Never in a million years would I have thought Billie Joe Armstrong, the lead singer, guitarist, and focal point of the pop/punk band Green Day, would go full-blown lounge lizard. The Apocalypse is upon us….
Green Day was an exciting band when they started nearly 17 years ago. They thumbed their noses at the world and put out fast, melodic, angry songs that reflected the plight of three snot-nosed young’uns trying to make names for themselves. When Dookie, their first record for Warner Brothers, became a smash hit, people from the underground screamed “Sellouts!” That wasn’t quite fair, since the band kept its appeal and its sound intact. Three more albums followed, each with its cadre of hits, and the band found themselves headlining arena shows. The success was nice, the trio had some money for themselves, and life was good.
You all know the story about the way American Idiot came about, right? The abridged version: band almost disbands, records songs for a new album, loses the master tape of said songs, and then decides to start from scratch. AI was one of the best albums of last year, and the subsequent tour was the band’s most successful. Feeling the rush of success, Billie Joe, bassist Mike Dirnt and drummer Tré Cool decided to keep the tour machine going. And on this particular night, the first of September, the boys decided to do their first ever North American stadium gig, filling up Giants Stadium with over 55,000 worshippers.
Full disclosure: I saw the band in 2004 on this tour. Musically, they were very good, as they continue to be. But the nagging problem with that show resurfaced at this one multiplied by a thousand. Read on:
As successful as his album is and as his band have become, methinks Armstrong remains an insecure individual. To elicit cheers, he pulled out every rock star trick in the book—and the worst part of it is, he didn’t NEED to do that. The crowd was with him and his band from the get-go. He screamed “NEW JERSEY!” once, then mentioned it at least twice during damn near every other song. I think that most of the crowd knew where they were, and all he was doing was reaching for the cheap cheer - and the crowd obliged every time. He started a wave at the beginning of the band’s set, and he kept pointing to various parts of the stadium and got fans to cheer loudly. This was ongoing and completely distracting.
Research shows that only three Greed Day songs, in their 10-disc catalog, run over five minutes long: “Misery” (from Warning), and the two nine-minute-plus epics from Idiot: “Jesus of Suburbia” and “Homecoming”. The band only played “Jesus”. As any fan knows, most Green Day songs are short, taut, and tight. So trying to figure the math, could someone please tell me why the band played only 19 songs during their two hour set? Oh yes… now I remember.
Ever heard a nine-minute version of “Hitchin’ a Ride”? If not, see the show. Five of those minutes were a total waste, as Armstrong ran from one side of the stage to another and pointed at the crowd, who responded in its usual Pavlovian fashion. Let’s see hmm ahh - the gap between “Brain Stew” and “Jaded” was so long, I could have toured half of NEW JERSEY and have been back before “Jaded” started. Seems that Armstrong, with the help of one lucky fan, was too busy grabbing super-soakers and wetting the crowd down. Oh, and let’s not forget the crowning moment of the show. I don’t even remember what song it was, but for some reason, Billie Joe found it necessary to start groping his crotch - first, outside his pants, then for variety, after sticking his hand down his pants, complete with orgasmic moaning. My concert bud, a 16-year old girl who is a friend of the family, was disconcerted. I was not amused, to say the least. Doesn’t the idiot (pun fully intended) know that crowds that go to see the band include parents taking their young kids, and not just 20-somethings? Lastly, BJA dedicated “Wake Me Up When September Ends” to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. It was a sweet, honest gesture, but halfway through the song, he just couldn’t help himself: “NEW JERSEY!”
Sadly, Armstrong’s antics/theatrics distracted and detracted from what otherwise would have been an excellent show. The opening trio of “American Idiot”, “Jesus of Suburbia”, and “Holiday” were wonderful that is, when Armstrong was playing it straight. Oldies such as “Longview” and “Basket Case” were crisply performed, and still have the all their jagged teenage angst packed in. Other highlights included “She”, “Maria”, and “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”. The only delay that was worth it was when the band covered Operation Ivy’s “Knowledge”, and Armstrong found three kids in the crowd to come up on stage and finish the song off on the band’s instruments. And speaking of instruments, Dirnt’s bass work and backing vocals were an underrated part of the evening. And Cool put in a yeoman-like effort as well.
Something is terribly wrong when a band like Green Day plays only 19 songs in a shade over two hours. And it’s more wrong when the reason is right before your very eyes: Billie Joe Armstrong tipping too far towards Las Vegas-style smarmy showman. But though seeing Green Day live (on this tour) is a frustrating experience, the musicianship and sensibilities of the rest of the band are enough to counter the drawbacks. Still Billie, if you’re practicing for a career in show biz, here’s a tip: stick to the songs and don’t give up your night job. You’re better than that.