October 8th was a busy Saturday night for New York City punks. At least three big-name shows were in town: Strike Anywhere, A Global Threat, and War on Women were at St. Vitus in Brooklyn; Descendents, Fucked Up, and Night Birds were at the Playstation Theater in Times Square; and Green Day were at Webster Hall downtown. It was a dreary day with no sign of sunshine: cloudy in the morning and drizzly in the afternoon. By 6:30, when my brother and I found our way to the back of Webster Hallâ€™s entry line, which stretched around two corners to the elusive 4th Avenue and East 12th Street, it was dark and the rain had steadied, yet the chill of fall had spared us. Still, summer (September), it seemed, had ended.
The night before, I caught most of Green Dayâ€™s set at Rough Trade NYC, the 250-capacity venue behind the English record chainâ€™s Williamsburg, Brooklyn location. I expected to hear the new album, Revolution Radio, or more than just the 4 songs they had been playing from it on this warm-up run, since the 7th was its official day of release. No such luck. To my surprise they played 90% early-days deep cuts. It was the loosest Iâ€™d ever seen them play, going back to the Pop Disaster tour in 2002. When I walked into the show (late, due to not being able to get down with the shopâ€™s we-donâ€™t-care-if-youâ€™re-a-schoolteacher-in-the-Bronx-you-gotta-purchase-the-record-here-in-the-store-at-11-in-the-morning-that-day-or-else entry policy, but for free), the boys were just finishing â€œOne for the Razorbacksâ€ (sic)[*]. The crowd roared and then Billie Joe said, â€œThis is fun, right? We need fun right now. Itâ€™s like, you walk around outside and you listen to the news, and I turn around and I look at you guys and Iâ€™m like, â€œThank God!â€ Thatâ€™s kind of what seeing these shows and â€œRevolution Radioâ€ represent to me. Much like it is with Descendents and Strike Anywhere â€“ thank God both fans and band have stuck around. Times are bad but weâ€™re still together. If nothing else, we celebrated that.
Asian Man Records duo Dog Party had been the support act for most of these smaller shows Green Day had been playing, but Webster Hall (1,500-capacity) was reserved for New Yorkâ€™s own Jesse Malin. I love Jesse but was disappointed by that decision. Iâ€™d liked to have seen a younger band play with them. When Green Day played a similarly-sized venue just around the way from Webster Hall in 2012, Lipstick Homicide were the openers. The entry line moved at a crushingly slow pace that night forcing a good portion of the crowd to miss them. On this night, the line moved fairly well, but whereas my ticket said that doors opened at 6 and the show started at 7, I got word from a friend inside at 7:01 that Jesseâ€™s set was ending. We walked in soon after that, but by that time the stage was being set for East Bay punkâ€™s most famous stoners.
The 31-song set lasted over two hours. No pyrotechnics, no backdrop, no stage props, no fancy light show. Just Billie Joe, Mike, TrÃ©, Jason White, Jason Freese, and Jeff Matika. Around 7:30, the lights dimmed and â€œBohemian Rhapsodyâ€ made its way through the PA, as per usual. We sang and conducted ourselves in unison until the last echoes the gong segued into â€œBlitzkrieg Bopâ€ and the infamous Pink Bunny petered out from the side of the stage. I was intrigued to notice he wasnâ€™t holding a beer bottle and stumbling across the stage, but rather soberly conducting our chants of â€œHey! Ho! Letâ€™s Go!â€ and raised fists. At songâ€™s end, the band walked onstage to the theme of Ennio Morriconeâ€™s â€œThe Good, the Bad and the Uglyâ€ and then it was on.
Iâ€™ve always considered â€œKnow Your Enemyâ€ to be a middling song on record, but it gets people jumping pretty quickly. The â€œgimme gimme revolutionâ€ lyric (the final verse was sung by a fan brought on stage) toward the end put a bow on the 1-2 punch of â€œBang Bangâ€ and â€œRevolution Radioâ€ that followed it. The former could be played in a dank basement and it would sound the same way it did at this show. Mikeâ€™s bright, but thick and crisp basslines have never sounded this good on top of TrÃ©â€™s pounding tumble. Let it be known that the second reason Billie Joe works a crowd as well as he does is because of the rhythm section behind him.
