By Brian Ives
In 2004, Green Day garnered some excitement for their then-new album by doing a few club dates, including one at New York’s Irving Plaza the day after the release of the album. At that time, they were coming off of the excellent but underrated Warning, an album that failed to make a big impact on the charts. Alternative rock had moved on from the Lollapalooza bands of the early ’90s, and it didn’t seem like Green Day fit in anymore.
Of course, that new album was the politically-charged American Idiot, which brought them back into the mainstream in a big way, yielded a bunch of hit singles and videos, and and launched Green Day to stadium headlining status, after years of playing smaller and smaller venues.
Last night’s Green Day gig (October 9) had echoes of 2004: this time they were a few blocks south at New York’s Webster Hall, and it was (again) just one day after the release of their new, politically charged album, Revolution Radio (the followup to 2012’s Uno!, Dos! and Tre! albums, which didn’t sell well; notably, the band didn’t play one song from that era at this show).
If the band is worried about where they fit in in today’s musical landscape, they didn’t show it: it was business as usual for Green Day, which is to say, they played an incredible show that left the jam packed club audience exhausted by the end of the night. Indeed, frontman Billie Joe Armstrong spoke about leaving politics and the rest of the world at the door. Besides, his politics are pretty much laid out in Revolution Radio‘s slogan, which he said was “No racism, no sexism, no homophobia” (which was on the t-shirts as well).
At times, you may have thought that you slipped into a time warp and landed in the early ’90s, pre-Dookie. Besides the fact that they were playing a general admission club as they did back then, they were playing some of the songs from the era as well (“Private Ale,” “409 in your Coffeemaker,” “One of My Lies,” “Christie Road”). Billie Joe Armstrong still patrols the stage with a real sense of joy and fun, still seemingly surprised that he gets to do this for a living. Bassist Mike Dirnt remains ultimate wingman, serious during the angrier songs, and goofy when that’s appropriate. And Tre Cool must be one of the most underrated drummers in music, after more than two decades in the game: he’s like a combination of Ringo Starr, Keith Moon, Animal from The Muppets and the Joker: he’s entertaining to watch and he never seems to miss a beat.
Together, they play with the enthusiasm of a brand new garage rock band. Of course, they look a bit older than they did in the ’90s (who doesn’t?) and they now enjoy an expanded live band with three extra musicians, but other than that, they still sound like the same three punks that took over the world in 1994.
Which may have something to do with the wide age range in the audience: there were fans who are older than the band, and fans who weren’t born when Dookie was released; all of them welcomed the Kerplunk-era stuff as warmly as the hits from American Idiot. Much of the set was based on the ’90s, although they often eschewed hits (no “Geek Stink Breath,” “Brain Stew” or “When I Come Around”) for deeper cuts like “Brat,” “Armatage Shanks” and “Scattered.”
Somewhat surprisingly, the band didn’t lean too hard on Revolution Radio, playing just four songs from the album over the thirty song set. But amazingly, those songs, particularly “Bang Bang,” “Revolution Radio” and “Still Breathing” were welcomed as classics. Which is to say that, when the songs were played, the floor shook as it did for the older jams.
Back in 2004, it wasn’t clear where Green Day fit into the music scene, but they didn’t seem to care; they didn’t try to appeal to the rap-metal audience. They stayed true to themselves, adding arena rock and Broadway influences to their music, and writing lyrics appropriate for young punks who were becoming men. They proceeded to conquer the world, for a second time.
Whether or not that happens this time, remains to be seen. But the fact that their audience, ranging from teens to fifty-somethings, all love Green Day’s early indie-label stuff and their monster hits equally, and already know the words to songs which have been commercially available for just one day, shows that maybe this band has outgrown their need for too much mainstream support. They’ll be around for as long as they want to be; judging by last night’s show, that is likely to be a long time. And whether they’re playing in a stadium or a club, they’ll be having a great time, and so will their fans.