The Goo Goo Dolls and Matchbox Twenty Experience

Soon as Matchbox Twenty decided to move its February 20 venue from Wollongong, NSW to Sydney, an opportunity to watch them live presented itself.

My most recent concert experience was in September 2022, when I witnessed Yumi Zouma’s dream-pop melodies on my own.

This time, I was hoping that my office pals Jason, Oliver, and Rahul would be able to join. Unfortunately, they had to beg out owing to conflicting schedules, so I welcomed the thought of a solo concert experience. Thankfully, Oliver and Rahul will join me in April for the live Incubus concert.

These two bands have played significant roles during my youthful years. The Goo Goo Dolls has serenaded my late-night group study and project making ventures with university buddies, reverberating in the neighborhood as Jonathan, Ronald, and Butch join me dismantle electronic gadgets and reinvent the power amplifier. Alternating with The Cranberries’ “No Need to Argue”, repeats of “A Boy Named Goo” enabled me to adopt “Ain’t That Unusual,”  “Naked,” and “Name” as my go-to tracks.

I received a giftwrapped “Dizzy Up The Girl” from my friend Cathy Uy, drawing me even deeper into appreciating their diverse music. “Dizzy Up the Girl” shows a considerable growth for the Goo Goo Dolls since their previous album.” It was released in 1998 and features a more polished and refined sound, as well as lavish production and broad arrangements.

Matchbox Twenty’s timeless music brought back memories of when I first worked in Manila. Their first two albums were the most significant to me. Matchbox Twenty exploded onto the scene with their debut album “Yourself or Someone Like You” in 1996, achieving diamond certification and launching hits like “Push,” “3 A.M.” and “Real World.” Their 2000 follow-up, “Mad Season,” continued their success, reaching the top three on the Billboard charts and spawning hits like “Bent” and “If You’re Gone.” I was already in Hong Kong when they launched “More Than You Think You Are”, with “The Difference” and “Unwell” as personal favorites.

If the band performed a concert in 2020, it would have symbolic importance because the band’s name corresponds to the calendar year. Matchbox Twenty’s name is intriguing since it conveys a sense of timelessness and continuity. Alas, COVID-19 disrupt their grand plans. I was also limited to just watching their YouTube concert, thanks to an extensive list my choirmates shared for everyone to binge on during the beginning of the pandemic.

Thankfully, the two bands collaborated to tour Australia, and the price of watching a double concert for the price of one is too good to pass up.

After office duty wrapped up, I headed to the venue at Sydney Olympic Park. The former Olympic venue is already buzzing with anticipation as Paris Hilton’s Eras Tour’s Sydney leg commences three days later. Large merch stands that are soon to open litter the field, with fans happy to take photos anywhere close to the identity of the global pop star.

On my way to the concert, I explored Spotify for the MB20’s supposed set list in their earlier Australian stops while familiarizing myself with the 2023 album Where the Light Goes, 11 years after their last launched LP “North”. I was pretty sure some of these tracks will be featured, such as “Wild Dogs (Running in a Slow Dream)” and “Friends.” After all, their tour took its name from parts of the former. (As it turned out, those Spotify playlists were grossly inaccurate, to my delight.) The band has resigned to being a touring act that occasionally releases new songs when they embark on their 2020 tour. But since it was cancelled, alongside their 2022 dates, guitarist Kyle Cook suggested they record a new album instead.

Soon as I found my seat—awed to discover the ones to my left and right were empty — opening act Siobhan Cotchin was already onstage decorated with a large “The Goo Goo Dolls” banner. In attendance were a rough mix of middle aged couples, elderly couples with their children, as well as large groups of millenials and teenagers. It’s interesting to find out that Sydney ranks first, followed by Jakarta, Melbourne, Sao Paolo and London in terms of monthly listeners on Spotify. Matchbox Twenty, on the other hand, has the top three Australian cities occupy the top three most listener bases.

At around 7:30pm, The Goo Goo Dolls started their performance with “Dizzy” from their “Dizzy Up The Girl” album that brought the house down.

The Goo Goo Dolls command the stage with a seamless blend of raw energy and deep emotion, enticing spectators with their magnetic presence. However, the audience was not engaging enough in the band’s opinion, as frontman Johnny Rzeznik said, “you’re sitting on some expensive seats,” indicating that they couldn’t get off their asses and interact with the people onstage.

Rzeznik’s charismatic vocals and dynamic guitar work infuse each performance with passion and intensity, while bassist Robby Takac’s boundless energy and trademark stage presence add infectious energy to the atmosphere, reminding me of Matchbox Twenty’s Paul Doucette dueling with fellow guitarists to make the best use of stage space.

