In the world of Green Day, angry outbursts mean tunes instead of terrorism; guitar riffs replace raging rants and riots; and luscious licks and lyrics longing for justice usurp vitriolic language. If we all lived in that world, we might march to the drumbeat of dignified diversity, not divisiveness.
Then again, a punk band that used to exist on acceptability’s outer fringes — playing in Berkeley garages and the legendary all-ages space 924 Gilman St. Project — but is now fronted by a 44-year-old guy wearing a magenta ruffled shirt, painted-on black jeans, and eyeliner who often performs in sold out arena-sized venues, well, that might make some early fans downright sorrowful.
But if you were one of the very lucky people to land a ticket to see Green Day last Thursday at the UC Theatre in what turned out to be a solid rock concert with fierce punk echoes performed by excellent musicians, you were a happy camper.
The euphoric crowd of 1,350 people gathered to sing, sway, and scream at top volume at the homegrown band’s sold-out show. The triumphal appearance — armed with the twelve-track Revolution Radio, its twelfth studio album and first new release in four years — was one of a series of shows Green Day has booked at intimate venues before launching its 2017 Revolution Radio North American Tour in March.
Of course, why a punk rock band with East Bay origins remains popular and relevant more than twenty-five years after it was formed, is due partly to nostalgia associated with the band’s early ability to capture the core of teenage angst. Now, aging along with its early fanbase, Green Day vocalist Billie Joe Armstrong has graduated into singing about social movements — such as Black Lives Matter — and the wail of the underserved or unloved, all atop enduringly impressive musicianship.
Green Day’s 150-minute, nonstop set featured 26 songs (several from the new album, but also a solid number of standards) and two encores. Throughout it all, extraordinary displays of vocal, instrumental, artistic talent proved Armstrong’s early promise to the audience wasn’t false. “We save our best for our fucking hometown,” he hollered, in one of the few digressions into spoken word. Especially in the show’s last hour, when the band shed the showmanship that was genuine and pleasing to many but veiled its raw, scratch-till-it-hurts dynamic, a visceral energy roared and tender ballads opened the pocket to reveal the band’s great depth.
Make no mistake, with fans that are admirably multigenerational yet prevailingly white, Green Day doesn’t claim ownership of the social justice or civil rights movements about which it sings. In interviews, Armstrong has described how armored vehicles on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, and Black Lives Matter protests influenced and informed his most recent songwriting, but he’s intent on chronicling, not colonizing, the protest activism of people of color.
The new album’s title track draws the straightest line between headlines and lyrics — Scream with your hands up in the sky/Like you want to testify/For the life that’s been deleted/Sing like a rebel’s lullaby/Under the stars and stripes/For the lost souls that were cheated. But “Bang, Bang” speaks to a broader societal anger: Bang, bang, give me fame/Shoot me up to entertain/I am a semi-automatic lonely boy.
“Welcome to Paradise” had embedded in it a twisted, gloomy trio that was spectacularly spooky and satisfying. Drummer Tré Cool’s non-music antics behind his kit were fun, but there was no laughing at his nuanced and powerful command.
And the show was certainly not only about the darkest side of life. Second guitarist Jason White launched the band into a rendition of the infinitely joinable “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” that begged for — and had — a whole audience in a handholding singalong. There was even hopefulness in the song’s final lyrics: Sometimes I wish someone out there will find me/’Til then I walk alone…
Randy Dias, a twenty-year-old from Salinas who said he’d been a fan since hearing the song “American Idiot” ten years ago, was one of the lucky people who snatched up a hard-to-get ticket. “It was definitely worth it to see them,” he said. “There’s hardship in every song, but also a message. They speak about the times we’re in. They speak for me.”
Based on the reluctance of fans like Dias to depart the theatre after the final encore, the band’s twenty-five-year history, and the simple truth that singing words of pain and joy is infinitely and oddly cleansing to the soul, it was clear that as long as the group keeps going to the edge, Green Day will have a devoted following.