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Soundbites

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WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE: Believe it or not, the Goo Goo Dolls were once a pretty good band, albeit one that stole everything it ever knew from a better one.

Minneapolis' Replacements were arguably the greatest rock band on the planet for a stretch, and their leader, Paul Westerberg, was arguably one of the smartest songwriters of the '80s. The Replacements embodied the perfect combination of devil-may-care attitude and heart-on-sleeve romanticism, delivered with a healthy dose of the fuck-you-if-you-don't-agree sheen of youth.

In short, the Replacements got a lot of my friends and me through high school relatively sane, and that's not a fact that's shrugged off easily. They were important. They still are.

Buffalo's Goo Goo Dolls were never important, and they're even less important now than they were at their peak. They were once a pretty good band that wrote decent Replacements soundalikes that were a short-lived salve to the wounds of the Replacements' songwriter, Paul Westerberg, trying to become a platinum-selling artist by abandoning the few fans the band had by completely wussing out and writing adult-aimed goo. The Goos wanted to be the Replacements so bad that they made a career out of shadowing their every move, always a few steps, or rather, a few years, behind them.

Both started out as melodic punk bands that purported themselves to be out for big sloppy fun and nothing more, but both ended up seeking the big payoff (or maybe just growing up) and took a drastic turn for the mediocre. The final Replacements album (and the penultimate one, too, if you ask the right people) and the majority of Westerberg's solo output are pseudo-sensitive adult-oriented drivel that simply aren't believable and, therefore have no charm at all. The same goes for every Goo Goo Dolls album from the last 10 years.

Not surprisingly, the Goos' rise to fame began when head Goober John Rzeznik actually teamed up with his mentor, Westerberg, to co-write "We Are the Normal," from 1993's Superstar Car Wash, the first bad Goo Goo Dolls album--and yes, the song is even worse than its title would lead you to believe. And from that point on, the Goo Goo Dolls began their ascent or decline, depending on how you look at it.

If you were a shareholder in whatever conglomerate owns Warner Brother these days, you would probably say the band is on top of the world. The Goo Goo Dolls sell masses of albums, you see. They're reliably successful, and stockholders like that sort of thing. And Buffalo's finest are fine with playing the game, offering up fresh new Mats rewrites for movie soundtracks and chatting with Matt and Katie after "rocking" a huge crowd that drove from faraway states just to see them.

The problem is that the Goo Goo Dolls' music is so bland these days that the people who buy it are those very shareholders and Today show groupies, people who only buy three horrifically bland CDs a year, four if Barbra Streisand put something out that year. It's the safest music around, and the local Clear Channel adult contemporary station can't play enough of it.

Normally I wouldn't care that much. The thing is this: The Goo Goo Dolls are getting rich by swiping everything they could figure out from Paul Westerberg, a guy whose worst work was the template the Goo Goo Dolls used to climb to the catbird seat on the trashheap of well-paid mediocrity, and a guy who could probably use a fraction of one of the Goo's residuals checks right about now. The wrong guy is reaping the benefits, and it's an injustice.

Here's what I haven't mentioned yet: The Goo Goo Dolls' first several albums were actually pretty damn good. After all, they originally aped the Replacements' good stuff, and if you're gonna steal from someone, vintage Mats is a pretty good source.

And I also believe that they're genuinely nice guys who care a lot about their fans. At a show in the early '90s, at Club Congress, they charmed the pants off the most non-aggro mosh pit I've ever encountered and seemed truly concerned about the crowd's well being.

If Hootie and the Blowfish--also nice guys who play chalky music of no substance--had started off as a decent melodic punk band that became successful playing someone else's music, maybe I'd have similar vitriol for them. But they didn't, and the Goo Goo Dolls did. And maybe it's stupid, but every time I hear them, I get a disturbing mental image of Paul Westerberg eating tuna out of a can and petting his cat for some semblance of comfort.

The Goo Goo Dolls perform on Thursday, Sept. 4, at AVA at Casino Del Sol, 5655, W. Valencia Road. Colin Blades opens the show at 8 p.m. Reserved seats are $33, and lawn tickets are $18. For more information, call 883-1700 or log onto www.avaconcerts.com.


ON THE BANDWAGON: Delerium, who essentially craft New Age music for people who are afraid to cop to liking New Age music, modernize their stuff by adding beats and guest vocals from the likes of Lilith Fair queen Sarah McLachlan and Twin Peaks chanteuse Julee Cruise. The result is gothic, ethereal and rather boring.

Delerium perform an all-ages show at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 10, at City Limits, 6350 E. Tanque Verde Road. Conjure One and DJ Sidestepper open. Advance tickets are available for $10 at all Zia Records locations and the club, online at www.calproductions.com, and by phone at 1-800-514-ETIX. For further details, call 733-6262.

Bay Area singer/songwriter Noelle Hampton has got a satchel of finely crafted songs to her credit and a voice that serves to fully embellish them. Traces of Sheryl Crow and Shawn Colvin abound, but Hampton's got her own thing going on, too: a rough-hewn beauty that fits snugly in all the right places that won her invitations to open for Bob Dylan and LeAnn Rimes in the very same week.

Noelle Hampton performs on Wednesday, Sept. 10, at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St. Wendy Adams opens at 9:30 p.m. For more info, call 798-1298.

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