Getting Past the Goo

Utter the name Goo Goo Dolls to most people, and the response you get in return is automatic. "Who?" the person asks, suppressing fits of laughter.

To the uninitiated, the Goo Goo Dolls sounds like the punch line to a bad joke. But to longtime fans and college radio listeners, the Buffalo, New York-based three-piece is an underrated rock band compared favorably to the late and much-lamented Replacements.

Silly name aside, the Goo Goo Dolls now appear primed for mainstream recognition. A Boy Named Goo, the group's fifth and latest album, is filled with radio-ready punk-pop masterpieces. Add a support tour that will bring the band to a wider audience than ever before, and it seems likely that the name that singer/guitarist John Rzeznik claims was inspired by drunken stupidity will soon be a familiar one.

Reached at his hotel room in Canada, Rzeznik is gulping coffee and chewing mouthfuls of food into the telephone while discussing the tour that brings him, singer/bassist Robby Takac and new drummer Matt Malinin to Houston on April 24.

Texas has been kind to the Goo Goo Dolls. Their current single, "Only One" is getting some overdue radio airplay here, and previous shows in Houston have been among the band's most successful. "The people who like us in Texas are really hard-core," says Rzeznik. "We notice a lot of the same faces when we play there."

"The first place we played in Houston was at Power Tools in '88," he adds. "It was underground, and they had this huge boa constrictor that could have eaten me for lunch. It was pretty damn weird, but I mean weird in a good way. We had a good turnout."

Adding to the group's enthusiasm for Texas is the addition of drummer Malinin, a native of Denton. "He's our Texas travel agent," Rzeznik says. "He's going to find us one hell of a Texas barbecue.''

Like 1993's Superstar Car Wash, A Boy Named Goo weighs more heavily in favor of catchy melodies than the borderline hard-core ravings of earlier releases such as 1987's self-titled debut or 1989's Jed. Rzeznik acknowledges the evolution of the band's sound, but says he's still able to listen to the earlier releases without cringing.

"Actually, I only cringe at some of my old haircuts," he laughs. "As far as the music, I think if you immerse yourself in something it's just natural that you become better at it. I still like the old stuff."

And he should. What the Goo Goo Dolls lacked in production and prowess in the early days, they made up for in attitude and humor. (Check out the gloriously butchered covers of Cream's "Sunshine of Your Love" and Blue Oyster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper" on the debut, or the Rolling Stones' "Gimmie Shelter" on Jed.)

Lyrically, "A Boy Named Goo" is the band's finest offering. The Joe Six-Pack Iyrics spin tales everyone can relate to, but do so with clever, heartfelt sentiments.

"We're from Buffalo, which is kind of an Everyman city, so the Iyrics are pretty much everyday stories," Rzeznik says. "But we try to be creative as far as how they're put together."

Though Rzeznik is hopeful A Boy Named Goo will be his band's breakthrough album, he's prepared to chalk it up as just another credit in the Goo Goo Dolls' catalog if it doesn't land on the charts.

"I feel like everything happens for a reason, and this is where we're supposed to be right now," he says. "We look at it as a building process, and we're just glad to be able to work at our craft. But it would be nice to make some money."

The more melodic approach heard on the newer Goo Goo Dolls albums hasn't meant a reduction in on-stage energy. The Dolls' music still demands a dynamic live show, and the band is known to deliver in spades. "Me and Robby are like Abbott and Costello or Tommy and Dick Smothers," Rzeznik says. "When one of us is singing, the other guy works the crowd. There's usually five or six goons up front, two rows of people in front of us and a swirling pit behind them. We're seeing a lot more girls on top of the crowd."

Live, diehard fans and new recruits can expect to hear a balanced dose of new and old material, as well as some revved-up cover tunes. Besides Cream, Blue Oyster Cult and the Stones, Prince, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Rick Springfield have all been covered by Goo.

"We save [the covers] in the unlikely event there's an encore," Rzeznik jokes. But the more important element, he adds, is the selection of tunes that stretch back to the group's founding in 1986. "The set cuts pretty evenly across all five albums," says Rzeznik. "We think it's important that people know we've got a history, and that we're not just some band that came out six months ago."

The Goo Goo Dolls play around 11 p.m. Monday, April 24 at the Urban Art Bar. Dune and hHead open. Tickets $8. Call 523-0192 for info.

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David Glessner