On Thursday night, Green Day made their long-awaited official return to the road at the Allstate Arena in suburban Chicago. I was there both as a professional (you can read my full critical take on the show in next week’s issue of EW), and as a longtime admirer of the group whose fandom has waxed and waned over the course of their career. Below is a series of musings about the scene that was.
1. Green Day performed a handful of club dates leading up to their South By Southwest showcase, but this was the first show of the proper arena tour (dubbed the 99 Revolutions Tour, after the track on ¡Tre!) the band was supposed to start a few months ago. Though frontman Billie Joe Armstrong has been in rehab for the last few months, there were no references made by the band that they had ever been away. It was business as usual, without any nods to the news.
2. Just because the band ignored it didn’t mean the crowd did as well. There were a handful of signs held up by fans on the GA floor expressing their support of Armstrong through his recovery. One read: “You are always here for us, now we’re here for you.” There was also a guy who brought a cardboard cutout of Justin Bieber, a reference to Armstrong’s infamous on-stage rant in Las Vegas last fall—the incident that led directly to his rehab stint. (Too soon, dude!)
3. Even if the show wasn’t strictly sold out, the band will most certainly make up the difference in merch: The lines for T-shirts (and hoodies and hats and copies of Kerplunk on vinyl) were huge, which meant that the bulk of the crowd missed opening act Best Coast in favor of snagging gear.
4. I like Best Coast on record but can’t get into their live show. I’ve never really been able to figure out why. The crowd was polite but clearly had no idea what to do with frontwoman Bethany Cosentino.
5. Green Day chose excellent pre-show PA music, including Prince’s “Kiss,” Devo’s “Whip It,” the Clash’s “Tommy Gun,” and Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades.” Just before the band took the stage, Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” played out, and in a weirdly moving few minutes, most everybody in the arena sang along at the top of their lungs. It almost upstaged Green Day’s actual entrance a few moments later. Who else but Freddie Mercury could rule in absentia like that?
6. There was no definitive demographic at the show. It seemed like the bulk of the audience were teen girls, though there were a healthy number of more middle-aged types (many of whom were escorting small children). Armstrong asked if there were any “vintage” Green Day fans in the audience before jumping into material from Dookie, but based on reactions it seemed like a lot of those in attendance came in around American Idiot and hold that album pretty sacred. Props to the one old-school punk in a giant green Mohawk, though.
7. This tour is ostensibly to promote ¡Uno!, ¡Dos!, and ¡Tre!, which were underserved when they were released back in the fall. Though the set was top-heavy with tracks from the trilogy (five of the first seven songs came from the newer material), Green Day essentially stuck to their deep back catalog before bringing some new stuff back towards the end. You know who else does that? Big-name arena metal acts like Van Halen and AC/DC. (The AC/DC comparison became especially apt when the band dropped a portion of “Highway to Hell” into the breakdown of “Disappearing Boy.”)
8. That’s not a knock, by the way. In fact, I’ve been comparing Armstrong to Van Halen frontman David Lee Roth for years: He’s got the command of the audience, the boundless charisma, the manic energy, the well-placed kick moves, and an entirely insatiable drive to keep people happy. He’s one of rock’s great frontmen at the moment.
9. The new material sounded largely great, and the true diehards at the front of the crowd knew the words to everything and reacted warmly when a new song was busted out. The only song from the trilogy that received universal approval was “Oh Love,” which got one of the bigger pops from the crowd over the course of the night.
10. The biggest reaction of the night, at least initially, belonged to “Holiday.” You could feel the building shake when the opening chords rang out.
11. Armstrong invited a handful of people onto the stage during the show to share singing duties. The first came up early, during “Know Your Enemy,” and Armstrong pulled a girl dressed as Batman out of the crowd. (She exited with a pretty ballsy stage dive.) Later, he invited up another girl to sing the final verse of “Longview,” but when it was clear she didn’t know the words, he fired her and replaced her.
12. Considering how absolutely on board this audience was from jumpstreet, it’s a little weird that Armstrong incessantly demands screaming, fist-pumping, and call-and-response singing from his followers. Multiple times he insisted they go crazy, though all he really needed to do was go crazy himself and they would have happily fallen in line.
13. You know who really loved the older material, especially the tracks from Dookie? Mike Dirnt. He really came alive during those bits, bounding around the stage and bonding with Armstrong. While pumping out the bass line to “When I Come Around,” Dirnt was damn-near prancing.
14. At one point, Armstrong said he’d take a request. I instinctively shouted out “Christie Road” even though there was no way in the universe he could hear me from where I was sitting. We got “Disappearing Boy” instead.
15. “Disappearing Boy” featured nods to both AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” and Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child O Mine.” Later, Green Day covered the Isley Brothers and nodded to the Rolling Stones and the Beatles. Sometimes it seemed like there wasn’t a whole lot of Green Day music at the Green Day concert, even though they had 37 new songs in the holster, many of which still have yet to be played live.
16. There were also a million props, including a T-shirt cannon, a water hose, and some sort of device that shoots toilet paper. These instruments of chaos came on the tail end of “Brain Stew,” perhaps my least favorite Green Day song of all time.
17. However, they did “When I Come Around” shortly thereafter and erased any outstanding bad vibes. That song still has the same incredible power it did when the group pounded it out in the face of a mud bath at Woodstock ’94.
18. Of course, Woodstock ’94 was almost 20 years ago. Armstrong pointed out the band first came to Chicago in 1990. At this point they have been in the game a long time, though I get the sense that nobody thinks of them as an “old” band (in the way that, say, Guns N’ Roses is thought of in that way now). Maybe it’s just because Armstrong is still baby-faced.
19. That longevity has also given them a remarkably deep catalog. Here’s a list of hit songs that were not played during the Green Day concert, which was still stuff with smashes: “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life),” “Hitchin’ a Ride,” “Wake Me Up When September Ends,” “21 Guns,” “J.A.R.,” and “Welcome to Paradise.” Still, they did play “Going to Pasalacqua,” which holds up remarkably well.
20. The encore (and thus the entire evening) ended with “Brutal Love” (from ¡Tre!). It was a nice low-key exit tune that inspired people to put their lighters up, but I’m now wondering if that’s some sort of cornerstone song for the trilogy (or maybe just a particularly personal selection for Armstrong). What’s lurking inside “Brutal Love”?
21. Finally, I know the message of the evening was “We’re still your favorite band, and nothing has changed,” which is a perfectly reasonable stance to take. But the show began with somebody in a pink bunny costume chugging a pair of beers while the Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop” played over the PA. I understand the business as usual approach, but it felt a little tacky considering Armstrong’s struggles with booze.
“Know Your Enemy”
“Stay The Night”
“Stop When the Red Lights Flash”
“Boulevard of Broken Dreams”
“2000 Light Years Away”
“Going to Pasalacqua”
“When I Come Around”
“King For a Day”
“Jesus of Suburbia”
Were you at the show? Planning on catching the tour when it comes to your town? Let us know in the comments.
Read More on EW.com:
Green Day make triumphant post-rehab return at SXSW
SXSW: Green Day presents world premiere of doc ‘Broadway Idiot’
Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong talks drug issues: ‘I was at my pill-taking height’