“Gutterflower,” the title of the Goo Goo Dolls’ latest album, is a perfect metaphor for the band’s longtime identity conflict, which finds them moving back and forth between grungy pop-rock and teenage ballads like “Iris” and “Name” that brought them mainstream success in the late ’90s. The album is the band’s best collection of hard power-pop to date, but onstage, the group — augmented by two additional players — still can’t decide whether it’s just a Buffalo, N.Y., bar band of Replacements wannabes that got lucky or a group of wimp rockers.
Sandwiched by two of the new LP’s best tracks, “Big Machine” and “What a Scene,” the set demonstrated that front man Johnny Rzenik and bassist Robby Tukac remain earnest, down to earth fellows, despite Rzenik’s claim that “a rock star” is what he always wanted to be. But to let the not-all-that-dynamic Tukac perform two songs in a row twice during an arena set (unlike a bar) might be pushing endurance levels just a tad. Pacing and momentum were definitely a problem, and although the majority of the show’s 23 songs were from “Gutterflower” (which lost a little force in its translation to a live environment), almost as many were from “Dizzy Up the Girl,” the mainstream, ballad-heavy album featuring the ubiquitous “Iris.”
It’s probably unfair to make Replacements comparisons this late in their career, but the Goos remain in that band’s shadow in many minds, which only helps reflect their lack of charisma compared with some of the truly great rock groups. Still, if rock ‘n’ roll really is for teenagers, it sometimes remains visibly true that what the old men don’t know, the little girls understand. (The latter claim may be even truer in the case of Stephan Jenkins of generic openers Third Eye Blind, whose every other song sounded like a “Sweet Jane” ripoff.) This was primarily a high school audience who sang along to every word, excepting perhaps some of the new material and a cover of Tom Petty’s “American Girl.” Audience energy was so high, in fact, that at one point during the rollicking hit “Slide,” when floodlights hit the crowd, one couldn’t help feeling that they’d suddenly landed in a scene from a Jennifer Love Hewitt film.