Wednesday, October 05, 2005

ODE TO BILLIE JOE


The main thing that struck me about last night's Green Day concert was how much the band has grown in pure showmanship since last time I saw them, 11 years ago. Their set at the 1994 Lollapalooza was just a short 45-minute set, and all I remember really is that Billie Joe flashed his weenie (which for a second or two I thought he was going to do last night) and got some white kid with dreadlocks from the audience -- who Billie Joe joked was "the guy from Counting Crows" -- up on stage to dance around.

Back in 1994 they were a rising band with incredible buzz. When I saw them it was just a few days after their performance at Woodstock '94, where they were the most talked-about band. Dookie was a big hit at the time. But I never figured them for much more than a flash in a pan. In early 2004 that assessment would have been correct. But then came American Idiot. I would have loved to have been in the room with the band when they were informed that this album had become a major hit. It must have been like the scene in This Is Spinal Tap where, after a long, frustrating slide Nigil returns to inform them that the group had a big hit record in Japan.

When I talk about showmanship, I'm not talking about the pyrotechnics (which I thought were over used, though the kids loved them) or the funny hats they wore during "King For a Day." I'm not even talking about the pink Easter Bunny who opened the show by dancing to The Village People's "YMCA." I'm talking about stage presence and the way Billie Joe Armstrong engages the crowd.

They don't seem to have lost that crazy energy of the mid '90s (even though they've added a second guitarist, which means Billie Joe doesn't have to carry that load all the time). But they realize they've come way beyond the old punk rock days of small clubs, tiny crowds and sleeping on floors -- and there's no going back.

Among my favorite moments was a shtick where they get audience members to come up to "form a new band," taking over on drums, bass and guitar. Both the drummer and bassist chosen fit right in barely missing a beat. But the first guitarist, a girl who looked like a high schooler, choked terribly. I felt sorry for the poor kid, as apparently did Billie Joe. When the number was over, he called her back on stage and handed her his guitar again. "You keep this," he said. "No go practice!"

I also liked the fact that they covered The Isley Brothers' "Shout," done as a medley with Ben E. King's "Stand By Me" (which they performed with Billie Joe and other band members lying down.) This number included a horn section, which only played on a few tunes. I actually would have liked to have seen more of these guys. There are very few tunes that don't benefit from a good sax.

I still love their old hit "Basket Case." I probably humiliated my son as I sang along with the chorus "Sometimes I give myself the creeps/Sometimes my mind plays tricks on me ..." (Actually Anton looked like he was in Rock 'n' Roll Heaven throughout the whole show. I decided not to embarrass him by asking "You got anything with Herman's Hermits?" when we hit the T-shirt stand.)

But my favorite song was one of which I don't even know the title. It's a wild stomp that has serious Irish overtones. With the piano player/trumpeter playing accordion It almost sounded like a Pogues tune. (If anyone knows the song I'm talking about, please post it in the comments section.)

My only complaint about the whole night is the damned traffic situation. It took us well over an hour to get from I-25 around the Cesar Chavez exit to the parking lot. I've only been to two previous shows at the Clear Channel-operated Journal Pavilion. Neither the Jackson Browne/Steve Earle/Keb Mo show or last year's Styx concert attracted the huge crowd that went to Green Day last night.

We missed the entire opening act Jimmy Eat World. (But I did get to hear Joe Monahan on the radio talking about the Albuquerque city elections. We pulled into a parking space right after Joe and friends announced the results from the very first ballot box reporting.) Supposedly the new road to Journal Pavilion will be ready late next year.

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