Green Day 2024
Photo: Greg Schneider

Green Day Rock Out for Climate Justice and Human Rights

It’s downright heartwarming to see Green Day back in action, calling out the powers that be in 2024 and urging climate action. Long live rock!

Green Day
19 January 2024

It’s a chilly Tuesday night here at the famous corner of Fillmore Street and Geary Boulevard in San Francisco on 2nd April, with an unusually long line of ticket holders stretching down the street from the famed Fillmore Auditorium. Green Day are here to play a recently announced benefit show for Right Here Right Now Global Climate Alliance, the United Nations’ Human Rights division, and MusiCares. Proceeds from the show are to benefit climate justice initiatives including the UN’s effort to address climate change as a human rights issue, as well as efforts by Musicares to help musicians who have been impacted by climate change. 

“On the UN Human Rights side, all funds we raise help build capacity in their climate justice department, and for MusiCares, it goes to help artists impacted by climate change,” David Clark, founder of the Right Here, Right Now – Global Climate Alliance, tells PopMatters. “As an example, funds we raised from the 1st Right Here, Right Now Mini Global Concert last year went toward helping to replace instruments lost by musicians during the Maui fire.”

Helping the UN build capacity for climate justice sounds intriguingly similar to sci-fi author Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2020 “cli-fi” novel The Ministry For the Future, in which the UN creates a department specifically tasked with efforts to assist the unborn from the impacts of climate change. Hence, the fictional effort to fight a dystopian climate change meltdown seems to be materializing in the present thanks in part to Right Here Right Now. It’s also not hard to picture guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong, bassist Mike Dirnt, and drummer Tre Cool in an urban gang that teams up with Mad Max & Furiosa to fight desert wasteland bad guys to save the future.

Enlisting the men of Green Day in the role of musical eco-rebels, therefore, feels like a good fit. The trio built a rep as one of rock’s more socially conscious bands ever since 2004’s smash hit rock opera American Idiot nailed the decline of Western civilization with a lasting zeitgeist that few other bands have dared. Then there was their unforgettable performance at Lake Springfield in The Simpsons Movie in 2007, when Green Day played for more than three hours before trying to engage the audience to talk about the environment, only to find out Springfield isn’t the place for that.

Green Day 2024
Photo: Greg Schneider

However, the San Francisco Bay Area has long been known for being eco-conscious, so it’s a match made in rock heaven to have Green Day play the Fillmore for climate justice. Their new album, Saviors, continues to touch on socially conscious themes, as warranted by America’s ongoing descent into chaos. 

It’s downright heartwarming to see Green Day back in action, calling out the powers that be in 2024. They got started on New Year’s Eve when they played Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rocking Eve with Ryan Seacrest and tweaked the “American Idiot” lyric of “I’m not part of a redneck agenda” into “I’m not part of the MAGA agenda”. When a rock band like Green Day can provoke a disingenuous oligarch like Elon Musk into accusing them of raging for the machine instead of against it, it’s clear that rock ‘n’ roll still has a strong voice in pop culture.

Musk has made himself an arch-villain of the climate justice movement with his transparent efforts to platform climate change deniers on the social media platform formerly known as Twitter. He’s also been cheerleading for the neo-fascist Trump regime to return to power, which would lead to an inherent war on the climate with Trump’s “drill drill drill” energy policy. Score a pop culture win for the heroes of Green Day here against the vile Musk, who is now like a bad guy in a James Bond movie who doesn’t want to pay his fair share of taxes.

Local pop-punk band Ultra Q opens the Fillmore show, featuring a built-in curiosity factor of being fronted by guitarist Jakob Armstrong (Billie Joe’s son.) The band has something of an emo streak that’s less compelling for many in the classic rock crowd. But “Waiting” – the lead track on 2024’s Empty Eddy album – has a heavy groove and sharp guitar riffage that sounds pretty vibrant here as the penultimate number in the band’s 30-minute set.

Green Day 2024
Photo: Greg Schneider

Right Here Right Now founder David Clark speaks briefly during the break, noting that “Music has the ability to speak truth to power.” This, of course, is part of the long-lasting appeal of rock ‘n’ roll as a cultural movement. He references a line from “Saviors”, in which Armstrong sings, “We are the last of the rockers, Making a commotion…” The lyrics would seem to speak to the larger movement of Gen-X rockers who led a music revolution in the 1990s, yet 30 years later, they are now akin to what old timers from the 1960s were in the 1990s. Rock may be losing market share in the 21st century, but there’s still no other genre that speaks truth to power like rock can.

When Green Day hit the stage with “Saviors”, the Fillmore comes alive as the timeless circuit of energy between a band and their devoted fans is activated. The anthemic chorus strikes a resonant thematic chord as Armstrong sings, “Calling all saviors tonight, Make us all believers tonight, Calling all strangers tonight, Will somebody save us tonight?” Recent social media posts from the group have referred to the fans as “saviors”, with the song seeming to be a clever call to arms for rock fans to come together in solidarity for a better world.

