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The View of Pier Six From Pier Seven

July 17, 2007

Pier Six Pavillion is the best free concert venue in Baltimore–but not by design. Plenty of people pay for admission to the open-air pavillion, but there’s not much point when you can sit on an adjacent pier and hear and see the band just as well as the people who paid for the cheap seats. So a couple hundred people invariably camp out just across the water for every Pier Six show, including Monday night’s gig by the Goo Goo Dolls. And hey, when a family member calls up and offers us a free evening of adult-alternative mega-hits on an unseasonably cool summer night, why say no?

Lifehouse was a perfect fit to open for the Goo Goo Dolls: same basic demographic, but a little younger and with fewer hits. The band broke out its big one, “Hanging on a Moment,” pretty early in its set, with frontman Jason Wade taking an ill-advised a cappella run through a chorus. But mostly it was album tracks like the Jeff Buckley-esque “Whatever It Takes” that came out sounding better than the band’s two or three inescapable singles.

The Goo Goo Dolls, on the other hand, have a gang of hits, but not quite enough to fill a whole set. So beginning shortly after sunset, those dozen or so popular singles were sprinkled judiciously throughout the evening. Although the band plugged through each jangly tune with little divergence from its studio recordings, frontman John “I Dare You to Spell My Surname Without Googling It” Rzeznik’s self-deprecating commentary went a long way toward giving the band’s workmanlike performance a little charm. After a stretch of less-than-familiar deep cuts, some of them sung by unpleasantly raspy-voiced bassist Robby Takac, Rzeznik shrugged, “Time for the hits!” and launched into the Dolls’ 1995 breakthrough, “Name.” Later, he introduced current single “Before It’s Too Late,” from the Transformers soundtrack, as “A song about a boy, a girl, and giant robots from space.”

Surprisingly, the Dolls’ set only really faltered with “Iris”; the band tried to turn the waltzing ballad into a big rock moment, Rzeznick holding his mic up for the audience to awkwardly sing every other line of the chorus for him. That approach fared better in the encore performance of “Broadway,” when an unexpected sax solo suddenly led the song into E. Street Band territory. But when the band finished off the show with a cover of Tom Petty’s deathless “American Girl,” it mainly served as a reminder that the bar for pop-rock perfection is a bit higher than anything the Goo Goo Dolls have pummeled the airwaves with so far.