by Joshua Kurp
The Studio at Webster Hall
Thursday, October 27
Better Than: Hearing blink-182 play “Hybrid Moments” three times.
“We’re gonna do an older song,” Billie Joe Armstrong, dressed as Jack Skellington, told the packed-tight audience at the Studio at Webster Hall around 10 songs into Green Day’s two-hour set on Thursday night. The show had begun promisingly enough with a cover of “Monster Mash,” sung vaguely to the tune of “Basket Case,” followed by almost all-new material.
Then, 40 minutes in, the so-called “older song.” It turned out to be “Stop, Drop, and Roll,” the title track from the 2008 album by Green Day spinoff Foxboro Hot Tubs. For those up front—the younger, moshing fans—this was received rapturously; for those in the middle and back, the ones who may have seen Green Day during the Dookie tour, hearing a song from three years ago referred to as “older” was met with an awkward, false-anticipatory shuffle. Last night’s surprise pre-Halloween show was an opportunity for Green Day to test out new material in front of a devoted audience, with security so tight that photos were forbidden; even the set lists were supposedly ripped up the second the concert ended.
(It was also a chance to play covers of “Blue Moon of Kentucky” and the Misfits’ “Hybrid Moments” (performed three times, presumably because the show was being recorded and they needed a perfect take—good thing it’s a perfect song); the band wove a line or two from Pulp’s “Common People” into one of the new songs, too.)
For a while, and like the songs themselves, this was fine. The new material sounded like outtakes from Warning, an album that will get the critical reevaluation it deserves some day; there was even a song that might as well have been called “Minority, Pt. 2.” (It had shittier lyrics.) In a small, live setting, removed from the overblown production values of American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown, Green Day are a solid, mature cowpunk band, making the whole “are they pop, or are they punk?” debate that once surrounded them laughable in retrospect. Armstrong sang without a snarl, reminiscent of the change his hero, Paul Westerberg, went through between Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash and All Shook Down, while steady drummer Tre Cool, in a pink fairy costume, was kept low in the mix. Mike Dirnt, on the other hand, remained the backbone of the group, his basslines technically proficient, yet seemingly ramshackle at the same time.
But man, those lyrics. Once Billie Joe started writing supposedly meaningful songs, his words stopped meaning anything. The band played new material for roughly 60-75 minutes, and only one line from that chunk of the show caught my notice: “It’s a make out party to another dimension,” from “Make Out Party.” (Maybe Green Day and Weezer, the band that gave us “Can’t Stop Partying,” are in some secret contest on which 40-year-old can write the more embarrassing and creepy song?) Another new cut was introduced as being about sex. I guess it’s nice that they’re not writing about the downfall of America anymore, but whatever words Billie sang during the first set, they were received like white-noise, and made me wish the band could write something as brilliant in its simplicity as “I was a young boy that had big plans/ But now I’m just another shitty old man” again. But Green Day doesn’t do simple anymore.
Fine, I’m That Guy. I’m That Guy about Green Day. I last saw the band in 2005 during the American Idiot tour, when I was 18, and had no intention of ever seeing them again. Dookie was one of my first favorite albums, and things only got better with Insomniac, Nimrod (pretty sure I cried when Seinfeld used “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” during its clip show), Shenanigans, and yes, Warning. (And the Angus soundtrack, for “J.A.R.”) Then the drop, when I would hear “American Idiot” played on the radio, feel old, and think to myself, “They totally sold out, man.”
That is , of course, not accurate, and it was only my stupid teenage misconceptions of what a punk band “should” be that made me believe it in the first place. (They never really were a punk band, actually; I just wanted them to be one, so I could say I liked a punk band.) Years later, I’ve come to appreciate American Idiot on its own, particularly “Jesus of Suburbia” and “Holiday,” which would be one of the best rock radio singles of the past decade, if not for the unforgivable “representative from California” break.
That being said, I really wanted to hear “Paper Lanterns,” and I sort of got my wish. After a brief encore, the band launched into “Murder City,” one of the few enjoyable songs from Breakdown, followed by a riotous rendition of “Letterbomb.” Then the good stuff: “Hitchin’ a Ride,” “Geek Stink Breath,” “She,” “Welcome to Paradise,” “2,000 Light Years Away” (which was stretched out to include some “hey-oh’s”), and finally, “Going to Pasalacqua.” The band was going in reverse chronological order, from the overblown “Where will all the martyrs go when the virus cures itself?” to the understated “Would I last forever?/ You and I together, hand and hand.” Billie Joe is in his 40s, and expecting him to still be a hopeless romantic is probably a tall order; he sounded distant and removed from the lyrics he’d penned years ago. But the enthusiasm from the crowd, which had decreased by the end of the first set and came back at this point, more than made up for it. Hearing that teenage-retrospective set at the end of show confirmed that maybe we weren’t totally wasting our time staring at the Dookie cover and studying “Stuart and the Ave.” during our so-called formative years. Some 14 nostalgia-heavy years later, it’s still a blast to shout the countdown during “Hitchin’ a Ride,” and that’s actually kind of nice.
Critical bias: “At the Library” is my favorite Green Day song, so I guess it’s technically all been downhill since then.
Overheard: “FUCK YOU BILLIE.” (No particular reason.)
Random notebook dump: The other guitarist looks like if Neil Young was in that Alice the Wonderland video instead of Tom Petty.