Sure, they may not have gone away, but it feels like there has been a revival of ’90s bands going on tour in the past year or so. Those tours have generated widely varying degrees of interest in me. The saddest and most condemnable event I heard about was the Sugar Ray/Smash Mouth cruise, which ended up being cancelled before it set sail. Then there was the lineup for the ‘Summerland Tour’, with Everclear, Filter and Live, which was rather weak and unmemorable (Live might have been okay). What about the summer co-headlining Matchbox Twenty (MB20) and Goo Goo Dolls concert? It seemed like it would be a decent show. In their favor, both MB20 and Goo Goo Dolls created pretty memorable hits and achieved heavy radio saturation back in their heydays.
Yet there was still some hesitation in my decision to attend the concert. First, the show was outside of New York City, which meant driving, dealing with parking, traffic and whatever other related hassles that could arise, but I hadn’t been to Jones Beach in a long time (the venue had been submerged during Superstorm Sandy last year). Second, I had no idea what these bands have been up to for the past ten years (or more possibly). I envisioned the two acts performing sets full of their old hits utilizing a finely tuned, almost systematic, approach developed over the passing years that required an eager audience already primed with nostalgic twinges to cheer them on (and to purchase the pricey tickets). I wasn’t aware that both had released new albums in the past year, but my curiosity was encouraged nostalgia and I made the decision to go. The only question that remained unanswered was, which band was performing first on their co-headlining tour?
Well, it turned out there was an opener. As I arrived at the venue, Kate Earl was about to take the stage. Her backing band started performing as an introduction for Earl; she walked onto the stage shortly after and stood barefoot in between two fans. The fans were a tacky move perhaps but not a deal-breaker on their own. What lost my interest was her temperament — her earnestness came across too syrupy, even if it was genuine. She expressed her happiness at playing in larger venues, which is terrific for any artist, though I felt sorry when few people joined her in a sing along. Before another song, Earl mentioned her possession of a rare gift — the ability to sing across five octaves which she demonstrated for the audience. It’s nice to be good at something, but that didn’t stop me from feeling ambivalent towards her music, (read: I don’t recall it at all). I kinda wish that the musician I saw a few nights prior, Matt Hires, had been the opener as he had been MB20’s tour opener earlier this year. Near the end, Earl walked off stage and let her band wrap things up.
As the stage crew reconfigured the instruments and revealed the backdrop, it became apparent that that Goo Goo Dolls were up next (the bands did not alternate spots as I would have guessed). Led by Johnny Reznick (going by just “John” now), the three-piece band from Buffalo, New York contains the same lineup as it has the past two decades (two additional musicians accompanied them for the tour). Reznick and bassist Robby Takac’s attire had me puzzled initially as the Goos looked more “punk” than their songs would suggest (drummer Mike Malinin rounds out the trio). But the band had formed in the ’80s, so maybe their roots are in punk and attire doesn’t matter so much. It was the stuff from the mid to late ’90s, particularly 1995’s adult contemporary rock smash A Boy Named Goo that catapulted them into the mainstream and to my ears. Those are the songs I wanted to hear. Unfortunately, the band couldn’t win me over, though they attempted to satisfy my nostalgia for “Name” and a few other tracks.
Somewhere between the band’s first six songs, which included ones I never heard and ones I knew the words to, I became befuddled which I realized as “Black Balloon” started up midway through their set. That I could think “haven’t they already played this?”, made it apparent that the band wasn’t leaving a lasting impression — I may have been thinking of “Slide”. Fortunately, my clarity was restored by some visual cues — the literal black balloons brought in and inflated by people in the front row that had begun drifting about. Apparently, there are some hardcore Goo Goo Dolls fans. Another realization I made was that Takac sings some of the band’s songs but I guess those didn’t make it to the radio, I didn’t know any of them.
My confusion over the music aside, I could see the Goo Goo Dolls worked hard to connect with their audience. The band performed a good mix of older songs, all the ones I knew, with newer ones, drawn from the 2013 release, Magnetic. The group concluded with an excellent song pairing, both ones that I had heard. Second to last was the heartfelt “Iris”, their monster hit and a tune that can still stun an audience. It was followed by “Broadway”, whose lyrics (c’mon, you know the words) leave the listener hanging on for more.
The Goos had only utilized the front portion of the stage and, during the break, the stage was reconfigured again. With the curtain gone, the reveal of MB20’s much larger platform and video displays became a declaration — here was the real headliner.
MB20 debuted around the same time Goo Goo Dolls were breaking big. The Florida band is led by Rob Thomas, put out three albums by 2002, went into an extended hiatus that allowed Thomas to pursue a solo career, before returning with the album North last year (a brief reunion/tour occurred in 2007). So understandably there was nothing to know about the band in the last decade. I figured there were at least three songs from MB20’s multi-platinum debut Yourself or Someone Like You that I would expect to hear and maybe a couple others that I would recognize.
The band didn’t fail me there. I knew at least seven of their songs (and of course their version of The Stones’ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”). What I couldn’t have anticipated was the enthusiasm and the energy Thomas and the rest of the band put into their performance. Giant LCD panels above the stage focused on Thomas’s expressive gestures and bulging eyes. Each song felt distinct and became more enjoyable (even if I didn’t know half of them) as the band could use the space to loosen up.
The somewhat political “How Far We’ve Come” was enjoyable for all its bombast, which only paused when a turning clock appeared on the screens. When the clock reached 2:59, the audience members knew to scream — one of the biggest songs, “3 A.M.” approached — before unifying their voices around the words, “she says babbyy”. That was followed by “Real World” and “If You’re Gone”, more MB20 “classics” that everyone wanted to hear. I wouldn’t have known the latter was on the band’s second album, 2000’s Mad Season if I didn’t look it up now. But my familiarity might be a result of the early millennial ubiquity MB20 earned from the massive success of Santana’s “Smooth” (featuring Thomas’s vocals).
While a delicate new song, “I Will”, hushed the audience and caught my attention, it was still safe to presume MB20 were playing the nostalgia card. Thomas even acknowledged as much before the band’s final song “Push”. He cautioned the audience, “if you’re not singing along by now, you’ve missed the point”. If there was somehow anyone in the audience who was waiting for permission to enjoy him or herself, well, it had just been granted. Despite my own earlier misgivings, I wasn’t in that category. I enjoyed the show a lot and would consider seeing ’em again.
The best part about nostalgia? Whether it be a Goo Goo Dolls or a MB20 song, you don’t need to ask permission to sing along (some may consider seeking forgiveness). Everyone understands. These songs were the background of your youth.
Goo Goo Dolls:
Matchbox 20 Setlist:
She’s So Mean
How Far We’ve Come
If You’re Gone
So Sad So Lonely
Jumpin’ Jack Flash (The Rolling Stones)
Back 2 Good
Goo Goo Dolls Setlist:
Last Hot Night
Here is Gone
Another Second Time Around
Let Love In
Come to Me
Bringing on the Light