Saturday, April 18, 2009

Into the 21st Century: Green Day at the Fox

When Green Day played the first strains of “American Idiot” on Tuesday night at the Fox Theater in Oakland, the crowd was beside themselves.  The band had already been at it – jumping and wailing and making like Chuck Berry with their guitars – for over an hour, playing forthcoming May release 21st Century Breakdown start to finish.

After two “secret” San Francisco shows, Green Day had put the polish on their new stuff, and standing between a lit-up digital cityscape backdrop and a massive crowd, it sounded good.  Conjuring Van Morrison with “Viva La Gloria” and something in the realm Tom Petty (or maybe even Bon Jovi) with “Last Of The American Girls” – the band’s new songs mixed a true rock ‘n’ roll sound with their characteristic borderline punk bravado. 

Green Day has always managed to feel rebellious yet approachable, and the new material solidified this.  The new set included a few slower numbers, in the vein of “Give Me Novacaine” or “Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)” – that were not only delivered as energetically as the other songs, but seemed to further prove the band’s musicianship.  Billie Joe Armstrong has honed his voice over the years to be able to slip between rock anthems and sincere ballads with ease.

Taking hardly a breath after the new album’s last song “See The Light,” Green Day jumped straight into tracks from American Idiot – including all five movements of “Jesus Of Suburbia” and then reached back to Dookie with “She,” “Longview,” and “Welcome To Paradise.” While there was a fair amount of spitting and crotch-grabbing (and a little prancing with an audience member’s purse) on the part of Armstrong, the band’s antics felt authentic.  If ultra-successful contemporary bands are often prone to posturing (The Killers, Panic At The Disco, Coldplay, on occasion), Green Day didn’t fall into that trap.  With the addition of their backing band – Jason White, Jason Freese, and Jeff Matika – their old stuff didn’t feel old.  In the second set, songs were punctuated with saxophone, harmonica, and accordion. 

Crowd surfing had begun during the night’s very first song, and it seemed that every few minutes someone new was being plucked from atop the throng of front rowers by security and escorted out.  When the band moved into a rocking version of “Shout” that found all the guitarists laying on their backs writhing on the stage, the crowd was going wild – we all wanted to throw our hands up and shout – and that’s just what we did. 

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