Green Day + Franz Ferdinand
8 Aug 2009: Toyota Center Houston, TX
I wasn’t issued a photo pass for the show, but my girlfriend and I figured it was no big deal, as we’d just bring our cameras in like normal people and I’d finally get some good pictures to attach to one of these concert reviews. Sadly, it turned out that Green Day was not allowing cameras of any kind into the arena. This meant that we had to turn around, walk back to the car, put the camera away, and come back. All of which is a long-winded way of saying that we missed almost all of Franz Ferdinand, who were only given 1/2 hour to play as the opening act. We got to hear a well-performed version of “Take Me Out” as we were finding our seats and they finished up with “This Fire”, displaying a lot of stage presence and energy, and ended with a good night.
In between bands, the arena’s big screens displayed text messages sent from audience members, which was at least mildly entertaining. Then a person in a giant pink bunny suit wearing a Green Day t-shirt walked out onto the stage with beer bottle in hand. The drunk bunny wandered the stage for a good five minutes, acting bizarrely and attempting to interact with the crowd on the floor before collapsing theatrically. I have to admit I didn’t really get this bit, but the bulk of the audience seemed entertained.
Green Day and their associates (Jason White on lead guitar, Jason Freese on keyboards, saxophone, acoustic guitar, etc., and Jeff Matika on rhythm guitar and backing vocals) took the stage shortly after 8:30pm and proceeded to put on a two-and-a-half hour show. 21st Century Breakdown’s opening trio of songs also opened the show. “Song of the Century” served as entrance music for the band before they launched into “21st Century Breakdown.” Frontman Billie Joe Armstrong exhorted the crowd to get on their feet, letting the rest of the band vamp until he was satisfied that the whole audience was sufficiently prepared to rock. During “Know Your Enemy”, Armstrong took his guitar and wandered off the stage and into the crowd. He even went so far as to walk up the arena steps, soloing as he went, eventually landing at the end of my row. I may be a jaded concert-going veteran, but even I have to admit that it was pretty cool that there were only about four people between me and Billie Joe. And the guy at the end of the row got the treat of his life as the frontman got behind him, put his guitar over the man’s chest and basically played right on top of him.
Audience participation was the theme of the whole night. Armstrong worked the crowd nonstop, often stopping songs in the middle (while drummer Tré Cool kept the beat going) to get the audience to chant “Heeeeyy-O!” over and over. By the end of the show the routine was getting old. It’s great the first five or six times, but when it happens every other song (and it was almost always the same “Heeeeyy-O!” chant) you just want the band to get on with it and stick to playing songs. What didn’t get old was Billie Joe’s insistence on bringing audience members onstage. During the early portion of the set (which consisted entirely of songs from 21st Century Breakdown and American Idiot) he brought a young boy up, whispered to him, and had him fall down backwards, preacher-style, when Armstrong touched his head. He also brought a couple of girls up during different songs and tried to get them each to sing along, but they were far too excited to be on stage with Green Day to actually attempt to sing.
While Armstrong worked the crowd, the rest of the band diligently concentrated on playing. Bassist Mike Dirnt occasionally walked from one end of the stage to the other while playing, but mostly stayed in the middle, just to Armstrong’s left. Tré Cool was a workhouse, keeping the beat going all night even when Billie Joe’s audience interaction took songs way off the rails. It was amusing to watch him hurl his drumsticks behind him at the end of nearly every song. He must go through a couple dozen pairs of sticks a night. You can tell that Jason White has been playing guitar with the band live for a decade now, because he took 90 percent of the solos and guitar leads during the set, freeing up Billie Joe to basically do whatever he wanted with the crowd without destroying the momentum of the songs.
After about an hour of newish material, it was time for the band to reach back to the ‘90s. They hit pretty much all of their biggest singles, including “Minority”, “Hitchin’ a Ride”, “Brainstew/Jaded”, and a quintet of songs from Dookie: “Basket Case”, “Longview”, “When I Come Around”, “Welcome to Paradise”, and “She”. At one point there was a long introduction where the band teased a bunch of classic rock and metal songs including Mötley Crüe’s “Shout at the Devil”, Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” and Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” before finally hitting the chugging riff of “Brainstew.” “Longview” found Armstrong searching the crowd for a person that could sing and knew the lyrics.
The girl he brought up knew the lyrics, but was an awful, awful singer, just shouting the words out completely off-key. So he bailed on her after the first verse, sending her off and bringing up a guy who could actually sing and who did a tremendous job in front of an audience of more than 15,000 people. The oldies section of the set ended with Nimrod’s drag-queen celebration “King for a Day”, complete with saxophone, which led into a few minutes of the band goofing on “Shout!”
Near the end of the main set, the band played “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” and let the audience sing almost all of the first verse. It was a sight to behold, watching and hearing thousands of people sing along in key while the band stood and watched. The encore featured “Jesus of Suburbia”, and Billie Joe was at it again, looking for an audience member who could play the entire nine-minute song on guitar. He found one, too. This guy knew the song completely and played it note-perfectly along with Jason White while Armstrong and the audience sang the lyrics.
As much as I generally prefer smaller shows, there’s something to be said for witnessing someone’s dream coming true in front of your eyes, and Green Day provided that for several people on this night. The show closed out with Armstrong alone on acoustic guitar, zipping through truncated versions of “Burnout”, “Blood, Sex, and Booze”, and “Pulling Teeth” before landing on “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life).” I’ll admit that I got a cheap thrill out of seeing him include the little guitar mistake and restart that is on the original recording of the song. This of course was another gigantic audience sing along and I was among them. Also, I think “Good Riddance” is a way better song than “Wake Me Up When September Ends” and was happy that they finished the show with the former and not the latter.
Green Day has been an arena act for a long time now, and they know how to put on an arena-sized show. As much as Billie Joe’s “Heeeey-O” act gets cheesy, his boundless energy really keeps the audience locked in. The current show also comes complete with a surprisingly versatile cityscape backdrop that changed from song-to-song, and there’s plenty of flashpots, fireworks, and towers of flame scattered throughout the night. The band gives you your money’s worth, that’s for sure. I just wish that they’d throw a bone to the longtime fans once or twice a show and play a non-single track from before the year 2000 (that one acoustic verse of “Burnout” amounted to little more than a tease), or even better, from their Lookout! Records days. That’s a small complaint amongst a great overall experience, though.