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The whole thing was just so Buffalo.

Last summer, the Goo Goo Dolls planned a free concert in front of City Hall over Fourth of July weekend, as a way of saying "thanks" to their hometown fans. The gig would be filmed for a major DVD release, they announced, to be marketed internationally by the band's Warner Brothers label. What a boon for Buffalo -- the world would see that we are not denizens of a cow town, nor does it snow here year-round. And look! Our downtown is actually kinda nice, too.

Of course, it rained. In biblical proportions. The show was very nearly a washout.

Like Boston Red Sox fans, we Buffalo music lovers are the beaten, the downtrodden, the distinctly world-weary. We're used to losing. Few of our musical artists make it out of here. When one does, we view them with pride, we pull for them, even if we won't admit it to our trendy acquaintances. So we wanted this Goos concert and this DVD project to go off well.

After all, we had a vested interest in its success.

But the rain came, with a vengeance, threatening to shut the whole thing down and leave the Goos holding the bill, with no product to deliver to their label. Ugh.

It's a testament to the resiliency of both the band and the Buffalo audience that "Goo Goo Dolls: Live In Buffalo, July 4, 2004," out today, comes off as such a shining success. In fact -- and many who were there on this wonderful night will likely agree -- the deluge somehow made the whole thing that much more exciting, that much more of a party, that much more special.

A DVD with an ancillary CD, "Live In Buffalo" is a feast for the eyes throughout, but much more surprisingly, it's a treat for the ears. Surprising because the rain came within a whisker of derailing the ample sound equipment, leaving the band with a virtually unusable audio component. Sound feeds were going down, cameras were breaking down left and right, the stage was well past ankle-deep in water.

And yet, the band played on, and the crowd partied like it was New Year's Eve.

Somehow, out of all of this, came sparkling audio, in Dolby Digital surround sound on the DVD, and crisp stereo on the CD. It's nothing short of incredible that this thing sounds as good as it does.

The bigger story, of course, is the DVD. What could have just been an exciting homecoming concert before an adoring audience -- with the bonus inclusion of a million-dollar light show that, as vocalist/guitarist John Rzeznik quipped a few days prior to the show, "will make city hall look like it's dancing" -- is instead a testament to the Goos and the city that produced them, called by Rzeznik during the show "the toughest city in America."

Bob Dylan played a concert for television in the late '70s, and a similar thing happened; the rain came with a serious attitude and just about ruined the whole affair. Dylan would later release an album culled from that gig, called "Hard Rain." But while Dylan looked pained and disgusted with the weather, as if it all offered unnecessary further proof that the end times were nigh, the Goos had a blast with the whole thing, meeting mother nature's wrath with a wink and a smirk, rather than a frown.

Bassist Robby Takac runs across the sodden stage, kicking torrents of water toward the drenched crowd as he goes, a maniacal grin plastered to his face. Rzeznik plays on, though the rain was undoubtedly wreaking havoc on his open-tuned guitars, and singing beneath a waterfall can't be all that enjoyable. And the crowd? Well, if you were there, you know. The rain gave us an excuse to go nuts. After a certain point, you can't get any wetter; you've just gotta deal with it. Were we drowning or waving? What's the difference?

Yes. The whole thing was so Buffalo.

The DVD contains a documentary covering the days leading up to the concert, and it's a hoot, full of Goo-based humor, goofy gags, and a verite view of the band's preparations -- from print, television and radio interviews, to intensive rehearsals, to drummer Mike Malinin's morning jog through downtown Buffalo. This stuff will be a treat for hard-core Goos fans, and like the concert footage itself, casts Buffalo in a favorable light.

The CD is itself a revelation, principally because the Goos have always been most powerful in the live setting, where what can occasionally seem like slick production on their studio efforts gives way to a raucous, driving punk-band's heart.

Opener "Big Machine" benefits from the punchy rhythm section of Takac and Malinin, while tracks like "Naked," "Think About Me" and "Here Is Gone" boast a visceral nature that outshines their original forms.

"Live In Buffalo" is a gift for all who attended this unforgettable show, braving the weather to support hometown boys made good. Watching it, one feels proud; our country-wide image might be of an inclement burg with slim economic prospects, underdog sports teams, and a cultural underground that is burgeoning, but tough to break out of.

But, as Rzeznik said at the July 4 show, we're tough. We've got character. We don't know enough to come in out of the rain, if it means we'll have to miss a Goo Goo Dolls show.

That's so Buffalo.

The Goo Goo Dolls: Live In Buffalo, July 4, 2004 -- CD and DVD

[Warner Bros.]

Review: 3 1/2 stars (Out of 4)


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