Green Day At Barclay Center, Wednesday, March 15th, 2017, Reviewed
Before Green Day’s set at Barclay’s Center had even begun last night, the band had Queen’s entire “Bohemian Rhapsody” roaring out of the PA system for no discernible reason, followed it with that enormously irritating pink rabbit come out to dance to “Blitzkrieg Bop,” and finally came on stage to the theme to “The Good The Bad And The Ugly”. Before he had sung a word, Billie Joe Armstrong was already starting in on his “hey ho” call and response stuff: Billie Joe doesn’t walk on stage, he jumps, he dances, he rushes in between the two ends of the stage and right down the middle down the neck to the middle of the GA portion. He is so in the middle of us, we’re happy to see him. He is firing on all cylinders between exploding flames and his now five piece band. Billie is 45 years old but with his dyed black hair, small features, and lithe and energetic pixelated form (his kids are entering their 20s: I bet they think their pop is Peter Pan on speed), he looks like a chronic masturbating thirteen year old. And he has the song to open the set with, the best political song of his career “Know Your Enemy”. A natural anthem and appropriate for the day and age (much of what Billie said was appropriate for the day and age, mostly in the lexicon of a child who has yet to graduate Junior High: he should consider a move into politics), man, did Billie pour it on thick. Between the call and response and the hook, he had us jumping, a little later he had us waving our hands in the air. Still mid song, he shouted “I need someone on stage right now” and brought out a fan to grab a hug and sing a verse before jumping back into the audience. Green Day are a tight little pop punk band with a handful of top tunes and a consistently childlike take on the world. Tres Cool on drums and Mike Dirnt on bass play follow the leader while keeping a steady groove for the entire song. The back up singer isn’t necessary, the back up guitarist is very necessary, and the keyboard player remains neither seen nor much heard. Billie beamed, the audience member beamed, the audience as a whole beamed, even I beamed, Tres slammed the door shut with a drum smash and before we could revel in the moment, Billie Joe was screaming “Get those hands up, everybody hands in the air…”
Opening was Against Me! I’ve seen them many times over the years and Laura Grace just gets better and better. The slim 35 minute set was excellent and the band, after all the turmoil, are back on track. A slow one around two thirds through was the only misstep. Against Me! played straight ahead, no nonsense hard rock and worked every moment they had. It was a good time. Green Day, however, there is a line between demagoguery and having a good time, “do you want a revolution?” the super aggressive Armstrong asks but his idea of a revolution is follow him, we all in this together but he is first. And while he is being nice now, his request that a fan put down his camera, “Look into my eyes,” he tells her. “I love you,” he has a history. In one of the greatest Billie Joe stories of all time, he was being interviewed by Rolling Stone at an outdoor café on Sunset, when a car pulled over to the curb and a man shouted “Green Day sucked”. Billie Joe chased the car through two sets of traffic lights, finally caught up with him, jumped through the window and pummeled the passenger. Whenever Green Day is screaming “No racism, no sexism, no homophobia,” throwing in “no walls” tonight, the bi-sexual man (he outed himself in 1994) there is no doubting that he’ll do it by force if necessary. The thing about Green Day is that they are tin pot fascist rock stars, Billie Joe insists upon your participation and it gets old and gets difficult. The man is a shrew and by the third song I’d had my fill of the antics while thoroughly admiring the singing and the band. Tres is a great drummer, very hard hitting, the reason the band don’t get sloppy is because he keeps pounding them stupid. They have been playing for years together (the most recent member joined in 2009, the lead guitarist ten years earlier) and it shows. As for Billie Joe, he has the best whine in the world, I bet he drove his step-father insane: he seems to string everything along into a sense of being badly done to: he turns self pity into an art form. In other words, he’s a grunge rocker by moral compass.
He is also a mess, The youngest of six children, his dad, a jazz musician who drove a van on the side, died of cancer when Billie Joe was ten years old, leaving the son to get lost in music with his High School BFF Dirnt. His Mom remarried and Armstrong drifted further away. He formed a band with Dirnt that eventually morphed into the little punks that could. It took awhile, Tres joined in 1990 and by 1991 Kerplunk was making impressions, though the Cali crew still couldn’t get a gig in New York City till Bad Religion had em open in 1994. If the band had an antecedent, it was the young Beastie Boys -wicked badass snotty punk kids with the knack who, more or less, grew up. The Beasties turned to rap, Green Day to pop punk. on their terrific, Dookie. They performed four songs off the album last night, nearly a quarter of a century past the date of no return. I saw em at some point in the late 90s and liked em a lot. I get Armstrong, the youngest, a remarried mom, brothers and sisters up to his ears: he was a hyperactive, sensitive, aggressive punk. I claimed elsewhere that seeing Green Day in concert (this was my fourth time), is like babysitting a ten year old by with ADD. But I think the claim should be widened. It is like seeing a ten year old boy period. Billie Joe is a ringleader and a lout, a chronic everything, He is always at full throttle. Most bands might ask an audience to join them on stage once, Billie does it three times. Most bands might call and response once, with Billie it is a form of Tourettes syndrome. He can’t stay on topic, he is a Trump like guy who can’t sing a song straight through, he keeps on fidgeting: turn on the lights, turn off the lights, look at each other, sing to me, sing back to him. “You make me so fucking happy”. We’re all in this together, but the this is closeted. Shout “hey ho”, shout “1,2, 1, 2, 3, 4”.
Occasionally, Green Day got where they were going. Last night he sang “Minority” (off the minor Warning album), and it sounded like Dropkick Murphy, yes, really, and while it was at first amusing to hear him singalong with the mostly white bread middleclass New Jersey weekend punks who had sold out Barclays, in the end that was Billie’s state of mind. Since minorities won’t join them (they wouldn’t join the Beastie Boys either), he’d meet them half way. His reward was a black lesbian and her girlfriend singing along at the top of their lungs. The audience loved it, rock nyc writer Jacob Fishman, who knows where Green Day ended up, who can hear them in the bands of his millennium generation, also loved it, and me? I could see a direction explicit in the song. But the thought process is so lame, Billie Joe is such a bloody fool, his idea of social commentary is “I am so sick of turning on the TV and seeing all this bullshit…” His thought process is a dead-end. His we are all in this together ignores the fact that we are nothing of the sort. If we were in it together we’d have shelled out an extra 10K and put up some close circuit TV so the people in the cheap seats (CHEAP SEATS??? Not hardly) could see him.
When you go to a concert, you are waiting for the inner clock of the set to reveal what is on the band’s mind, you are waiting for song proximity and sound proximity to reveal itself, but that never happens with Green Day. It’s not that Billie Joe can’t, his Everly Brothers cover album with Norah Jones proves he can shade himself, and his big ballads, “Boulevard Of Broken Dreams” and “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life),” -the former a multi tempo shout and share, the latter a natural born acoustic bye bye, even more so he performs a snippet of “Do You Wanna Dance” in memory of the recently deceased Bobby Freeman, proves he is more than what he appears or at least chooses to show us. But he gets caught up in the hoopla, in the Nuremberg Rally of the moment. The set doesn’t reveal itself, it keeps on circling back to make the same point.
Green Day are not a great band despite moments of greatness, and they are not a great live band though 19,000 people at the least will disagree with me. When your lead singer is screaming “Let’s go crazy,” it isn’t happening organically. Armstrong keeps grabbing us by the neck and shaking us. He is like Bruce Springsteen if Bruce was an American idiot, he is too thin skinned, too temperamental, he misses his dad too much, and he knows that as the youngest of six he has to fight for your attention. He got it last night but why bother?