Location: Qwest Center Omaha, NE
In support of the 21st Century Breakdown release.
I saw Green Day for the first time tonight, the band I grew up with. It has been fifteen years since Dookie, the ultimate manifesto of how to not give a shit. Green Day has followed a unique career progression since then, falling into relative obscurity but never losing consistency, before finally reinventing themselves somehow as a combination politically-minded critical darling and glamorous teenage hero. When they first hit the national airwaves, however, they were far from either.
There were kids who really grew up with Green Day, when Green Day were still kids too. Heads from California who saw the same 90s West Coast phoniness. I was only in the fourth grade when I borrowed Dookie from my older cousin. My friends and I loved the band, but we were far too young and Midwestern to understand what they were really about. For kids like my cousin, who were teenagers when Dookie came out, Green Day captured the isolation and boredom of growing up in the suburbs. By today’s standards, nothing Green Day sang about seems risky. But at the time, nobody else on the radio was doing songs about smoking pot, masturbating, and sitting on the couch all day. Rarely is a band name so apropos.
As the band pushes into their late 30s, so too does their original audience, most of whom were not at Qwest Center tonight. No, if anything, Green Day’s audience has gotten younger in the past fifteen years, even after the critically acclaimed American Idiot. They aren’t goths – Green Day is a happy band. They are what some would call emo, and I would call “safe punks.” Sure, they dye their hair and wear multicolored leggings, but they aren’t outraged. I get the sense that they’re OK with the way things are, perhaps distracted by the constant jumble of media surrounding them. Of course, Green Day and others had managed to halfheartedly revive the punk spirit in the 90s, but it has taken on a corporate veneer as it has gained mainstream acceptance. The band’s original attitude was apathetic, but with American Idiot they suddenly adopted an intense, some say melodramatic, opposition to the politics and culture of 21st-century society. They now sing about the evils of corporations and the media, but the irony is that they profit handsomely from both.
I don’t blame them, by the way. Billie Joe Armstrong spoke of the last time he came to Omaha, on the Dookie tour. Green Day played the Ranch Bowl, a small bowling alley that doubled as an underground rock venue. Tonight Green Day played to a mostly-filled Qwest Center, on a stage previously host to The Eagles, Elton John, and Hannah Montana. They’ve earned every bit of popularity they now have. My only question upon arriving at the show was whether or not they would embrace their older material. Green Day is no longer culturally dangerous, but those songs were. Probably they aren’t anymore. The evidence certainly points that way.
The band started off with most of the big hits from their last two albums, and I got a bit discouraged, but it turned out they were saving the old favorites for the second half of the show. In fact, they played a solid block of mid-90s jams, starting off with “Hitchin’ a Ride” and following with “Welcome to Paradise,” “When I Come Around,” “Brain Stew,” “Basketcase,” “She,” and “Longview.” The kids in the front were into it all the way. The stretch was energetic and blissful, as well as incredibly nostalgic.
Green Day put on an excellent and entertaining show. They have their rock star moves down pat, and they displayed some proficiency messing around with a few brief covers. They also had several gimmicks, some of which were better than others. The best one was the audience involvement. Armstrong invited a fan to the stage to sing the chorus of “Know Your Enemy,” and he had three more come up to sing a verse each on “Longview.” I can’t think of many better thrills than singing lead in front of 15,000 people backed by Green Day. The kids couldn’t sing, of course, but it was fun just to imagine being them. The highlight, though, was a kid named Alex who was called up to be “blessed” by Armstrong. Afterward Alex, who was no older than 10, informed us that he was from “Sioux Fuckin’ City!” The graphics and art were sharp and tasteful, and the pyrotechnics were not overused. I believe Green Day to be consummate professionals.
Green Day has changed a lot since I first knew them, but they still have the same benevolent spirit. Armstrong walked out into the crowd and he noted the marijuana in their eyes. They played “King For a Day,” a fun song I had nonetheless totally forgotten about, wearing cutesy costumes, with Mike Dirnt decked out in kitty ears and a fake tail. They may deign to take things more seriously, but at heart they are still punk kids who don’t give a shit.
Aaron can be reached on twitter @awolfson0