Live: Green Day Play God at Bowery Ballroom

Green Day Bowery Ballroom Monday, May 18

I love a good "The First Time We Played New York City" story, and Green Day's, predictably, is hilarious. "We've been a band for 21 years -- fuckin' thank you very much," declares Billie Joe Armstrong, sincerely. "The first time we played here, we opened for Bad Religion at Roseland Ballroom." Roughly two decades later they are ungodly huge, the rapturously praised 21st Century Breakdown the toast of newspapers and Twitters everywhere, revving up for a summer playing the Madison Square Gardens of the world with a buncha "secret" slumming club gigs, wherein they regale us with molotov-cocktail pop-punk tunes called "Christians Inferno," "Know Your Enemy," "Jesus of Suburbia," and "East Jesus Nowhere." Jesus, this is weird.

For a one-song microcosm of everything riotously awful and improbably thrilling about Breakdown, may I suggest "Last of the American Girls," which is like Tom Petty's "American Girl" playing out of 900 car stereos simultaneously, Flaming Lips-style, with lyrics so dumb they're positively transcendent: "She puts her makeup on like graffiti on the walls of the heartland," etc. Suburbia and "the heartland" as explained by arena-rock stars who only lay eyes on such places from the tinted windows of speeding tour buses. And yet, and yet, when that goofy synth riff kicks in on the chorus, I am on board that bus, this bandwagon.

A dozen songs in the main set tonight, all from Breakdown, with three auxilary dudes (two on guitar, one on keys) for supplementary pathos, mercifully light on the piano ballads. Multiple stage-divers bum-rush the stage to hug/kiss/butt heads with Billie before security sasses 'em and they dive blissfully back into the muck. I'm glad these dudes "grew up," got a wee bit political, aimed a bit harder, opted to write songs about things that are not masturbation. But after awhile I just want want to hear the songs about masturbation, and during a meandering, increasingly sloppy encore (your show's over when the drummer picks up a guitar, I don't care who you are), Green Day deigns to play a few: "Longview" is nearly old enough to drive, perhaps the suburban-punk anthem, back before anyone realized the suburbs were what you were supposed to be railing against. The show ends, Tre Cool throws, like, 50 drumsticks into the crowd, and then the boys head off to play a few more "secret" shows (a MySpace gig at Webster Hall tonight, and if you're just hearing about it now, forget it), and then Good Morning America, and then every arena in the continental United States. They are the gods the band they once opened for made their bones railing against, the gods they now deride themselves. "Fuckin'-A, man, this is my religion," Billie Joe thunders. "Fuckin' rock 'n' fuckin' roll, man."

In 140 characters or less: "Am I retarded, or am I just unemployed?"


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