If Goo Goo Dolls don’t ring a bell, ‘Iris’ will. Written days before lead singer John Rzeznik was considering leaving the band in 1998, the song became an instant hit. It stayed at the top of the charts in the US for 18 record-breaking weeks, was nominated for 3 Grammy awards and was included on the triple-platinum album ‘Dizzy Up the Girl’. No doubt, everyone has heard the powerful lines: “And I don't want the world to see me / ‘Cause I don't think that they'd understand”. Whether belted out at karaoke bars by the obnoxiously drunk, howled out after break-ups or just played on the radio by DJs who think they’re pretty indie, those lines stand as some of the most recognisable lyrics in Britain, 15 years after the song’s release. A search on one guitar tablature website reveals 36 different interpretations of how to play it, including on a ukulele, some submitted just weeks ago.
So what has the band been up to lately?
Their newest album ‘Magnetic’ was released in June 2013, and they are currently on the album’s promotional tour. Featuring tracks such as the single ‘Rebel Beat’, it’s a far cry from the barely restrained passion (verging on pain) of ‘Iris’ and other early works. The album is upbeat, hopeful and almost celebratory. Featuring eleven quality tracks that I cannot find fault with, ‘Magnetic’ for me is up there with records like ‘Dizzy Up The Girl’ – versatile in style, musically flawless, imbued with a feel-good sound throughout, yet it has that sentimentality that is so characteristic to the Dolls.
Thoroughly excited by the idea of a live experience of their music, I went to the Glasgow gig in October, having spent the last two weeks listening to their songs on repeat. But this is where my experience with the Goo Goo Dolls changed.
For me, there’s a distinction between music you listen to in your bedroom and gig music – music you can dance to, music you can sing along to, scream along to, even fight to if that’s your scene, but nevertheless, participate in. And knowing that the Goo Goo Dolls are dynamic and powerful, I was expecting a gig.
When the band came out, I enthusiastically plugged away with my camera, a bit more carried away by seeing them than their music. Until ‘Slide’ came up, a particular favourite of mine. I danced as much as I could, alone in the media pit while still trying to get a few more shots of the wonderfully exuberant bassist Robby Takac. After storing away the camera, I returned to ‘Here is Gone’, from the 2002 album ‘Gutterflower’, and started singing along and swaying. Oddly enough, no-one else appeared to be doing much besides singing along. Feeling a bit exposed, I eased my fist-pumping a little. I figured the song came out over 10 years ago, so it might not be a favourite of the crowd, so I vowed to bounce with even more vigour come the new, more fast-paced songs. Then ‘Rebel Beat’ made an appearance. Still, no-one in the crowd moved, they merely stared adoringly at Rzeznik. This went on.
Slightly disconcerted by the paralysed audience, I continued to sing along as enthusiastically as I could, but as much as I danced and jumped, I was very much in the minority, if not the only one showing signs of life. But then came ‘Iris’.
Along with the first chords, ‘Iris’ saw every single audience member singing, screaming, swaying, and even weeping. The concert changed in an instant. I couldn't believe my eyes. Suddenly, hundreds of people were having the time of their lives. But as quickly as the song had changed everything, it was over and the crowd froze in place again. I even saw some people leave. The encore couldn't bring the remaining crowd back to life either.
Reflecting on the gig during the long walk home from the O2 Academy, I realised – perhaps ‘Iris’ is just too good. Perhaps the band has produced something so monumentally amazing that any further attempts will always be merely left in the shadow, and nothing will ever excite concert goers as much.
It seemed like there were three types of people at the gig – fans of the band, fans of ‘Iris’, and me. Fans of ‘Iris’ came to see the song performed live, they were the ones screaming and crying. Fans of the Goo Goo Dolls came to see the band, but nonetheless, love ‘Iris’ more than any other song. And I, as a fan of the band and gigs in general, enjoy the atmosphere more than anything else. So for me, the concert did not live up to the expectation – the 4 minutes and 49 seconds, during which the crowd actually seemed like they were having a good time, was not enough. The band gave it all for the performance, they played with such energy, they tried to interact, they talked to us, and they said they loved playing for us, yet the crowd gave back so little. Despite enjoying the music, sadly, I couldn’t help but feel that Glasgow didn’t show a good enough welcome or gratitude for the Goo Goo Dolls and their new album.
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