CLEARWATER — It rained in sheets for so long Monday night that by the time the Goo Goo Dolls’ opening act, rock band O.A.R., arrived on stage, there was no time for a preamble. They started playing straight away.
At 9:30 p.m., when Goo Goo Dolls frontman John Rzeznik, bassist Robby Takac and the rest of the rockers finally sauntered on stage, they wanted to make it worth the wait.
“Broadway is dark tonight,” Rzeznik sang.
Everyone sprang to their feet.
There’s nothing more rock ‘n’ roll than playing in a downpour, but the start of a nationwide tour dubbed “The Big Night Out” calls for a fully attentive and comfortable audience, not one hiding from the elements. A big draw of Clearwater’s new, open-air venue The Sound is that you can kick off your shoes, sit back and let the music engulf you. Best to do that when your shoulders are dry and the grass is suitable for sitting on.
The band knew this.
“We almost drowned a few times today. Let’s have a good time tonight,” Rzeznik said.
For a group that’s been making music for almost four decades, crafting a show of wall-to-wall bangers fit for the summertime was easier said than done, Takac told the Tampa Bay Times in an interview before the show.
The crowd’s momentum from opening song “Broadway” didn’t carry over into the next tune, “Over and Over,” from the band’s 2016 album “Boxes.” But those distinct opening chords for 1990s sensation “Slide” pulled people right back in.
Rzeznik’s vocals were deliciously crisp throughout, if a little too polished for the more rugged tunes of the set. Takac was ever the energetic musician — headbanging his purple locks and kicking around his bare feet.
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Without screens at the amphitheater, it was hard to tell when either made eye contact with the audience, but they made up for it in other ways. Each utilized the space on stage to walk around and point at the crowd, especially Rzeznik. At the end of the chorus of “Yeah, I Like You,” a song off their 2022 album “Chaos in Bloom,” you felt like you were the object of his desire.
What more could you hope for from a 1990s heartthrob who wrote a deluge of alternative rock ballads swimming with romanticism?
As the show stretched past 10 p.m., you got the sense that the two-hour delay started to catch up to the audience. The later it got and the fewer older hits the band played, the more people began to trickle out. Compared to a groovy opening set from O.A.R. laced with lots of fan interaction, including the tossing of playing cards during “That Was a Crazy Game of Poker,” the more subdued crowd was a little jarring.
But for those who stuck around, there would be a reward later in the show.
A highlight of the evening was a stripped-back version of “Sympathy” featuring the group’s pianist and Rzeznik. The melancholy, apologetic lyrics were amplified by the sound of Rzeznik’s powerful voice. It was by far the most intimate and emotional moment of the show.
Takac also took a few turns at the mic on songs like “Life’s a Message” and “Lucky Star,” from the band’s more thrashy, rough-around-the-edges days. If anything, it was a reminder of how many lives the band has lived and the sounds they’ve followed. When we talked to Takac before the show, he touched on this.
“It’s just great to be able to still share this with everybody and feel like it’s something people want to be involved with still. It’s an amazing feeling every day,” he said.
Gratitude was a constant theme on Monday as the band thanked the crowd several times during the night. When ’90s hit “Iris” — the moment everyone was waiting for — finished off the band’s encore, it was time for the crowd to thank them with the loudest cheers of the night.
The chorus’ raw plea — “I just want you to know who I am” — feels relevant for a band that continues to churn out music, tinker with sounds and hope that fans don’t forsake them.
At one point, Rzeznik turned his mic to the crowd and let the audience finish the song.