“The American Dream Is Killing Me” follows as a shining example of Armstrong’s superb talent for blending cutting social commentary with melodic rock power, as the song speaks directly to frustrations with the corporatocracy race to the bottom that’s left so many Americans struggling just to survive. When he sings lines like, “My country under siege, On private property” and “Kiss me I’m dead inside, Who needs suicide, When the American dream is killing me,” it’s comforting to know that someone gets it. The whole world hasn’t gone completely bonkers yet since Green Day are still sticking it to the powers that be for their class war on the 99 percent. 

Armstrong soon lets it be known that Green Day are amped about having a new album out and that they’re going to play every song on it. It’s typically interesting to see a band play a new record in its entirety, and so it is here. Green Day are augmented with two more guitarists and a keyboard player for a sextet lineup to deliver maximum rock power. The LP is played in order save for “Saviors” being moved into the opening slot, with a sustained energy level that goes over well. The band has already announced a summer stadium tour with Smashing Pumpkins that will feature complete renditions of 1994’s Dookie and 2004’s American Idiot, so it feels special to catch 2024’s Saviors here tonight.

Green Day 2024
Photo: Greg Schneider

“Coma City” is a rocking gem that finds Green Day calling out crass oligarchs like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos again when Armstrong sings, “Coma City, Mask on your face, bankrupt the planet for assholes in space”. “Corvette Summer” is one of the most infectious rockers on the album, a simple yet heartfelt ode to the healing power of rock with lyrics like, “Taking a beating / Kicked in the head / Hit me with power chords / Before you leave me dead / Living in chaos / Sick and I’m bored / Take me to urgent care / Or the record store.” 

An instant classic for the modern age arrives in the form of “Strange Days Are Here to Stay”, an incendiary rocker with zeitgeisty lyrics like, “Ever since Bowie died, It hasn’t been the same / All the madmen going mental / Grandma’s on the fentanyl now / Strange days are here to stay.” The dystopian theme continues in “Living in the ’20s”, which Armstrong says “is for all you Qanon motherfuckers!” Choice lyrics include, “I drink my media and turn it into vomit, I got a robot, and I’m fucking it senseless, It comes with batteries and only speaks in English.” It doesn’t seem likely that there are many Qanon supporters in this crowd, but those out there with the sex robots will want to check out the message from Futurama’s classic episode “I Dated a Robot”, in which Fry learns, “Don’t date robots!” (since it inevitably leads to the tragic collapse of society). 

As soon as Green Day finish Saviors, they take the set to the next level by launching right into “American Idiot”. One of the ultimate progressive anthems of the 21st century, the song sounds as fresh now as it did 20 years ago with the way that the Trump MAGA crowd makes the Bush-Cheney regime look almost reasonable in comparison. When “Jesus of Suburbia” follows, the Fillmore is launched into rock opera heaven. Clocking in at just over nine minutes, “Jesus of Suburbia” is a unique masterpiece – blending punk energy with progressive rock ambition and Beatle-esque hooks in a gem of heartfelt social commentary that elevated Armstrong toward “voice of a generation” status.

When “Holiday” and “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” follow, it becomes clear that Green Day are also going to perform the American Idiot album in full, and what a treat it is to hear this classic album at the Fillmore. “Are We the Waiting” reportedly hasn’t been played since 2017, and its shimmering chords sound great here at rock’s most sacred sonic temple. “Give Me Novacaine” with Armstrong on acoustic guitar shines as another zeitgeisty gem, with its killer chord changes and a universal plea to be numbed against the stress and anxiety of this crazy world. 

Green Day 2024
Photo: Greg Schneider

“Letterbomb” stands out in a big way as a song that has continued to gain resonance over the past two decades as the American dream withers. But the uplifting Yogi Berra-style chorus of “It’s not over til you’re underground, it’s not over before it’s too late” continues to provide spiritual fuel for the political revolution. It’s a timely message here in 2024 against climate change despair, as well as national angst over how Merrick Garland’s corrupt Justice Department has allowed Donald Trump to evade any justice for his sedition against America on 6 January 2021 and be allowed to run for President again. But Billie Joe is ever so wise because it’s so true — it’s not over before it’s too late!

Green Day will not only deliver this timely message across the country on their summer tour—with American Idiot performed at every stadium-sized tour stop—but they’ll also register voters at each stop as a touring partner of Headcount. Maybe there’s hope for America yet, and in turn, hope for solving the climate change crisis instead of having to watch the fossil fuel greedheads drag us all toward a dystopian Mad Max wasteland. Long live rock!