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Review: Green Day at the Garden

 
Green Day photo by Carina Mastrocola; more photos here.

GREEN DAY
TD Garden, Boston, MA
Monday, July 20, 2009

Ok, let's get it out of the way first.  If you are the kind of person who believes in any sort of punk orthodoxy, tonight's Green Day concert would send you reeling back to your Weezer memories -- and to be honest, seeing this band in 2009 almost filled me with nostalgia for a younger time in my life when pondering why Green Day wasn't punk was a more pressing concern than, you know, global warming, the end of the music industry, the end of industry, period, and the impending 2012 Mayan calendar debacle, etc etc.  So allow me to begin by listing the litany of digressions: there was pyro.  There was aggressively styled hairdos that were not done with Elmer's glue.  There were backup musicians, some of whom played acoustic guitars (gasp!) and keyboards (double gasp!) and (yikes!) saxophones-- haven't these people ever heard of Fear?!  There were extended insturmental vamps, replete with drum and bass solos and even wanky bluesy guitar intros that were not, entirely, sarcastic.  There was even a song where they displayed on the screen behind them a montage of old school punk flyers, one on top of the other, ending with a few early Green Day flyers covering up all the Government Issue and Operation Ivy and Black Flag classics. Oh the horror!

But really, fuck it.  If you paid $75 to go to an enormodome to see a punk band and expected any adherence to orthodoxy, you are both a chump and you are living in the past.  The truth of the matter is the Green Day was successful where so many other more "pure" bands were not because they were, and are, at heart, a power pop band that had the music sense, and the fashion sense, to play aggressively and shoot for the back rows of the club (and then the auditorium, and then the arena, and then the stadium).  No one wants to hear ten billion bpm oi oi blastbeats reverberating around a hockey arena-- they want to hear some songs, and some "whoa"s.  And if, for Green Day, that meant slowing down and sharpening their attack, then more power to 'em.  From the opening salvo of tonight's "Song Of the Century", this band was primed to hit every song out of the park and make sure that even the dude in the back of his loge section was headbanging.

Billie Joe Armstrong is an unusual frontman-- his general demeanor onstage is kind of like the guy at the party who likes to act more drunk than he is.  In the middle of every verse and chorus he broke out of his well-formed vintage-y limey accent to to yell a "Booostoonnn!!" or "Yarggg!", as if to let us all know that he's a crazy rock and roll lout and he doesn't care that he's on an enormous stage in the midst of a carefully choreographed set that travels from city to city in a fleet of trucks and buses.  He let us know that his band's first visit to New England was a Providence gig at a skate park-- but I'm going to guess that, for that gig, he didn't break out the acousty and start into an embryonic version of campfire anthem "Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)".  I also wonder how long into their career it took Green Day to perfect the pitch perfect harmonies that litter every chorus of every song-- it was the part of them that always bummed me out back in the early 90's, but now I can really appreciate how much work and talent goes into these seemingly tossed off little power pop anthems.  In a way, the vocal perfection of Green Day kind of made me think of Dennis DeYoung and Styx.  That band's dripping stereo 70's harmonies really echo in the most climactic parts of classic Green Day singles, so much so that it doesn't matter what they are singing about-- who the fuck knows what he is singing in the chorus of "Welcome To Paradise", for example, all you can hear is those sunny ringing "ahhhh"s in the background.

Come to think of it, the Styx analogy isn't that far off-- here's a band that started in the densely competitive prog world with a flamboyant showy frontperson and a secret treasure trove of harmony who hit commercial paydirt with a series of high-concept rock operas. Replace Kilroy Was Here with the oh-so-00's American Idiot and I think the analogy holds, somewhat. Green Day seemed eager tonight to toss off the mantle of high art, however-- although they ran through the hits, there was no thematic brow-furrowing here. In fact, as the set wore on, the mood got goofier and goofier. First, bassist Mike Dirnt and drummer Tré Cool started on the groove for the band's breakthrough '94 hit "Longview", at which point Armstrong yelled out to the audience "Does anyone know the words to this one?" He proceeded to bring up three audience members to each sing one of the songs verses, in a frankly hysterical exercise in American Idol-esque amateur face-planting, both figurative (in terms of hysterically off singing) and literal (in terms of the enforced stage dive that ended each guest vocalists onstage stint). The final vocalist was the shyest of the three: for me, the highlight of the whole show was Armstrong having to whisper in her ear instructions that this is the part of the song where you repeat "Whoa!" in an "oi" cadence. It was classic.

And then things got goofier, as the band bounded on stage in costumes to play a remarkably bizarre-yet-faithful vamp through The Isley Brothers' "Shout".  It only made sense if you tossed out any sense of the band as representing some kind of political seriousness-- it was almost as if, post-Bush, they could go back to being a group of loveable stoner punk goofballs, which is really all that they are.  As Armstrong repeatedly fired one of those shirt-cannons into the waiting arms of his adoring faithful, you could either take this band's unpretentious arena-filling pranksterisms as the final nail in the coffin of any kind of "movement", or as the zany good luck of a group of well-intentioned rock dudes who, as they get older, still are rubbing their eyes at their own bizarre fortune.

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