Band Concert Review
Green Day: Mending Broken Dreams
August 10th, 2005
From the hollow lies
This is the dawning of the rest of our lives
Who is the greatest band of all time? What is the finest album ever made? Who is the worlds paramount songwriter? These are all time honored questions friends, foes and even would be journalists throw around from time to time. They usually make for interesting lists and heated debates, but in the end does it really matter? My friend and mentor, Lonn Friend, always told me to stay away from words like best and greatest when writing as one would need to have a inclusive wisdom of all things music, movies, literature or books to truly ever make such a statement and no matter how intelligent some us may be, theres no way to ever be able to encompass that much knowledge. However, I do believe particular films, books, albums and even bands capture a moment in time where they are the greatest of their given era. Usually the artists find themselves trying to always live up to this peak, where they could do no wrong. Look at the Rolling Stones, ever since the release of Exile On Main Street, thirty-three years ago, critics have pretty much ripped every Stones album (including Some Girls and Tattoo You) weighing it against that moment in time. If an artist is lucky, they will harvest a compelling work of art, the stars will align and maybe, just maybe, they will be heralded as the most significant and pertinent artist of their time. At this moment in time, Green Day is the utmost and most vital rock band in the world.
Green Day is arguably at their peak in every way imaginable; record, live, videos never has there been a drive and determination in them since they started out on Gilman Street fifteen-years ago. Let me do some grandstanding and state that American Idiot is a masterpiece and one of the best records of the last twenty-five years. Its up there with London Calling, Born In The USA, Thriller, The Joshua Tree, Elephant, Achtung Baby, Gold Tattoo You, Time Out Of Mind, Nevermind, Ten, Vs., Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Rush of Blood To The Head. I bought the album purely because of a storm of praise I heard during the first week it was released. It sat in my car for three days before it made its way into the CD player on a trip to Door County, Wisconsin. It remained there for three continuous plays as I was completely in awe at the aggression, candor, truthfulness, and rage expressed on this album. Pete Townshend created the rock opera and for the better part of three decades, no one has come close to touching the enormity of Tommy and "Quadrophenia. While those albums sent the benchmark for albums like American Idiot, Im sure Pete shined the biggest smile he had in years when American Idiot pierced his fragile ears, as his influence was preeminent.
I not only wanted to see Green Day in concert, but more importantly, I felt like I needed to be there as it was a pivotal moment in the bands history, my history, Americas history and the history of rock n roll. I was blessed enough to be granted access to write about the opening night of their summer tour at the Allstate Arena (outside of Chicago). Some of the finest shows I have ever laid witness to have been in this building; Bon Jovi, Dave Matthews Band, Billy Joel, Kiss, Prince and abundant others have had career defining performances in this building. Most acts now prefer to play the larger sports arena on the other side of town, The United Center, but that big bowl does not have the soul or history the Allstate has. Say what you want, but there is something to be said about playing a place with history, as the ghosts of those who have come before haunt the halls. Green Day is now one of those bands who cast their shadow on the arenas walls. A little after 8pm, a man in a pink bunny suit with a beer bottle came on the stage to warm the crowd up (Yes, I did actually just type this sentence and no, I was not high when I saw this show). Intro music was cued and The Ramones Blitzkrieg Bop was blasting out on the speakers of the arena as 12,000 attendees, ages ranging from pre-teen to those well in their 50s, swung their arms in the air to Hey, Ho .Lets Go!. I am sure that Joey, Johnny and Dee Dee were smiling down on Chicago from above. As the song ended, the lights went down and the theme from 2001 could be heard as you saw the band, dressed all in black, rush to the stage.
