September Ends On A Green Day

Sacramento, California, USA; September 30, 2005

by Jason Warburg

A funny thing happened to me last Friday night; I went to a Jimmy Eat World concert and came home a Green Day fan.

Y'see, I've listened to Billie Joe Armstrong and company quite a bit over the past two years by default thanks to my teenaged kids, but I was always more of an admiring bystander than an actual fan. It was the presence on the bill of GD's current opening act, Jimmy Eat World, that motivated me to buy tickets to the recent show at Arco Arena and make it an evening with the kids.

It's a good thing I wasn't totally focused on Jimmy as the be-all end-all of the evening, because their set was abominably short. They sounded great, big guitar hooks ringing out over rich vocal harmonies, playing all the hits off of their last two terrific albums ("Pain," "Work," "Sweetness" and of course "The Middle"). But their set was a bare seven songs and 35 minutes. Opening for a band as huge as Green Day is right now is a thankless task; you just have to hope you make a good first impression on all those potential fans out in the audience… and then get the hell off the stage before they turn on you.

Of course, in true bitter-early-fan style, one snarky J.E.W. "fan" couldn't resist texting onto the cellular-provider-sponsored video screen at the front of the hall between sets something about how he guesses - based on the setlist - that the band's first two albums Clarity and Static Prevails "don't exist." Actually, they do exist -- they're just not very good, not to mention several years old. Which means, if you're playing a half-hour opening slot for one of the biggest acts on earth today, and have a half a brain, you don't play anything from them.

And then there was Green Day.

There was only one logical opening song for this show, and the East Bay trio did not disappoint. The furious opening riff to "American Idiot" had the entire arena on their feet in a split second, jamming, pogoing and/or moshing to one of the great guitar hooks of the new millennium.

It was maybe 15 minutes into the breakneck opening sequence ("American Idiot" right into the nine-minute "Jesus Of Suburbia," right into "Holiday") when it struck me that this was like seeing one of the classic '70s bands at their peak. It's true that I was probably influenced by the band's choice of preshow music, a batch of memorable AOR hits spanning 1977 to 1982, concluding with "We Will Rock You." But I also saw a combination of unleashed musical ferocity and untethered artistic ambition that made me think of those original guitar-smashing, epic-writing mods The Who.

Later in the set, Green Day confirmed their admiration for the once-upon-a-time "world's greatest live act." Billie Joe used a wireless mike for most of the night, but for one song late in the main set he went with a corded one, whereupon halfway through the song he started twirling the mike by the cord in big vertical loop-the-loops. It wasn't five minutes later I caught him and Mike Dirnt both windmilling their guitars. You think these guys didn't watch The Kids Are Alright about a thousand times when they were young??

No, they're making modern music, but that doesn't mean they didn't study the masters. The stage show -- which saw GD simultaneously mock and embrace any number of rock-star excesses -- featured multiple backdrops, LED screens, a mirrorball, flashpots galore and enough two-story columns of fire to make Gene Simmons grin like an idiot. The essence of the show, though, was a total sweaty commitment to leaving nothing on the stage that would've made Bruce Springsteen proud. Forty bucks for a ticket to see these guys, when tired acts like the Eagles are getting $150, has got to be one of the best deals on earth.

Beyond the nods to their forebears, though, Green Day offered up a sustained blast of riff-rocking music that defied you to sit (no one did). Bassist Mike Dirnt, looking somewhere between a refugee from the Stray Cats and a tattooed, leather-clad Ichabod Crane, bounced around the fringes of the stage like a teenager with springs for legs, busting one rock star move after another while never missing a note. Drummer Tre Cool is a round-faced, deadpan goofball whose looks belie his skills, one minute still and calm, the next throwing huge fills all over his kit like Keith Moon reincarnate, tossing drumsticks aside after every verse. The touring band also features a talented group of sidemen to help flesh out the arrangements, especially on the newer material.


Billie Joe Armstrong shares some sweat with the fans at Arco Arena.
Photo courtesy of Sacramento Bee (Brian Baer).

In terms of what was played, GD focused on American Idiot, for reasons both obvious (it's all over the radio) and artistic (the concept album approach more or less demands playing big chunks of it on the ensuing tour). The ringing riffs of "Holiday" had the crowd fist-pumping by the thousands, but perhaps even better were the soft-hard dynamics of "Are We The Waiting" and the simply gorgeous "Wake Me When September Ends" (kind of a given considering the date of the concert…). Here is where the whole categorization thing throws me off, though. On one hand, calling GD punk-pop makes good sense; it's punk attitude and anger melded with pop hooks and melodies. But at its core, American Idiot is simply high-energy, politically-aware rock and roll, music that burns with both energy and purpose.

The boys managed to touch on past glories as well with tracks like "Longview," "Basket Case," "King For A Day" and main-set closer "Minority," which hit new highs in both volume and energy. They nailed the encore down with the old nugget "Maria," followed by a straight-off-of-radio take on the disillusioned-youth anthem "Boulevard Of Broken Dreams," followed by a deliriously swaggering sing-along cover of Queen's "We Are The Champions." The coup de grace came when, after announcing "Champions" as their last song, Billie Joe turned to leave at the end and just stood there… until every other band member had walked off stage… until the stage lights had come down… until the crowd had yelled itself hoarse… until he finally turned back around to deliver a solo guitar-and-vocals rendition of "Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)."

Was the song itself punk? Only in the way it gave the finger to the expectations of the band's core following when it first came out in 1997. Was it punk for Billie Joe to stand alone in the middle of a sea of adoring fans crooning to them "I hope you had the time of your life" at the end of a rib-cage-rattling, high-production-value arena rock show? No. But Green Day isn't a trio of sweaty little wiseasses from the neighborhood anymore. They're global superstars and, as Billie Joe himself might put it, they're having a fucking good time with it. You got a problem with that?

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