Overall, in their one-hour performance, The Goo Goo Dolls performed 15 songs, notably “Name”, “Dizzy” and “Iris” as notable crowd favorites. I wish they played my aforementioned faves “Ain’t That Unusual” and “Naked” but it was a personal opinion. I also wished it was all John taking the lead all the way.

After a quick equipment and decoration change, Matchbox Twenty clocked in at five minutes before 9 O’clock with “Friends”. While Matchbox Twenty’s basic sound remains steeped in rock, their debut album veered toward post-grunge and angst-ridden themes, while their recent work embraces a more mature and polished pop rock sound. This is manifested in the rendition of this song as well as later releases such as “How Far We’ve Become”, “She’s So Mean” and “Our Song”.

All my friends, all my friends are here
All my friends, all my friends are here

While The Goo Goo Dolls made it clear to crowd who is onstage, Matchbox Twenty made good use of stage arc and played with colors to evoke the emotion of songs they play. The Matchbox Twenty “Slow Dream Tour” stage has a giant, inflatable “mood sphere” that transforms during the event with lighting and video projections. This adaptable element produces a wide range of visual effects, from a sunrise to a metropolitan skyline, to enhance the emotional experience of the concert.

At times, it was dark when Kyle and Rob’s played the stripped-drown version of “If You’re Gone” but in most upbeat pieces, the LED wall that displays visuals in sync with the music complements well with the lighting that dicates the different moods and striking atmospheres throughout the show.

It’s been known that bands can change members and session musicians. The Goo Goo Dolls used to be a trio like Green Day and Nirvana, but Mike Malinin, who replaced the original drummer, George Tutuska, left the band unceremoniously. He claimed to have been let go when he asked for paternity leave to be with his wife and newborn baby. As a result, session musicians rather than actual band members are playing around Rzeznik and Takac.

Mike Malinin appears in this ‘Naked’ music video.

Matchbox Twenty has been relatively stable during their tenure of almost 30 years, with only rythm guitarist Adam Gaynor leaving the band in 2014 and revealing no other dramas. Bands are creative entities, and individual members’ musical tastes may change or they may disagree with the band’s direction.

For example, guitarist John Frusciante departed the Red Hot Chili Peppers several times owing to creative differences and personal issues before rejoining the band years later after pursuing solo projects. In other cases, conflict within the band can strain relationships, and the acrimonious split between lead guitarist Noel Gallagher and his brother Liam of Oasis is a well-known example, marked by public feuds and legal battles over the band’s future.

I mention this as I recently discovered the upcoming band we’ll be watching is apparently in the same situation. I commented on Live’s drummer Chad Gracey’s YouTube demo on Secret Samadhi’s Rattlesnake.

“Great! Looking forward to your performance in Sydney in April, Chad!,” I said, to which he chimed in, “Thank you. Unfortunately, I will not be there. Ed is currently touring as LIVE with NO original members. It’s a long dumb story.”

We wish bands stay together to play wonderful music, but what we often see is only the finished product. Behind the production of every music we love is a complex process. Every song begins with a spark of inspiration, whether it’s an emotion, a personal event, or another artist’s work. Composers and lyricists transform this spark into melodies, chords, and words, forming an arrangement of sound and meaning.

Arrangers then put together the musical pieces, turning the composition into a cohesive whole while drawing on their understanding of music theory and the artists that inspire them. This collaborative process transforms individual ideas into music we appreciate, leaving a complex trail of influences in its wake.

So, when we hear that Lindsay Buckingham has been fired from Fleetwood Mac or Dave Mustaine has left Metallica (to form Megadeth), our first reaction is sadness and disappointment, because we are attached to the singer’s voice, stage presence, or connection to the band’s identity. They may feel that a portion of their musical experience is being lost. (I’ll leave my thoughts about this Live drama in another blog post.)

Back to the concert, Rob Thomas was genuinely apologetic to Wollongong fans who had to travel to Sydney to watch Matchbox Twenty perform after they moved their February 20 venue. It’s a blessing in disguise for me, as the Feb 22 schedule was already sold out and there would have been no chance to watch them live on this tour.

It was already close to 10:30pm when the band played their encore. I was conscious of my way home, so I left the premises as soon as the “Push” performance concluded. I understand Sydney Olympic Park can be a notoriously bad venue to take public transport. Thankfully, I was home by 12:20am.

As I exited Qudos Bank Arena, the final chords resonated into the night, leaving an indelible impression on me.

With memories created and spirits lifted, I left with a greater appreciation for the personal recollections linked with their music, as well as the enduring legacy that these two bands continue to create.

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