Green Day gig review
Green Day: Risen from the ashes of the punk generation, Green Day formed in 1989 in response to the void that American punk rock music had fallen into. We look at the Green Day live gig experience – have they sold out?
ACT I – HEROES AND CONS
Rock and roll hadn’t saved the world, and once the ‘influenza’ of punk had been ‘cured’ teens were more disillusioned than ever. Billie Joe Armstrong, Tre Cool (Born Frank Edwin Wright III – doesn’t he sound like a prophet for drums?) and Mike Dirnt (Born Michael Pritchard) fought to throw their teenage selves into the musical underground of East Bay California. Quite right too. The punk ethos was given a new face, and Green Day were the driving force, creating controversy wheresoever they went.
These days, however, Green Day are a band that create more controversy by how music fans perceive them as part of the music industry rather than their lyrics being – or not being, depending on your perception – fresh new political tales of the downtrodden, the desperate and the hopeful. Responses from general music lovers and loyal fans alike almost always claim that Green Day have sold out in their art. The day the eyeliner was bestowed on Billie Joe Armstrong’s face was the day the older generation of fans stopped listening.
What this generation, I think, have failed to understand is that Green Day have approached their art in a new media age. Why judge an artist for trying to reach a wider audience, to carry their voice more emphatically across this vast and noisy world?
’21st Century Breakdown’ carried on the Green Day rock opera style that ‘American Idiot’ began. Both albums are highly ambitious, illustrating the new creative direction that the band have embarked upon, having more life experience and political awareness.
In the last five years, Green Day have been a talking point on almost every American and European teenager. Whilst many erstwhile fans recoiled from the band’s new stance with cries of ‘sell out’, many preferred to use Green Day’s approach and lyrics to look deeper into the power machinations of America and analyze their own feelings of alienation in a world that included destruction and corruption amongst society’s other, more lovely traits.
ACT II – CHARLATANS AND SAINTS
Over the years, anti Green Day prejudice had seeped into my impressionable young cranium, and I had my severe doubts about Green Day as a credible band. I had seen all the live footage possibly ever shot, and recognised the raw passion and general lunacy that Green Day demonstrated at every gig. Were they to be a mere parody of their once mighty selves? Has the 21st Century ironically induced their own break down? My bubbling excitement at the prospect of seeing them live at their 2009 Glasgow gig was cast into shadows with these thoughts.
My, my. How wrong I was. The magnetic pull of the barrier made my body push and ache to be even closer to the experience. The Glasgow SECC is not famed for its intimacy. As with many arenas, the individuals who go are just a face in a sea of angst-ridden souls. And yet – pushing through the drenched bodies, slipping around on the beer-soaked floor, I had never felt more connected with a band or a gigging crowd. The Electricity sparked the minds of the undesirables, the young, the old, the strong and the fragile. That palpable feeling of electricity demonstrated the strong fan loyalty to a band that have survived the near-extinction of pure rock music.
The unification of band and audience was emphasised by each member of the band trying to engage in singing and general tomfoolery with those in the first few rows of the crowd. As I was lucky enough to be in the first few rows myself, each member of Green Day took care to interact witih me and my compadres in some way, whether it was through a smile as we screamed the lyrics with them, or with a blast of water from a super soaker directly in my face or an insane head bang. Billie Joe Armstrong picked members from the crowd that ranged from adolescence to middle aged. He strived to include everyone in the experience. A feature that is usually unexpected of larger bands in the modern age. ‘East Jesus Nowhere’ saw Billie Joe ‘blessing’ a 50 year old fan as he delicately sang, “A fire burns today of blasphemy and genocide, the sirens of the will infiltrate the faith fanatics”. In a time where faith in religion is left in tatters, his demonstration at this point I felt was very apt.
By no means, however, did ’21st Century’ form the bulk of their set. Their three hour long domination consisted of the classics of ‘Dookie’ that has loomed over the band’s heads as their first (most successful, before ‘American Idiot’) studio album, but still demonstrating their raw power and energy whilst reciting the likes of ‘Basket Case’ and ‘When I come around’. Even older than Dookie, ‘Going to Pasalacqua’ (featured on their 1992 album ‘Kerplunk!’) made a welcome appearance, appeasing older fans and defining Green Day’s roots. The days of ‘Kerplunk!’ are long since gone, but the music that Green Day played that night were by no means the melodies of a ‘sold out band’.
ACT III – HORSESHOES AND HAND GRENADES
The success of ‘American Idiot’ and ’21st Century Breakdown’ may have spread critical doubt in the music community but the themes portrayed in each album are essentially identical to those featured on ‘Insomniac’ or ‘Nimrod’, but focused where there is a structure, outline and a story to tell – albeit, obviously, more political.
Any band that fights to keep their voices heard and use their status to illustrate the truth of what’s going on in the world today is punk rock in the sense that it has retained its political and pro-actively confrontational edge. Record labels aren’t important, nor are arena tours. Green Day could have played to thousands that night, but by no way did it destroy the very essence of their music. If anything it made the whole experience stronger. The lost 1970’s sound of the punk era is not extinct, but it has evolved, with bands like Green Day at the forefront battling their success with the values of their music.
Each member seemed charged with an overwhelming amount of joy and enthusiasm that Glasgow night. A kind of passion and love that smaller bands barely even express these days. Green Day are now a far cry from the jaded youths of Dookie – they are adults paving the way for a generation to have hope in their hearts that a single gig or album can change their outlook forever.
Perhaps, when it comes to what’s mainstream we have to ask the question, ‘Has the band sold out, or did we as fans sell them out with our prejudice?’ Whatever the case, no-one can do Green Day better than Green Day.