s environs; both flowed freely off Rzeznik and Takac, the songs’ pace and power possibly underestimated until fronting an acoustic show.
The same went for the band’s “Superstar Car Wash” two-fer, the Takac-led “Already There” and the Rzeznik-Paul Westerberg-penned “We Are The Normal.” After Takac detailed the first song’s invention while living near Elmwood neighbor Lance Diamond, the raspy-voiced bassist ripped through the tune with 1993-era intensity.
Rzeznik recalled the latter song’s invention with the legendary Replacements leader, one who he revered and obviously inspired the Goos’ early sound. Backed by Run River North strings, the song echoed and swayed just like it debuted, back before the Rzeznik and Takac were booking cross-country arena tours with later hits like the wedding reception-ready “Come To Me” and the anthemic stomp, “Rebel Beat.” Both delighted the hometown crowd, eager to greet the newer ones just like the classics throughout the rest of the night.