As singer/guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong stood atop a speaker on stage as the intro tape wound down, he hurdled off and began strumming his guitar like a bat out of hell, I literally felt the ground beneath me tremble...something that I had not felt at an arena show in 5 years. American Idiot opened the show and the crowd entered a state of hysteria I rarely see at any concert whether it is a club, arena or stadium. The band began with six numbers off American Idiot which is now considered a Greatest Hits record in itself. The ambitious Jesus of Suburbia is one of the finest tracks ever written in the fifty-year history of rock n roll and to turn around and see a bunch of high school girls singing along to every word and then turning to my left and seeing a woman in her sixties singing along to a nine minute epic makes evident the influence and force the band currently has on people of all ages. The band plowed through the entire show like a race horse, performing Holiday, Are We Waiting and St. Jimmy all in succession. During these opening numbers, additional musicians helped flesh out the American Idiot material. However, when Billie Joe cranked up the riff for Longview, only Billie Joe, bassist Mike Dirnt and drummer Tre Cool remained on stage, presenting the a raw three-piece band at their finest. Adding to the astounding performances were fire, pyrotechnic blasts and even condom balloons flying throughout the crowd (I dont believe these were supplied by the band). The main floor was General Admission and the lunacy most of us usually only see in clubs or in big festivals in Europe was right there for everyone to see. Like the best arena rock, when I looked up into the rafters, everyone was on their feet, waving their arms and singing their lungs out to each and every word from the most influential band (for better or worse) of the last decade. Hitchin A Ride, Brain Stew, Jaded, Basket Case, She King For A Day and the much underrated Maria were performed as an assault on the audience. Each song built momentum.
My only suggestion to the band, in terms of the performance, would be to play the entire American Idiot album, top to bottom and having a thirty-minute encore of hits. However, aside from that suggestion, their pacing was impeccable. Like Bon Jovi a decade before them, they dont care about what critics say they just want to give their fans the best show their money can buy. Green Day demanded attention and involvement from their crowd and connected with them like few acts can. Billie Joe made sure that no one was standing there with their arms to their sides as he commanded chants, hand clapping and relentless involvement throughout the entire evening. When a song would slow the evening down (and there were very few of these) he made sure the crowd became reengaged immediately. It was a lesson any front man could learn from, including some of the best; Jon Bon Jovi, Steven Tyler and Bono.
One of the time honored traditions of a Green Day show is where they pull three people from the audience to perform a song on stage, showcasing that anyone can play in a punk rock band. Billie Joe usually scours the audience for a drummer, bass player and guitarist. While it may appear to be tedious (this occurs at every show) the genuineness and shock on the fans faces is unlike anything Ive ever seen. He first pulled the drummer from the audience who embraced Billie Joe and kissed him. Next up was a female he pulled up to play bass and finally a very tall seventeen-year old for guitar. As each member of Green Day taught them a simple three-chord riff which the youngsters picked up easily, they nailed performance. As they left the stage Billie Joe called the female bass player back and handed her his guitar. Even though this occurs at every Green Day show, there is something truly distinctive about the look on the fans face. This is beyond priceless. Can you imagine your idol not only being right in front of you, but handing you a piece of memorabilia as well?
Falling from the stars
Drenched in my pain again
Becoming who we are
-Wake Me Up When September Ends
The first leisurely number of the evening was Wake Me Up When September Ends. One of the optimum tracks on American Idiot, the song was given a new light the day before as the ambitious video had its worldwide debut. As the song began, the lights dimmed and a sea of lighters and cell phones could be seen around the arena. What is most extraordinary about Green Days shows, besides the theatrical aspects, is just how damn good they are as a live unit. Three-piece bands should not be this proficient. When Green Day co-headlined with Blink 182 a few years back, it was clear each and every night that was the superior live band as Blink 182 limped through their sets each night. Now, I happen to think Blink 182 is a vastly underrated band who has taken each one of their studio albums to the next level, however, when they go out and play amphitheaters and arenas; they are drowned out to the point where it reflects on their musicianship. This is not the case with Green Day. They find a way to outshine their studio material by giving electrifying performances. During the guitar solo a stream of pyro oozed from the ceiling and I must say, the look of the crowd was picturesque as each and every person was relating to this song, this band and most importantly to each other. American Idiot is more than just an illustrious record, but one in which a generation of fans are identifying themselves with, which is an illustration of the albums weight.
