Goo Goo Dolls A Feast For Goo-Goo-Eyed Fans

European jaunt reveals heavily female audience at root of former indie rocker's growing popularity.

MILAN, Italy -- The Goo Goo Dolls' John Rzeznik knows he's no ordinary-looking Joe.

Wandering through a hotel lounge here after being made up for a photo session, the comely young rocker looked closely at himself in a mirror a couple of times to see if everything looked perfect.

And he's got a good reason for wanting to look perfect.

"Our audience is 70 percent women, many teen-age girls, and then a few guys," Rzeznik said, with demographic insight perhaps rare among rock 'n' rollers.

While that kind of attention has not always worked in the band's favor among their more hardcore followers, the thrice Grammy-nominated Goo Goo Dolls have risen from indie rock icons a few years back to a bonafide mainstream success. Much of that is due to their more polished image and sound including the hit single "Iris" (RealAudio excerpt), from the film "City of Angels" and the band's recent album, Dizzy Up the Girl.

And Rzeznik is not offering excuses for that success. He's just glad to be a part of it.

"Many bands' biggest hits were very mellow songs," he explained, answering critics of the Goo Goo Dolls' newer, more sentimental tracks. "Ballads cross over. Straight rock songs never get as big commercially as ballads do, but they fit into a larger body. To me, they're necessary components of making well-rounded albums."

In Italy, where the Buffalo, N.Y., power-pop trio -- which includes Robby Takac, 33, on bass and Mike Malinin, 31, on drums -- recently spent a week playing shows, talking on radio and TV and speaking to the press, the attention being lavished on them is no less intense than it is elsewhere.

Much of that attention has focused on the blond singer/guitarist's physical gifts. And Rzeznik, 31, seems OK with that. "Fine with me. Looking at a room full of women is far better than looking at a room full of fat guys," he said.

But Rzeznik also underplays the special notice he gets from women. "This is a part of what I do as a musician," he said. "I'm not that concerned about who's gonna listen to me; I'm thankful for everyone that's gonna listen to my music."

"I'm not trying to change the whole world with my music, I'm just making my personal statement, and it's an honest statement, so I don't give a sh-- if it's not cool. We'll see what happens," he added.

On Tuesday, playing to a packed crowd in a local Milan club, the Goo Goo Dolls proved that while music may be the main point, other, more visual, factors most certainly anchor the band's appeal.

Rzeznik, dressed in a white vest and black leather pants, grabbed the lion's share of the attention, caterwauling across the stage as the band drew heavily from the rock side of their repertoire with songs such as the new single "Slide."

Even when bassist Takac took the mic to sing "January Friend," the blond guitarist seemed to bask in the spotlight.

The audience, true to Rzeznik's demographic breakdown, was composed mostly of girls in their late teens and early 20s. But there were a few older, male listeners in the crowd.

"I know them because of 'Iris,'" said male club-goer Ruggero Diaferio, 27. "And I'm obviously not interested in the singer's beauty. They have been a good surprise anyway. Their concert is full of energy and not only made up of melodic tunes, as one would imagine thinking of 'Iris.'"

Still, mellow tunes such as the 1996 hit "Name" (RealAudio excerpt) from the album A Boy Named Goo generated a healthy response from the audience. And when the band hit the opening chords of "Iris," their other radio-friendly pop song, it set off a frenzy of screams and hoisted lighters.

The Goo Goo Dolls, who've been nominated for three Grammy awards, including Best Record and Best Song of the Year, will participate in the awards ceremony on Feb. 24. Then, in late March, they'll be featured as an opening act for the Rolling Stones' current U.S. tour. After that, they'll launch a U.S. tour in April alongside alternative poppers New Radicals.

The band has no immediate plans to work on new material, Rzezink said. "We're not gonna record anything for a while, not until after 2000. I'm gonna try to write some songs on the road. I've never done that before. I'll have to, because there's no time. If I don't like any of what I've written on tour, I'll go home and I'll do some writing there."

As for their reception in Europe since the release of "Iris," the band has no complaints.

"Europe has been great so far. We sold out many shows here. I don't know if we could ever become a big band here, because here only dance music seems to be popular. But it's better than nothing. The audience here are way more affectionate. They love you."