Live at O2 Academy Leeds on Sunday, 9th October 2016
It's easy to see why the Goo Goo Dolls picked Johnny Lloyd to open for them on their latest UK tour. Promoting his new EP Foreverland, Lloyd is out on his own after calling time on Tribes three years ago. The songs are full of the kind of lo-fi melodic scuzz that populated early albums by Rzeznik & co; Happy Humans could be a happy sequel to Two Days in February while Pilgrims would have no problem passing as a leftover demo from 1998's late breakout album Dizzy Up The Girl.
Lloyd goes for a sound that's somewhere between the influx of 'The' bands from the early 2000s, Strokes and Vines et al, with a dash of Razorlight's first flush of melodic confidence. For the most part it works - though the middle of the set sags and never quite recovers, Lloyd's material and backing band are lean and mean enough to leave a favourable impression on the Leeds Academy crowd, who are suitably warmed up by what is, in the end, an undeniably perfect fit.
'Come take my hand/Walk with me through my Dreamland' he invites on the EP almost title track that takes Waterloo Sunset and shoves it through a Jesus and Mary Chain filter. Add in the hypnotic, circular refrain of the recent Jamie T produced single Hello Death, and a walk through Dreamland is certainly a tempting prospect.
The Goo Goo Dolls arrive on stage and launch into Over and Over, the opening track from Boxes, their 11th album which sees them celebrating 30 years as a band. Though now stripped back to the absolute core, John Rzeznik and Robby Takac have assembled a killer trio of touring musicians - Brad Fernquist on guitar, Korel Tunador on keys and Craig Macintyre on drums - to round out their sound and bring their catalogue to life. It's Takac who sets the mood for the night, literally bouncing around the stage like tigger on speed for the first few numbers.
The set follows the arc of the band's post-Iris live and studio career - namely that older, rawer material is generally and gradually edged out for synth-heavy, pop-friendly ballads tailored for anthemic crowd singalongs. This is always a little disappointing and frustrating, but particularly tonight in light of the expanded edition of A Boy Named Goo that surfaced last year in honour of its 20th anniversary.
How surprising and delightful it would be to see the road-hardened, muscular Goo Goo Dolls of 2016 suddenly break into Flat Top or Somethin' Bad again, or even their perfect first single, There You Are - the greatest song The Replacements never wrote. Instead, what we're offered is predictably polished, but still hugely enjoyable. Slide and Black Balloon are dispensed with early on, as are Here Is Gone and Big Machine; even Name is finished with by the half way point in the set.
Surprise does come in the second half with an awesome cover of I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man, lead by Takac as both a throwback to the bands early shows and now, sadly, a tribute to Prince. So Alive and Souls in the Machine hold their own among latter day staples like Better Days and Stay With You, and all that's left to complete the night is for Rzeznik to unashamedly lead the masses in bellowing THAT chorus back to him for the ten thousandth time.
'I just want you to know who I am' he sings defiantly, like a man still searching for salvation. Lucky for him - and the rest of us - it still seems like every time he plays with his band, he finds it.