Nathaniel really loves Green Day and he and Mary cooked up a plan for me to take him to the show here even though Mary is out of town. I’ve been to folk concerts galore, but I don’t think I’ve ever been to a rock concert, much less an arena rock concert before. I went armed with earplugs!
I actually really like Green Day’s 21st Century Breakdown. I was already a fan of American Idiot, but the integrated lyric and sound of this new album works even better for me. I’m a fan of The Wall, and the new Green Day has enough of a hint of that kind of story telling to work for me. So I my biggest disappointment of the night was that Green Day does not seem as enamored of that story telling as I am. The concert hopped across the 21st Century Breakdown hits, but didn’t take the time to play out the whole cycle. Still, technically the show was fantastic and there were a few elements that I really loved.
Sonically I’m happier listening to music in the car or with headphones, where I can control the volume and hear the subtleties. This experience (earplugs firmly in place) was a bit like listening to the music underwater. But to experience the music blasting right through my body, the lights in tight sync with the sound, the excitement of the crowd, the joy of singing along full throated… that was all something I don’t get in the car or beneath my headphones. It was a blast.
The band was tight, the staging (especially the lighting) nicely integrated, the backdrop screens really well executed. The whole thing added up to a full sensory experience that made time slip away. There were pyrotechnics throughout that more or less worked, though those sometimes felt superfluous to me, more gimmick than gritty. But when Billie Joe jumps and the stage explodes as his feet hit the ground, you can’t help but be impressed. There was never only one thing happening, the sound or lights or screens or pyro were always working together. I could only sense one or two missed cues during the whole show, it was an impressive piece of theater.
My favorite parts of the show were when Billie Joe invited fans out of the pit to join him on stage. A twelve year old played a parishioner to Billie Joe’s missionary during East Jesus Nowhere. Three fans came up on stage to take on the lead Longview lyrics. But the real highlight of the night for me was when Billie Joe invited a fan up to play Jesus of Suburbia. He quizzed the crowd, “who can really f***ing play this? What key is it in?” When he picked a girl onto stage he didn’t lighten the load: “You better be able to f***ing play this!” He handed her his guitar, sat her on a stage monitor, and set off on the song. Every once in a while he’d crouch near her and check her fingering or share the mic with her for a lyric, but wow! She really nailed the song! She hit those chords with power and the band backed her up. I couldn’t help but imagine with awe the thoughts going through her mind as she sat at the center of this arena playing this song she must have practiced a thousand times in front of a thousand fans and (more importantly) with the band. I’m amazed she didn’t melt into a puddle in front of us, instead she blossomed, stronger and stronger, only handing the guitar back for the final chords as Billie Joe wrapped up the song. “You were f***ing amazing!” he said as he hugged her and sent her off in a stage dive.
The politics also worked for me. Billie Joe would point out that songs were “not anti-American, but anti-war!” He introduced East Jesus Nowhere with a cry of “gimme your tired, your hungry, your poor, and we’ll see how godless a nation we’ve become!” Know Your Enemy was introduced with a local angle: “We recorded this song on the first day of the Republican Convention, that was here, right? … We got those m*****f*****s out of office!”. The crowd, an amazingly diverse group of people from 7 to 57 right around our corner of the balcony, ate it up. We were among friends. Nathaniel today remembered the feeling by saying, “you know, the vibe at the concert was so great… you could just feel the happiness.” Indeed.
So even though it was not what I was looking for from Green Day, it was an absolutely wonderful way to spend an evening with my son. I’m glad he and Mary conspired to get me to go, and I thank Green Day and all the fans, including our neighbors with whom we carpooled to the concert, for a bringing the energy to the evening. It was great! All that’s left is buying some swag from Cinderblock because I was too cheap to get it at the concert.