Green Day remix
What is it about American bands and stadium gigs?
So many British bands get to this level and freeze just like the England team in the glare of the headlights, terrified to lose their cool in the haze of a million flashlights. A British band thinks that studied, sullen cool is the answer whilst an American band pulls out all the stops.
And Green Day certainly pull out all the stops. they don’ t miss a trick in a two hour set that starts off with a giant drunk dancing pink bunny and incorporates, knockabout humour, musical skits, a mental dancing drummer, endless energy and wild passion into an adventurous twisting and turning battlefield of great, melodic songs.
In a blur of powerful, anthemic songs, a stunning LED backdrop, hardcore rushes, massive ballads, serious commentary and daft stunts, Green Day arrive at the sold out 30 000 plus capacity Old Trafford cricket ground on a balmy Mancunian evening in a show of strength that seems to be beyond the mainstream media sense of belief. Whilst the band seemed to be ignored by most serious pundits and don’t seem to exist in the eyes of the heavy Sunday paper music press they have become the biggest group in the world. They happily enjoy the media sins of populist songs, a punk rock heritage and a fierce sense of humour. There is no fake studied cool, just a natural sense of entertainment that comes with a fierce liberal message that connects deep into the heart of suburban culture- just the perfect place to be delivered a genuine, heart left plea for some humanity delivered in a non bombastic and thrillingly exciting way.
The band’s stunning, almost two hour show is 21st century rock n roll perfection. Somehow they have managed to scratch the fabric of their constituent sound and made it work in a variety of styles that would be way beyond most bands. Forging on from their roots in the San Francisco punk rock scene, they have the adventure of the Clash and the Beatles- two constituent influences but have very much moved in their own no barriers direction without the associated genre fear that hampers so many bands.
Their song writing talent and ability to communicate with a huge section of the public has made them one of the biggest bands in the world today and they are using the space they have been given very well.
There are moments in this spellbinding show that are simply beyond belief.
Green Day have taken the emotional highs and lows of a rock n roll concert and turned them into something else. Somehow they manage to combine slapstick humour, goofy neo teen pranks, fierce pop punk, heart breaking ballads, blinding introspection and stadium bombast and sometimes all these in one song. They are at ease with massive anthems like ‘American Idiot’ that stick it to the right wing, pro war media jocks and was still a huge hit, they can deal out a massive ballad or a hardcore thrash or on the neo marilyn manson glam stomp of ‘East Jesus Nowhere’ a rumbling stadium glam workout. They can also clear the stage and leave Armstrong on his own with an acoustic guitar and he still holds the audience in the palm of his hand.
That they can also thread these into some some sort of narrative is their true genius. Their current album, ’21st Century Breakdown’, which forms the backbone of their set is a triumph in modern american story telling. They can do the ‘Abbey Road’style bits of songs made into one huge, long, monster song thing with ease- they can also do this and make it a mosh pit friendly 13 minutes of musical nirvana really underlines their skill.
The band can play tough, the rhythm section is superb and Billie Joe Armstrong is one of the best songwriters operating in modern rock n roll who, despite his mass success, still has the knack to communicate with the small town neurosis and paranoia that is at the heart of his huge constituency. Armstrong is a twitching presence with a low boredom threshold, disgusted at the world- his songs are stuffed full of punk rock polemic but they also switch from style to style with a hyperactive ease. A green day song may start off punk rock but could switch anywhere within thirty seconds- it shouldn’t work but it does.
All this is underlined with an incredible light show on LED screens that is easily the best I have ever seen. Stark, dark and comic book brilliant it subtly underlines the proto power of the songs and helps to fill the stadium with a sound and vision taking you onto a trip into the dark heart of America.
Somehow Green Day manage to entertain and blow your mind…
They are more than ably supported by Joan Jett who has been given some spotlight with the upcoming Runaways film. Joan Jett who still looks effortlessly sassy, sexy and cool at 51 has been touring her greatest hits set for years but still plays the songs with such a power and passion that they could have been written yesterday. Her supreme voice that sounds like it has been tarmacced by rock n roll cuts through the huge PA and the band’s glam rock n roll stomps makes her, oddly, the last survivor of that very British strain of glam rock that was the true sound of the early seventies. The youthful Jett would hang out in the glam clubs in LA in the mid seventies soaking up the British glamtastic rock n roll that was far different from the American glam that was to follow.
Instead of the clumsy appropriation of glam from the likes of Kiss and the LA hair bands British glam was stompingly dark albeit good time music with tribal beats and big choruses. No-one does this music any more apart from Jett, who adds a rock n roll vim and fire to the mix and has created a music that perfectly suits her no bullshit personae. A personae that has seen her lauded as one of the key mentors of the riot Grrrl scene and a cool elder stateswoman of the movement that is still strong at a grass roots level. Joan Jett wanted to play rock n roll on her own terms and succeeded. Her cover of the Arrows ‘I Love Rock Roll ‘- a ‘b’ side from the last great mid seventies glam band is still a totemic moment and one of THE great rock n roll anthems, when she does that guttural scream thing in the middle it still affects your groin in a strange and beautiful way, a way that is the key to all great rock n roll.