The main set came to a close with a rousing performance of Minority, sadly the only song performed off of Warning. There are those who say there was no indication whatsoever that Green Day had an album like American Idiot in them, however, I say look at the punk masterpiece Dookie and the incalculable progression the band established by the time Warning came along in 2000. If you do not own Warning I strongly suggest you seek it out as it is a passionate and striking work that deserves notice. As the song was driving to its close the crowd was leaping up and down in unison with the beat of the song. Even though the band had the audience in the palm of their hand, Billie Joe was egging the crowd on for even more concentration, adulation, and involvement to levels I have only observed a few times before in concert. As the song ended, a deafening pyrotechnic blast left the crowd begging for more. They answered with a killer encore featuring the hit single Boulevard of Broken Dreams. Every song was like an intoxicating sugar fix that led to more lunacy, frenzy and insanity until the band was forced to decelerate with a cover of Queens We Are The Champions. In 1985 Queen had their defining moment as a live act during Live Aid. Two decades later, most of the press was raving about Green Days set in Berlin as it was the most significant and commanding of all the hundreds of performances. The performance at the Allstate was no different as the band strove through the song like, excuse the pun...champions. As a gargantuan pyro blast ended the evening, the stage became vacant until the man who had redefined what a front man is capable of during the show, Billie Joe Armstrong, stood there alone in a shadow of smoke and dust. He slowly made his way to the extended platform of the stage, which led out into the crowd. With an electric guitar around his neck, he simply began to play the intro of Good Riddance. The entire evening was shaped and sequenced so it could lead up to this concluding moment. Billie Joe played it like a straight up rock song, alone on the electric guitar as 12,000 voices filled in on background vocals. When the last chord was played, Billie Joe raised his guitar to the air as Trey and Mike sped out on stage for one last quick final bow. As they waved goodbye, they turned around and disappeared like Gods into the smoke of the arena.
I am standing all alone
Please call me only if you are coming home
Waste another year flies by
Waste a night or two
You taught me how to live
Great artists, albums and concerts endow us with the emotion of a precise time in our lives. I first connected with Green Day in high school when Dookie was released during my senior year, my sister will forever associate her senior year with Good Riddance and each and every one of the 12,000 in attendance at the Allstate Arena will cherish the memory of this show. When they get older and they learn the harsh realities that ring true on American Idiot, they will think back to that moment in time where the band came, delivered and preached politics punk style. When life brings them down, theyll search for that feeling they felt as they sang their hearts out to be part of a larger community. Maybe ten or twenty-years from now when they think back, it will help keep the passion and fire alive within their souls as well. Maybe theyll realize that while the show they witnessed as a teen was not the most important time in their life but the beginning of something bigger. There are lessons to be learned from American Idiot, I just hope we all take them on our journey with us.
There will come a day when each and everyone of the teens in that audience will have children of their own and they will tell them about how they saw Green Day during the American Idiot tour. With any luck, they will be drooling with envy the same way I hear stories of those who witnessed The Rolling Stones in 1972-73 with Mick Taylor, Queen with Freddie Mercury or even The Clash. At this moment in time, Green Day is the worlds most vital and relevant band. I for one cant wait for twenty-years from now when they announce a tour in honor of the 20th anniversary of American Idiot and my children can experience this album and comprehend how influential and intoxicating it truly is. By the time my kids are into music, Im afraid the album format will all be but dead. However, as long as there are bands like Green Day carrying the torch that Brian Wilson, Paul McCartney and Pete Townshend laid down for them...Im hopeful that rock n roll will always be relevant...proving that Green Day may be a punk band, but are definitely not idiots and far from it.
Directs you where to go
So make the best of this test
And don't ask why
It's not a question
But a lesson learned in time
-Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)