Reviews

Goo Goo Dolls + Third Eye Blind + Vanessa Carlton

Kael Moffatt
Goo Goo Dolls + Third Eye Blind + Vanessa Carlton

Goo Goo Dolls + Third Eye Blind + Vanessa Carlton

City: Stillwater, Oklahoma
Venue: Oklahoma State University
Date: 2002-09-06

Goo Goo Dolls
Third Eye Blind
Vanessa Carlton
First of all, it was hot. That's all there is to say. Daytime temperatures had reached 95, 96 degrees Fahrenheit, but with the humidity, it felt like more like 102, 103 degrees. And it was still like that at sunset. But, weather notwithstanding, a sell-out crowd of 21,000 packed the seats at Lewis Field on the campus of Oklahoma State to see what turned out to be a rather asymmetrical show. Perhaps the best way to describe the concert is to say it was a tale of two shows. On the one hand, were the Goo Goo Dolls and Third Eye Blind, two bands whose music relies on power chords, heavy rhythms, and volume. Bands who prize energy, whose ancestry would include KISS, Rainbow, the Ramones, the Sex Pistols, and Nirvana. On the other hand, was Vanessa Carlton, a graduate of The School for American Ballet, a semi-rurally reared daughter of a pianist and a pilot, a singer-songwriter whose musical ancestry runs more along the lines of Billy Holiday, Grace Slick, Carly Simon, and Joni Mitchell. To be perfectly honest, I must admit at the outset that I'm not a real fan of either the Goo Goo Dolls or of Third Eye Blind. I've heard their songs on the radio, and dig them in a general way. They are, of course, bands that grew up on MTV and that have a good grasp of the pop scene. They know how to put together songs that will garner airplay and they both have good stage presence. Each relies heavily on the charisma of their front men, who know how to deliver, and each has spent the better part of the last decade or so building up enthusiastic followings, as the crowd reactions at the show attested to. In fact, the Goo Goo Dolls hit the stage to a wall of scream put up by the crowd, which appeared to be composed of predominantly 17- 21-year-old young women. Honestly, their reception felt like a shadow of a Beatles show. They took the stage later in the evening, after it had cooled down a (little) bit, and charged through the heat and humidity, moving energetically from song to song with relatively few breaks, delivering punchy hit after punchy hit to a young, appreciative crowd who sang right along with them. I do have to give them kudos for having the comic highlight among the three bands, when vocalist/guitarist Johnny Rzeznik pulled out a condom and proceeded with his "public service announcement for the night," which consisted of blowing the Trojan up like a balloon. "Look girls, next time a guy tries to tell you this won't fit . . ." he told the crowd before throwing it into the audience. They ended their set on quite a high note with a rousing cover of Tom Petty's "American Girl", and were joined on stage by Vanessa Carlton who sang a verse. Third Eye Blind, who preceded the Dolls (Goo Goo, that is�although I would have been happy with having the New York Dolls there, but that's an altogether different writing assignment), delivered an edgier show. They seemed less interested in the "teen idol" thang and more interested in the characteristic emo performer/audience dynamic. At one point, lead vocalist Stephan Jenkins even said, "I want to get closer to you all," and strolled through the audience and back to the soundboard, from which he played the next two songs. In ways, they struck me very much like early U2, let's say the Live at Red Rocks era, when Bono's hat size was a mere 12, as opposed to "virtual planetoid" (thank you Mike Meyers). Interestingly enough, along with their standbys like "Semi-Charmed Life", "Never Let You Down", and "Motorcycle Driveby", they played four songs from a forthcoming album, and I must say that these songs were better than their other material. These songs represent a newer, more satisfying songwriting approach for the band -- more melodic approach that allows the vocal line to carry much of the load and that allows the drummer to take less of a cymbal bashing approach to rhythms. One of the songs, "Crystal Baller", featured a solid guitar line in the outro, while another, "I Keep on Forgetting Myself", featured a crisply engaging vocal line. Like the Goo Goo Dolls, Third Eye Blind closed their set with a tribute to a band that has obviously influenced them greatly; they ended by moving right from "Semi-Charmed Life" into the upbeat second half of "Stairway to Heaven" by Led Zeppelin. I must say, though, that it was a bit depressing that an apparently small percentage of the crowd recognized the song. Musically speaking, the highlight of the evening was Vanessa Carlton's short (way too short) set. She came onto the stage to Pink Floyd's "The Great Gig in the Sky", and started playing by picking up that beautifully simple piano line, then moving seamlessly into her first song, a new one, which she performed solo. It was a very appropriate beginning, for like Pink Floyd, Carlton's music relies on a healthy stylistic range, good songwriting sense, strong musicianship, and emotional integrity and complexity. Her second piece, also performed on solo piano, was a new song, entitled "Papa", an emotionally rich tune that asks some serious questions about gender conflict/relations, quite reminiscent of Sylvia Plath's poem, "Daddy" -- an absolutely indispensable text to anyone with even a passing interest in gender relations. Her set, of course, included her well-known "Ordinary Day", which, by her own admission, "is one of the few songs [she] ever wrote in one sitting, since [she is] ADD," as well as "One Thousand Miles", which she introduced as "One Thousand Fucking Miles". Her set closed with a captivating cover of the Rolling Stones classic, "Paint It Black", and I'm sure it's been quite a few years since Mick and Co. played that song with that kind of energy. Watching Ms Carlton on stage, I found I had to remind myself that she is only 21 years old. She carries herself somewhat like a young cross between a Tori Amos and Chrissy Hynde. Fortunately, Carlton's band is as musically strong as she is. Her bass player, whom she introduced simply as Sasha, was exceptional. In contrast to the bassists for the other bands, who played with a definitively rock-and-roll-gouge-the-hell-out-of-the-strings approach, Sasha seemed to effortlessly finger chords and slide into and out of notes with a style more reminiscent of great jazz bassists like Charles Mingus and Jaco Pastorius, or rock bassists like Geddy Lee of Rush. Basically all this name-dropping means his bass lines were not only rhythmic and precise, but strikingly harmonic, even counter melodic, at times. And, her drummer, Abe Laboriel, Jr�. maybe the best way to describe him is to say he's a young, angular-faced version of Marvin "Smitty" Smith (the Tonight Show Band drummer) with a dose of the funky flare of such drummers as Omar Hakim and Manu Katche. Obviously, you can add my name to the pile of critics and musicians who feel that Vanessa Carlton is one to watch. Not yet another Ani Difranco or Joni Michell, but she certainly has all the tools.

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