There are three hundred people squeezed, shoved and piled on top of each other, craning their necks to see the
three four — there’s a fourth guy now on guitar? — characters onstage, done up in a mixture of Beetlejuice-Joker-Nightmare Before Christmas-type makeup and Victorian goth clothing. Among us is a clean-cut gentleman in a button-down work shirt accompanied by a woman who looks like my first-grade teacher, a fellow in a crisp Ramones tee, one in a comfortably worn Bush shirt, a middle-aged woman with a thick Brooklyn accent double-fisting drinks, some frat bros, at least three mohawks of varying heights, a lot of hoodies, and more than a handful of twenty-somethings in skeleton-referencing attire undetermined to be a means of showing Halloween spirit or their preferred way of dress. Looking around The Studio annex at Webster Hall in the wee hours of the morning, it’d be difficult to tell what year it is. If there was a fire, we’d all be dead.
Seeing Green Day in 2011 as a 28-year-old is going to be what you make of it. If you want to cringe every time Billie Joe urges the crowd to make out with one another, there are certainly ample opportunities to do so. You could worry about whether it embarrasses his kids every time he refers to the audience as “motherfuckers.” You could wonder why they just played that Misfits cover twice. And then a third time. And/or you could just be pissed that for a solid hour-and-half, they chose to play nothing but post-American Idiot material when American Idiot was the last Green Day album you really sat down and listened to, and every fiber of your being is hoping to hear “She.” The crowd’s reaction was ununited on this last point, the front half erupting in fist-pumping chaos and feeding a steady stream of crowd surfers to the stage; the back half more concerned with finagling some breathing room than indulging the band in their pleas for upheaval or even their “hey-o” rallying calls.
Or you could focus on the fact that Green Day is a rare dying breed of great performing bands — maybe one of the last ones we have that still play 300-cap clubs with the same amount of intensity and conviction as they do when playing sold-out arenas. Can’t say that when I was watching the video for “Longview” however many years ago that I thought they’d be the band to stick around (and trust me, I was rooting for them). Even under the slowly fading makeup, Billie’s facial expressions are clear as day. Guitar lunges abound. And all that new stuff? There are some really great hooks whittled into those now classic-sounding riffs. A lot of the bands I saw last week during CMJ could learn a thing or two from these old guys.
You know what else? In the 30-minute encore — the part when they came back out to play “Hitchin’ a Ride,” “Geek Stink Breath,” “She”(!), “Welcome to Paradise” and the gloriously nostalgic (for both band and crowd, I assume) “2000 Light Years Away” and “Going to Pasalacqua,” Billie’s voice, with its vague British accent, sounded as indignant at ever, his band playing with the same heightened energy as one attempting their first go at it. Or close, anyway.