Over the weekend: Green Day at Pepsi Center
Billy Joe Armstrong engages the crowd (Aaron Thackeray)
Green Day, Franz Ferdinand
Saturday, August 15, 2009
Better than: Hanging out with eleven-year-olds at an indoor recreation center.
The members of Green Day and their crew tried with all their might to summon the spirit of an old school punk show in the vast spaces of the Pepsi Center on Saturday night.
From the first chords of the opening tune, "Songs of the Century/21st Century Breakdown," frontman Billy Joe exhorted the crowd to emulate an audience at a cramped punk club. Joe encouraged the masses to pack in as close to the stage as possible, he regularly urged audience members toward crowd surfing and he made a point to regularly interact with the fans.
Billy Joe Armstrong (Aaron Thackeray)
But for all the efforts, there was no escaping the commercialism of the evening.
It seemed that one out of ten in the crowd was fourteen years or younger, and a good portion of the remaining audience in the Pepsi Center were older than forty-years-old. The attempts at creating a nostalgic throwback to the group's roots in the '80s Berkeley punk scene found a foil in the epic scope of the venue, the fireworks and fire columns that served as a part of the stagecraft and in the ads for V-cast and Blackberry that featured the Green Day trio beamed on giant LCD screens before the performance began.
The irony of such a setting for a band that still touts itself as punk seemed inescapable.
Still, the group would not be swayed in their mission by the inescapable whiffs of mass media exposure and commercial pandering. For all the slickness of the setting and for the wide spectrum of ages represented in the crowd, the band's seemingly inexhaustible stores of energy and participatory stage antics helped create a veneer of the defiance and abandon.
During several moments throughout the two-plus hour set, Green Day managed to create the illusion of intimacy in the Pepsi Center's wide halls. For a few key moments, a group that's pulled an astronomically successful commercial career out of apathy and antagonism offered a degree of authentic, old-school rawness and attitude. The theatrics and energy of Green Day's set benefited from a brief and straightforward opening set. Franz Ferdinand opened what would turn out to be a two-and-a-half hour, two-encore main act with a set that didn't manage to span thirty-minutes. The brief taste of the group's somewhat fluffy paens to '80s punk rock and New Wave anthems hardly seemed substantive enough to qualify for such a high-profile ticket, but the energy growing crowd hardly seemed distilled by Franz Ferdinand's short set and simple sound.
Following a brief appearance by an actor in a pink rabbit suit who staggered about the stage and pretended to imbibe beer, the trio of Billy Joe, bassist Mike Dirnt and drummer Tré Cool rushed on to an elaborate stage, accompanied by at least three backup musicians. From the very first songs, Joe served as the band's ringleader, exhorting the crowd to rush toward the stage and declaring, "Let's go Denver ... This is not fucking TV, this is a Green Day show." Joe backed up his encouragement with a series of audience participation efforts, stunts that would span the entire show. During "Holiday," Joe descended from the stage, climbed a row of stairs with two bodyguards as accompaniment, and mingled with the frenzied crowd. Soon after, Joe hauled a fan up to the stage and encouraged him to stage dive. During "The Static Age," Joe found a ten-year-old in the audience, and brought him up for a coordinated piece of stagecraft associated with the religious themes of the song. With bursts of fireworks, booms of explosions and the glare of fire columns as the stagecraft elements, the band would regularly recruit audience members to participate in the action.
Some of the most noteworthy forays into the crowd included the recruitment of three different audience members to sing the three verses of "Longview"; Billy Joe's firing of a water gun and a toilet paper gun into the crowd; and the conscription of 12-year old fan to play guitar during "Jesus of Suburbia" during the first encore.
MIke Dirnt (Aaron Thackeray, click to enlarge)
Even with all the theatrics, the group maintained a well-polished and well-honed live sound. The core trio found more elasticity and depth for some of their best known tunes, songs like "Boulevard of Broken Dreams," "When I Come Around" and "Basket Case," with the addition of an extra guitarist, keyboard lines and even an occasional saxophone accompaniment. The group would use a mash-up of different styles for performances that ranged from the entirety of their career, including tunes from Dookie, American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown.
The augmented sound also played into a series of unlikely covers during the set. Toward the end of the first set, the band belted out a brief version of the Kinks' "You Really Got Me," and a performance of the Isley Brothers' "Shout" included rapid references from a host of rock anthems, including the Doors' "Break On Through (To the Other Side," Roy Orbison's "Pretty Woman" and the Rolling Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction."
Tre Cool (Aaron Thackeray)
The frenzied performance found an overarching theme in Bill Joe's multiple spoken tributes to the Mile High City. From simple declarations like, "I feel like I'm at home; Denver rocks every fucking time we come here"; to an extended anecdote about an alcohol-soaked trip to the Lucky Strike bowling lanes on the 16th Street Mall during their last tour, Joe offered Denver multiple paeans. While it reeked a bit of rock and roll hyperbole, the crowd ate up the praise every time.
And what a diverse crowd it was. Looking around my packed section of the Pepsi Center, I spotted countless kids under fourteen, a couple that looked to be in their 60s and a host of middle aged soccer moms and middle class dads. There is something to be said for this type of appeal, especially considering Green Day's roots in defiance, insults and apathy. But considering the origins of the genre, considering its fundamental purpose to distance itself from the standard radio fare and commercialism of the late '70s and early '80s pop music, the mélange in the massive audience seemed out of place and incongruent.
Billy Joe Armstrong (Aaron Thackeray)
While Green Day managed to temporarily whitewash this element in their energy and participatory flair, it was impossible to escape entirely. If the music retained the power chords, the defiant lyrics and the speedy tempos of the punk genre, it seemed to have lost its original power to offend and alienate.And in my mind, that power one of the music's most fundamental draws.
Personal Bias: Most of the affecting moments came from the performances off of the Dookie album. Songs like "Longview" and "Basket Case" summoned long dormant memories from high school.
Random detail: At one point, the LCD screen at the back of the stage featured a collage of vintage punk posters, including hand-drawn posters for Fugazi, Operation Ivy and Vandals concerts.
By the way: Billy Joe referenced another large-scale rock show at the Pepsi Center from the past year. "This is not fucking Coldplay. Get your asses up," he insisted before beginning "The Static Age."
Pepsi Center - 08/15/09
1. Song of The Century / 21st Century Breakdown
2. Know Your Enemy
3. East Jesus Nowhere
5. The Static Age
6. Before the Lobotomy
7. Are We the Waiting
8. St. Jimmy
9. Boulevard Of Broken Dreams
10. Murder City
11. Hitchin' A Ride
12. Welcome To Paradise
13. Going To Pasalacqua
14. When I Come Around
15. You Really Got Me (The Kinks cover)
16. Brain Stew
19. Basket Case
21. King For A Day / Shout (The Isley Brothers cover)
22. 21 Guns
24. American Eulogy
1. American Idiot
2. Jesus Of Suburbia
1. Last Night on Earth
2. Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)
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