Dolls on display... Funny how a "Name" can change things. Last time I checked in with the Goo Goo Dolls, they were going about preparing for their first U.S. tour in two years with the sort of levelheaded realism that can only come from being near enough to success to smell it, and then somehow losing the scent.

Over the phone last January, singer/guitarist Johnny Rzeznik claimed that "we've been together so long, there's just no pressure." The evidence at the time, though, made Rzeznik's remark unconvincing. While the last decade or so of semi-obscurity hasn't been easy for Buffalo, New York's favorite post-punk sons, the last two years have been even more of a sharp pain in the ass than the previous eight. In late 1994, just after the completion of A Boy Named Goo, Rzeznik briefly left the band, frustrated with the trio's waning chemistry. When the band's label, Warner Bros., convinced Rzeznik to return, drummer George Tutuska walked out.

"[Tutuska] was sort of asked to leave," recalls bassist/vocalist Robby Takac. "It was pretty much of a mess. There was a lot of arguing, and some things were said in desperation. It just became evident that there was a weird chemistry between the three of us that wasn't very healthy."

With Tutuska gone, Takac and a newly revived Rzeznik were determined to make things work, choosing longtime fan Mike Malinin to replace their disgruntled bandmate. And then the new trio pounded the pavement, headlining clubs and small theaters around the country while A Boy Named Goo languished largely ignored in record store racks.

Then along came "Name," the earnest, strummed ditty from A Boy Named Goo that finally pinned the Dolls to the map everywhere -- not just in a few regional markets. Catchy and direct, the song has accomplished what had been expected from the similarly structured "We Are the Normal" (quiet verse, epic chorus) off 1993's Superstar Car Wash. That song, though, failed to catch on nationally. For Takac, whether recognition came later than sooner -- or whether it came with a softer tune rather than with the more aggressive punk-infused power pop that is the band's signature -- is neither here nor there.

"It really looked for a while there like it was just going to be another Superstar Car Wash scenario for us," he says. "Frankly, I don't care what kind of song it took to get us noticed -- as long as it wasn't a cover."

The Goo Goo Dolls used to do plenty of those back in their inebriated garage-band days, playing everything from overdriven versions of Blue Oyster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper," with Takac on vocals, to ludicrous parodies of the-squiggle-formerly-known-as-Prince's "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man" and CCR's "Down on the Corner," the last two featuring schmaltzy guest vocals from lounge-singer pal Lance Diamond. All of the covers, by the way, made their way onto CD. Sadly, Mr. Diamond won't be around to loosen up the band's terse 40-minute opening set for Bush at The Summit Sunday. Getting serious is one of the unfortunate requirements of stardom -- but in the Goo Goo Dolls' case, at least, any undue professionalism is well-earned.

HMC ho-hum, part three... The Houston Music Council will hold a two-evening bash Monday and Tuesday at the Fabulous Satellite Lounge to celebrate the release of Compilation Volume III, this year's CD roundup of winners in HMC's five local showcases. The top three finishers in each of the five categories -- country, acoustic, rock, alternative and R&B/ other -- contributed tunes to this 15-song collection, and while most of the performances are competent, little save for Mercy Cafe's white-hot urban blues ballad "Love, Kindness and Forgiveness" and Eardrum's oddly seductive, accordion-drenched ballad "Smokey Bars" is liable to provide a respite from this town's local music doldrums. Still, production-wise, HMC has again gone out of its way to assemble a quality product on a limited budget. With material this perfunctory, though, you have to wonder to what degree the performances outweighed the songs themselves in the judging process. To find out, drop in on next week's party, which will feature performances by most of the winners.

Etc.... Friends, fans and relations mourned the passing of local singer/songwriter/guitarist Tomm Walker at an afternoon get-together March 24 at McGonigel's Mucky Duck. Walker, who succumbed to cancer March 16, was known around town both for solo work and as a member of Quick-Walker and Blue Flash. Some shows of note this week: Friday, the attitudinal, female-fronted Sleater-Kinney is a bright spot on the bill at Allen Parkway Community Center's latest punk extravaganza; Saturday, Unified Jazz Ensemble, made up of a crack squad of musicians from Canada, England and the United States (hence, the name), will perform at Czanne; Sunday, able Houston singer/songwriter Joel Stein plays the Abyss; and Wednesday, Rockefeller's will host the second Soular Cafe, featuring live acid jazz (an ultra-urban, highly danceable hybrid of jazz, Latin, hip-hop, soul and funk) by the Sun-Sol Project and DJ Sun. -- Hobart Rowland


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