After all the ranting and raving I did about Green Day's new album earlier this summer, I had to go and see them live. So two weeks ago I saw them at the soon to be demolished Spectrum in Philly. I went with El Hombre Solo, master of all that is Philly, provided he gets a hall pass from the wife.
I hadn't seen Green Day live since 1996, in Binghamton, NY on their Insomniac tour. To be honest at the time I wasn't very impressed with the show, and I recall telling my friend who I went with that I didn't think they'd amount to much. Their second major label release paled in comparison to Dookie and they just looked like another obnoxious punk band with no potential for growth. I am so happy they proved me so wrong.
The last time I was at the Spectrum was in 1981 for a 76'er's championship game against the Lakers. I will resist the temptation to tell that story for now. Having waited too long to get good seats when they went on sale, I had to buy them through stubhub.com. Again I paid about a 100 bucks a pop excluding the fees and charges for the trouble. But I decided that I wasn't going to accept being far from the stage, and that Green Day was worth it. I also figured I didn't want to be down on the floor, figuring it would be too much for an old guy like me. More on that later.
I got two great seats about mid court with the stage at one end of the narrow arena. The view to the stage was great, and I could see all the guys clearly without the need for binoculars. The Bravery opened and put on a respectable performance, but it was obvious they were in way over their heads. They seemed lost on the large stage and knew that no one was really there to see them. It's got to suck to be in such a position, but I suppose it's all part of paying dues to getting the exposure. Once they were done, it wasn't long before Green Day came on. Just before the show started, a crew member dressed up in a cute bunny suit came out and danced around like a drunken fool to YMCA and a few other songs. It was quite funny and the crowd enjoyed it and joined right in.
Green Day opened with the title track to 21st Century Breakdown, and it was thrilling. The energy in the room was tangible and it felt like something very special was happening, and it was.
They rocked without interruption for just over two and a half hours. They played about half of the new album (not enough for me) and all the old hits. Billy Joe was a non-stop fountain of energy and enthusiasm, and it was clear they were enjoying themselves immensely. The love between the band and the crowd was genuine. The band was polished and tight and the sound was amazing.
There were many notable points during the show, so let me talk about a few of them. Firstly, Billy Joe brought nearly a half dozen people up on stage to sing songs alone or to play guitar. It was remarkable that he was able to find folks in the crowd who could actually sing the lyrics and play the guitar. And in every case the people nailed it. What fun that must have been for those fans, and how cool is that of Green Day to do that? The guy he brought up to play guitar was very good and played it perfectly on key and in sync with the band.
Secondly, I don't know how Billy Joe has any voice left after only a few minutes. He spent nearly the entire night yelling and screaming at the crowd, extorting them to sing along, pump their first or just go wild. But throughout the show his voice was powerful and right on key. I would have been hoarse after five minutes.
The most remarkable point of the show for me occurred during the piano intro for the opening song. As Billy Joe stood at the end of the catwalk that went out into the crowd from the front of the stage, some sort of fracas boiled up in the crowd a few feet from where he was standing. Billy Joe pointed into the crowd and directed some of the bouncers to the action. A few moments later a rather big dude was dragged up on stage under the insistence of Billy Joe. Billy Joe then put his arm around the guy and said to him calmly that everyone was here tonight to have a good time and we should all be cool and make sure no one gets hurt. The big guy agreed and peacefully left the stage.
What was remarkable was that Billy Joe saved this guy from getting thrown out and/or being pounded by the security folks. How many bands would have done something like that? This guy had clearly been getting too physical with the crowd and likely would have deserved it.
As for the floor action, the crowd was very tame and I would have been able to get right near the stage and see the band up close. Next time they are in town I'll be down on the floor.
Amusing Observation of The Night
No one smokes anymore, so no one carries lighters anymore. So when the house lights go down and the crowd wants to have it's Free Bird moment with the band, everyone turns their cell phones on and waves them around. You can't get anymore 21st century than that. I found that absolutely hysterical, and joined in with the crowd. I'm sure many of you are aware of this phenomenon but since I haven't been to a show in a long time, it's new to me.
It is clear that Green Day has decided to grow into something more than just a three piece punky bar band. And it is clear they know that if they didn't evolve musically, lyrically and performance-wise they'd have a very limited future. And what Green Day has achieved is remarkable. They have consciously decided to become a big time arena act, complete with full blown stage show with top of the line visuals, exploding flash pots and a battery of backup musicians,and yet haven't sacrificed or compromised anything that they have always been, a powerful raw punk pop band. Simply put, they are the same old loud fast and punky Green Day, only bigger and better. They've shown that you can grow up, mature, become insightful and wise, without compromising your punk principles and ethics. They aren't 22 anymore and they are OK with that. Green Day more than delivered and the show was well worth the 50 buck ticket price, and still a bargain at the 100 dollar price I paid.
They closed the show with Time of Your Life, which was perfect. Billy Joe strummed his acoustic guitar and sang along with the crowd, and the lights went down as he finished off an amazing performance.
So if you get the chance, go see Green Day live. You will not be disappointed, at any price.