Joan Jett rules and its now time for us to acknowledge this.
Green Day, also have some history. The band may still look like teen brats but they have been around for over two decades.
It’s been a long time since I was compering a gig at the legendary and just shut TJs venue in Newport. They were the first band on- some awkward, scruffy kids from San Francisco playing a speedball punk pop set to 20 fanatics at the bottom of some long, lost punk rock bill.
Green Day that night were plying their trade in that curious gap that existed just after Nirvana. Cobains band had reawakened interest in punk rock and a generation of kids were looking for a Nirvana of their own having just missed out on the visceral, raw power of the Teen Spirit band.
Green Day had emerged from the Gilman Street scene in San Francisco- the ultra idealistic punk rock venue that started in 1986 a year before the band were formed.They were virtually the house band in the venue and part of the scene of bands who were shackling melody to the fierce power of hardcore. Gilman street was created out of the maelstrom of idealogical excitement that was at the core of UK punk rock and then American hardcore. An all ages gig, and a no drinking, no smoking, no sexism, no racism space that stood up against the conservative tied of rock n roll culture it still exists. Green Day can’t play there any more because they are signed to a major label but that’s fair enough- they don’t need this space any more taking the initial message to the stadiums of the world.
Hardcore had rewritten the American underground rules and had already spawned its own legends and its own its hardcore crews. Ignored by the mainstream and the mainstream rock critics hardcore has been the backbone of American rock for decades. Green Day, were never hardcore but were part of it’s idealistic take on punk rock and were very much part of the next shift- the Californian twist that added sweet melodies added to the hardcore rush. The initial holy trinity of hardcore Black Flag, Bad Brains and Minor Threat changed the way people thought about music and how it was made and propagated, they were the true punk rock moment in the USA. Green Day took this blueprint and mashed it with a love of the Beatles and created something else.
They signed to local label Lookout records and toured their way up the punk rock food chain, their 1994 major label release of ‘Dookie’ saw the band hit the mainstream powered by huge international hit single, ‘basketcase’ .The twitching urgency of the song and the their live performance was a perfect assimilation of nervy teenage neuroses, and the band have somehow managed to retain that youthful excitement with a rapidly developing musical template that is documented in tonight’s show.
Sure they still play their harder punkier tunes, songs played with such feral energy that the dumb claims that they are not punk are swiftly thrown out the window. This had became very much part of the debate about green day…are they or are they not punk.
It’s an odd debate and one that hounds anything remotely related to punk rock. A couple of years ago Mr. butter ad himself, Johnny Lydon, was sneering at green day for not being punk and whilst they are quite removed from the filth and the fury of the sex pistols both bands were straddling the great pop divide. Defining what is or isn’t punk is a treacherous game played by fools and people not sure of how to define the indefinable. Punk is so many different things to different people that to call it as one specific sound style or genre is quite foolish. The argument kinda runs that Green Days success and capability of writing super catchy songs rules them out of the punk lineage but surely it would be the ultimate in selling out if Billie Joe Armstrong suddenly pretended that he could not wrote a catchy song that transcended boundaries and deliberately kept his band underground to attempt to appeal to the ultra snobby purists who have filled the movement with their own petty rules.
The fact is green day write thrillingly catchy pop songs and deliver them with a ferocity that many punk bands seem incapable of. They are also the most influential guitar band of the last two decades with a whole bizarre cross section of young groups picking up guitars in suburban garages to the sound of Green Day- far more than pet bands like the Strokes. They hardly fit into the accepted story of How Things Are and hideous indie snobs run from them, scared of their capability to talk to a whole raft of people.
Old Trafford is a true triumph for a band that has it all. The scope in their song writing is breath taking, the switching of genres and styles astonishing and the way they manage it all within the parameters of the punk rock code is perfect. It’s the way that somehow they filter a whole gamut of pop culture and pop music through the sieve of punk rock and make music that relates to the fractured 21st century that is stunning.
And that they also do this with a great sense of humour and a willingness to engage with their audience that terrifies the snobs. it’s a way that is not only supremely effective but decidedly natural. The set is also full of pranks and moments of supreme silliness that are hilarious and engaging, Billie Joe is like a perpetual, hyperactive, five year old with mad staring kohled up eyes and a supreme warmth that defies boring stuff like rock n roll cool and its associated studied posing. The fact that his band rock so hard that it doesn’t really matter how goofy they become also helps.
Green Day also understand the value of acknowledging your audience’s existence and they also understand that fucking with very fabric of the history of pop, quoting classic songs at ease and dropping their own endless classics in there soundtracking the moment.
They are the ultimate small town band, for all the small towns in the world ganging up on fake city cool and winning. They are also thrillingly powerful rock n roll band the band who took punk rock to the mainstream and won and whose live show is the best stadium show in the world in 2010.