CHICAGO -- Climbing the stage, tearing at the props, shouting at
the crowd, Billie Joe Armstrong moved like a man with something to prove
And he did -- have something to prove, that is.
On his band's current and 5th album, Nimrod, Green Day seem noticeably
less green than their more garage-sounding discs of years past. Some of
the edge is gone, some more sophisticated production work is evident. Twenty million copies of the group's previous albums have sold, and as the new wave/punk combo The Brains once sang, "Money Changes Everything." Try as they might, Green Day are different now than they were back in the days when they recorded for Lookout and played obscure punk clubs.
Now they play shows to sell records it seems, not pay the rent.
So on this tour more than others, Armstrong and his Green Day crew have
some questions to answer. Can Green Day still rock, or have they passed
their punk prime?
Frontman Armstrong's response came a third of the way through the set at
The Riviera theater, during the song "2,000 Light Years Away." After
anointing the crowd with rhythmic splashes of bottled water, he got a
lift from one of the security guys and climbed up into the closest
opera-house style box. After further baptizing the patrons dancing
there, he tore down the banner that warned concert-goers of dire
consequences should they decide to mosh or stage-dive.
Then in a final act of punkness, he threw it into the hungry crowd and
jumped back down to the stage to continue the song. And with that, Green
Day had made their case.
By this point, the 2,000 people who packed the theater were all ears.
The energy was running so high that security helped five people escape
the pit before the band even went on. Green Day delivered a 20-song set
filled with solid punk skills and poignantly prickly songs. The set list
was culled mostly from Nimrod and their breakthrough disc
Dookie, but was framed by cuts from their debut, 1,039/
Smoothed Out Slappy Hours.
The show was filled with moments of punk self-mocking, from Armstrong
planting his tongue in his cheek and declaring that his guitar solos are
"bad-ass," to drummer Tre Cool amusing himself during the opening of
"F.O.D" by sliding the length of the stage on a dolly, to the audience
Armstrong led the crowd through some heavy-metal head-banging techniques
and then, during an Operation Ivy cover, he invited a random member of
the audience to jam with the band. The lucky fan, who went by the name
"Bob," performed quite well, but was a little hesitant to leave the
stage after Armstrong, pointing to the crowd, told him, "There's only
one way off this stage."
As Cool did a drum roll, Bob did more of a trust-fall than a stage dive,
and, subsequently, Green Day dove into "Basket Case."
As the set closed with "Paper Lanterns," Armstrong strutted around the
stage collecting clothes that people threw to him. He shouted, "More!
More!" and they obliged.
Then, apparently layering for the Chicago cold, he donned six shirts
(putting a leg through the sleeve on one), a sweater and a sweatshirt,
two hats and a necktie -- which he tied himself.
While there was a steady age gradient in the crowd, getting older the
farther back from the stage you got, there was no shortage of young fans
on the floor and passing overhead.
When Green Day broke into "When I Come Around" during the encore, the
audience came back to life for one final peak before the show ended with
the current single, "Good Riddance (Time of your Life)."
Outside the venue a line of mini-vans, Volvos and sports utility
vehicles lined up along both sides of the street to pick up the youngest
generation of Green Day fans. While the members of Green Day might all
have kids of their own now, their music and their performance -- and
their fans -- show no signs of aging.
In a moment which has been repeated through Green Day's current tour,
Armstrong told the fans that he remembered some of them from shows four
years ago, when the kids were 14 and got dropped off by their parents.
"Now, you're like 18 and you're completely fucked up!" he said. "I'd
just like to say one thing: I take full responsibility for that."
Judging by the cheers of this year's crop of new fans, history will