As the Goo Goo Dolls began their 2014 Otis Midnight Sessions Tour, they couldn’t have chosen a better venue than the newly renovated Oncenter Carrier Theater in downtown Syracuse, NY as their first stop on the tour. The beautiful venue, with top-notch acoustic sound and lighting, could only showcase the ambience they wished to achieve in their “Story Tellers” format. As the Oncenter announced their first show to be performed in the theater, it took a mere 5 minutes for the Goo Goo Dolls to sell out the theater; this isn’t surprising though as the Goo Goo Dolls have amassed a huge following in this area. This could be attributed to the fact that they hail from Buffalo, NY, have an amazing new album, Magnetic, out with several hit songs already such as “Come To Me” and “Rebel Beat,” or because they have a fan base that spans generations as they have been together since their inception in 1986. Whatever the reason, it set the stage for an amazing first night in the theater.
As the night began, the stage was setup to resemble a jam session with bar stools, intimate lighting, and a hint of fog, all of which gave off a feeling of being an informal and cozy atmosphere. From the L.A. area, Run River North, opened the evening under a dimly lit stage to a first time audience. To say they blew away the house would be an understatement. The setting of the low light together with their harmonizing and musicality was awe-inspiring and mesmerizing. To describe their style and sound, one could say that if you crossed the Civil Wars (highlighting their acoustic prowess) with Mumford and Sons (highlighting their upbeat tempos and harmonizing), you would wind up with the unique sound of Run River North.
Run River North is made up of six of the most talented young musicians; Alex Hwang on vocals and acoustic guitar, Daniel Chae on electric guitar and violin, Jennifer Rim on violin, Joseph Chun on bass, John Chong on drums, and Sally Kang on vocals and keys. Their unique sound was phenomenal and their stage presence immediately put the crowd at ease as they joked around and demonstrated their personalities. They definitely won over this crowd awaiting the Goo Goo Dolls, and left the stage with their new fans in the audience wanting more. Run River North was an excellent opening act and definitely did their job to warm up the crowd to the intimate feeling the Goo Goo Dolls were shooting for.
Soon thereafter, Johnny Rzeznik took his seat on stage, all alone, and immediately began an acoustic rendition of “Sympathy.” Once finished, he greeted his fans, welcomed them to the show, and began an intimate conversation about his inspirations for songs, his time in the Goo Goo Dolls, his friendships and relationships along the way, and slowly one by one he was joined on stage by Robby Takac, co-founder of the Goo Goo Dolls on vocals and bass, Korel Tunador, longtime touring keyboardist, guitarist, saxophonist, and backup vocalist, Brad Fernquist, longtime touring guitarist, mandolin player, and back up vocalist, and newcomer to the tour, Craig McIntyre, on drums and percussion.
Throughout the evening, Johnny and Robby shared their personal history of the Goo Goo Dolls, had conversations with the audience, and drew the audience in as they played such favorites as “Name,” “Slide,” and “Black Balloon.” One story Johnny shared really struck a chord; he told of how he had come upon a block party one day in NYC in which everyone was having a great time, sharing the day with friends and neighbors. He spoke of missing that camaraderie that was once normal to him growing up in Buffalo as he still to this day has yet to meet his neighbors in his current neighborhood. He found inspiration in this experience which lead to “Rebel Beat” being born. As one watches the video, you share what it must have been like to see that block party through Johnny’s eyes and it instills a wish to become more cohesive as a community.
This insight to life as seen through the eyes of the Goo Goo Dolls is what makes their songwriting special. This insight to life and times as they change is what has given the Goo Goo Dolls the longevity within their career as a group. Throughout the evening they made it a point to thank the audience and give credit to them as they are who have made it possible to do what they love all these years. They spoke of the bands that began with them at the same time and those bands are no longer around. It’s the mutual respect between the audience and band that has made this group endure the changes in music over the course of their career. Their music spans not only genres, but also generations of fans. Since the beginning, their music has reflected whatever is going on in their personal lives at that particular moment in time, just as it has with their audience. It’s this very personalization in their songwriting that appeals to the fans; it’s this insight into who they are that allows them to relate one on one with them as individuals and celebrate life’s ups and downs. One example, “Come To Me,” is the perfect model of art imitating life as Johnny writes this as his promise to his new bride.
Longevity in the music business is unique and not often experienced as some bands and performers simply cannot evolve. Forming in 1986, they set out on a 28 year journey that’s produced 28 top ten singles. One of the most memorable of those singles was “Iris,” a song written for the City of Angels soundtrack. In 1998, the single was nominated for a Grammy for “Song of the Year.” Fast forward to 2011 and we see the same song re-enter the charts in the United Kingdom and hit number 3. Amazing! Johnny shared how he literally developed a writer’s block as the song’s deadline approached, but in the 9th hour he pulled the perfect song together to submit. Great things come from those under pressure and this shows how well adapted the Goo Goo Dolls have been over the course of their career as very few songs have accomplished this feat.
All in all, this was the perfect show to showcase the brand new Oncenter Carrier Theater, the perfect show to introduce Run River North to their newest fans here in New York, and the perfect show to kickoff the Goo Goo Dolls 2014 Otis Midnight Sessions Tour.