A blast of school's-out exuberance, a roar of youthful rage, fine melodies, a big dose of tenderness, a goofy name. That's the Goo Goo Dolls, whose L.A. headlining debut at the Roxy on Tuesday was a bracing distillation of '80s heartland American independent rock.
That means that the Buffalo-based trio (which also plays the Casbah in San Diego on Saturday) sounded a lot like the Replacements and Husker Du. But the group also served notice that once it outgrows its sources, it could become a standard by which future baby bands are measured.
The Goo Goo Dolls might know hangovers and heartbreak, and they hammer out a relentless thrash on stage, but their personality is unmistakably sweet, innocent and almost painfully sincere: During a brief acoustic interlude, singer-guitarist Johnny Rzeznik prefaced his character study "James Dean" with an earnest explanation of the story line, to demonstrate that it's not anti-gay.
When singer-bassist Robby Takac wasn't racing around the stage like a wind-up toy and singing in an Ozzy rasp, he'd twist his face and charge the crowd like a bratty kid trying to gross out his little sister. This long-haired, chubby prole and the slightly more stylish Rzeznik (shag haircut, earrings) form a distinctive team. (Drummer George Tutuska stays in the background and does his job.)