DARIEN CENTER — I’m wearing a Bills helmet as I tell you this. As far as bands go, The Goo Goo Dolls never did it for me.
Go ahead, drown me in loganberry. I’ll wait for my penance.
Let me specify that it’s their music that makes me feel this way. They sound average and generic in my ears. Not bad, though not particularly impressionable. I’m guessing that I’m not the only Buffalonian to feel this way on the inside.
Now, as civic players on Buffalo’s cultural stage, they are my heroes. Lead singer Johnny Rzeznik and bassist Robby “Goo” Takac, both group founders, have made significant philanthropic impact over the years for local art and education causes, homeless services and autism research. They are good guys, through and through, and we are all better because of their success. For that, I love them and all that they are.
But for the rock-and-roller in me, somewhere in there, it always comes down to the music. Right, shouldn’t it?
The Goos played a triumphant homecoming show at Darien Lake Performing Arts Center on Saturday night. During the show, I heard their music for the first time all over again.
“We keep meeting in this place,” said Rzeznik, recognizing the fact that this Buffalo band was playing outside of Buffalo. He shrugged it off, seeming to imply: “At least we’re together.”
Darien Lake may not be local enough for a true homecoming, but the fans came out and brought their Buffalove.
Kicking things off was Phillip Philips, with a multifaceted rock set that came stuffed with Southern soul, country, bluegrass and rock. His big hit “Home” made a big splash with its clap-happy participation, while his closer “My Name” brought to mind 1990s Soundgarden.
Things really began when the Goos took to their modestly appointed stage, framed by a few lighting towers — a blue-collar gig if ever this venue saw one.
Takac is a wild man on stage, bouncing around with messy, happy energy and bare feet. Does he consume bowls of sugar? And Rzeznik’s blond locks and tattooed arms are the perfect costume for the sensitive rock crooner. They are a great duo.
The Goos’ “Home” didn’t land as well as one would think, but their 1998 hit “Slide” was a home run. Some 20 years off, nostalgia has set in, but this one holds up.
“Over and Over,” from their 2016 album “Boxes,” soared like an anthem. “Turn it on, turn it up, turn it over and start again” makes a great mantra for arena-level singing. Even if it feels generic, it feels good, and patently Rust Belt in its ethos.
The call-and-response “So Alive” is similarly aspirational. Life is about being in the moment, if you’re lucky to have a moment at your disposal. One came with their infectious 1999 hit “Black Balloon,” bags of which fell from the rafters. You don’t know what joy looks like until a huge crowd of adults is given balloons.
Takac took to the mic for the punky “Lucky Star,” from 1993’s “Superstar Car Wash,” among others. Takac’s lead vocals add true club grit, harkening back to the days of Buffalo’s best clubs like The Continental, where Rzeznik worked and the boys played. It must have been a thrill to know them then and to see them now.
Buffalo music legend Mary Ramsey of the 10,000 Maniacs joined the Goos for “We Are the Normal,” written with The Replacements’ Paul Westerberg. What a treat. A string section joined Rzeznik for a luscious “Acoustic #3.”
Here’s where I eat my words. These guys rock, OK? They make simple, honest music that connects and validates.
Everyone needs a soundtrack. They may not have been mine growing up in the suburbs, but as city resident today, in today’s drastically different Buffalo, these are my guys.
“From the bottom of my heart, thank you for believing in us all these years,” said Rzeznik before the opening strums of their breakthrough, “Name.” “This is your song.”
To Rzeznik, let me not say “You’re welcome,” but “No, thank you.”