The Goo Goo Dolls hit Chicago for the second time this season last Thursday, promoting their latest disc Gutterflower on Warner Bros. Records. The band was in solid electric form as they played to a packed pavilion (but empty lawn) at the Tweeter Center on Aug. 22.

While the last time around found them at the small Chicago Riviera Theatre, singer Johnny Rzeznik was very much at home on the giant Tweeter stage, chatting with the audience between songs and joking about the number of bras that appeared on stage (many with notes attached). The band had the crowd on its feet with its hits "Slide," "Black Balloon" and "Iris" (all from the Dizzy Up the Girl album) as well as with material from Gutterflower. The set was bookended with Gutterflower tracks, from the pounding crunch of "Big Machine" to the last song of their regular set, the infectious "na-na-na" chorused "What a Scene." The band closed with a rousing run-through of Tom Petty's "American Girl" and left fans thirsting for more.

It was a night of cover songs – early opener Vanessa Carlton got her band rocking at the end of her set to the Rolling Stones' "Paint It Black," and Third Eye Blind tried a cover song, too – and proved that they should never attempt a Led Zeppelin song (a brief snippet of "Stairway to Heaven" proved Stephan Jenkins hasn't the vocal range to try this outside of the shower). Third Eye Blind did, however, wow the crowd when Jenkins left the stage to sing their last hit "Never Let You Go" from the middle of the audience. They also kept fans rocking with the hits from their self-titled 1997 breakthrough album, "Semi-Charmed Life" and "How's It Going to Be" and demoed some new material from an upcoming album that sounded more promising than most anything from their last disc, 1999's Blue.

MCA has put together a disc of generic '80s music in 80's Energy. I say generic because the disc is loaded with hits – but performed by a slew of unknown dance artists, rather than the original artists that made the songs famous. DJ Johnny Budz mixed the whole stew together into something resembling a dance club party. Artists such as DJ Sammy & Yanou, Akyra, Flip & Fill, Collage, Goldfinger and Mario Lopez handle adding a thumping beat, modern synthesizer sounds and new vocals to songs, such as "Here Comes the Rain Again" (Eurythmics), "Careless Whisper" (Wham!), "(I Just) Died in Your Arms" (Cutting Crew), "Don't You Want Me" (Human League) and more.


Def Leppard - X Def Leppard

After 25 years and 10 albums, the boys in Def Leppard are not boys anymore…but they still can rock hard. Their latest disc, however, rocks less than usual. Collaborations with songwriters who've worked with Aerosmith, Britney Spears and Backstreet Boys help give much of this disc a decidedly pop attack.

On ballads like "Long Way to Go," with a touch of Spanish guitar, big orchestral backing and their always huge vocal harmonies, these hard rock stalwarts get so neutered that they sound like they've crafted a latter day Chicago hit. And if that one doesn't get them on adult contemporary radio, they offer another paint-by-numbers love song in "Let Me Be the One" later in the disc.

But for the most part, X continues the band's long tradition of crafting singalong hard rock hits with the best metal harmony vocals on the planet. The treacle of "Long Way to Go" gives way to the guitar strut of "Four Letter Word" which extols the virtues of love over lust with the kind of energy that sent Hysteria to the top of the charts. "Love Don't Lie" and "Now" also continue the big guitar-big vocals-big energy tradition of Def Leppard, while "Gravity" infuses some modern day funk into their repetoire. It all opens with "Now," a slowly building promise of passion backed by snapping drums, vital, sinuous guitar and full-band harmonies.

Bottom line: The Leppard has filed down its claws for radio, but they're still sharp enough to scratch the itch of fans.


Nonpoint - Development Nonpoint

There are a host of hard rock aggro bands on the road these days, from rock radio accessible acts like Saliva and Linkin Park to more extreme heavy bands like Staind, Static-X and Fear Factory. Nonpoint stands in the middle of the "heavy" factor in this crowd with its sophomore release, Development.

With twining guitar attacks, a crashing rhythm section and scream-to-arms vocals, Development launches with its best track, the title song "Development." Crunching riffs, plaintive vocals and a funk-derived bass lead into a darkly aggressive chorus – a perfect, impossible-to-ignore hard rock exercise. That's followed by the brutal but equally catchy grind of "Circles." While things eventually begin to turn into ear-grind soup – similar vocal lines and guitar sounds make one song start blurring into the next angry distortion fest — the first half of Development offers some hard rock gems.

Nonpoint plays the Liquid Mix Tour on Labor Day, Sept. 2, with Jay-Z, Hoobastank, N.E.R.D., 311, and Nappy Roots.