A trio of American Idiot favorites, â€œHoliday,â€ â€œLetterbomb,â€ and â€œBoulevard of Broken Dreams,â€ brought the room to a boil. During the bridge in â€œHoliday,â€ when the lights went out and Bill held up his single spotlight and put it on the crowd, it struck me that what makes him such a compelling front man is how he combines spectacle and soul with aggression and humor, like a lovechild between Bruce Springsteen, Bono, and Jello Biafra. â€œWe will not watch the news. We will not be on social media. Weâ€™re in our own little underground now,â€ he told us.
At this point in the set, there was something of a reprisal of the previous night. â€œLongview,â€ â€œPrivate Ale,â€ â€œArmatage Shanks,â€ and â€œStuart and the Ave.â€ were played right in a row. Fans up front called for â€œ86,â€ prompting Billie to ask TrÃ© and Mike if they knew it. They decided they didnâ€™t but gave us â€œ409 in Your Coffeemakerâ€ instead. It looked like they were barely breaking a sweat, just busting out gem after gem, but everyone in the pit was in the process of getting soaked. Whether it was the palm-muted ending of â€œOne of My Liesâ€ or the rich tone of Mikeâ€™s fills in â€œBrat,â€ everything sounded ageless. It was heartening to see the band embrace their back catalog in such a refreshing way. Theyâ€™ve always taken requests, but set list audibles have sometimes been predictable: â€œ2,000 Light Years Away,â€ â€œGoing to Pasalacqua,â€ or â€œWho Wrote Holden Caulfield?â€. It was good to hear other songs, especially the â€œChristie Roadâ€ to â€œBurnoutâ€ medley.Â
Nimrod and Warning were represented by â€œNice Guys Finish Last,â€ â€œScatteredâ€ (now featuring a harmonica solo), â€œHitchinâ€™ a Ride,â€ and â€œWaiting,â€ and then rounded out by the tried and true â€œBasket Caseâ€ and â€œSheâ€. The latter saw Billie Joe telling us, â€œScream at me!â€ in substitute of his usual explosion after the second chorus, which I thought was kinda touching. Suffice it to say that the middle of this show was a serious treat for longtime fans.
Staples â€œKing for a Dayâ€ and the Isley Brothers â€œShoutâ€ cover were as fun as ever, with Jason Freese getting a chance to shred on saxophone, but the party was toned down by the sober â€œStill Breathing,â€ which goes over a lot better live than on record. Lyrically, that song is a lot of similes that donâ€™t really go anywhere for me, but the emotion shined through. Reliable closer â€œMinorityâ€ ended the set proper without a speech in the place of the harmonica section unlike recent tours. Whatever political preaching Billie might have done in the past has been reduced to â€œRemember one thing: no racism, no sexism, no homophobia,â€ which actually adorns the back of one the t-shirts available on this tour.
An encore of the unfortunately still-relevant â€œAmerican Idiotâ€ and â€œJesus of Suburbiaâ€ pummeled us, but gave way to two final solo acoustic songs by Billie Joe, Revolution Radio closer â€œOrdinary Worldâ€ (written for the upcoming film he stars in), and everyoneâ€™s favorite prom/wedding/funeral song. The final G-chord rang out, Mike and TrÃ© joined Billie for a final bow and to throw out guitar picks, drum sticks and set lists. And then it was over.
We walked outside to see the NYPD surveilling the block â€“ at least one side of it had been blocked off. Fans talked and smoked on the sidewalk, security asked them to move, and homeless crust punks looked to settle in for the night. The rain had stopped, at least, and my brother and I walked off to take the subway back to Queens. Green Day have always been a live band. Thatâ€™s no less true now than it has ever been. It was good to see them live their credo that rock and roll can be dangerous and fun at the same time. Thank God for that.
Know Your Enemy
Boulevard of Broken Dreams
Stuart and the Ave.
409 in Your Coffeemaker
One of My Lies
Nice Guys Finish Last
Hitchin' a Ride
Are We the Waiting
King for a Day/Shout/(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction/Hey Jude/Shout
Jesus of Suburbia
Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)
[*] According to Larry Livermoreâ€™s Lookout Records memoir, How to Ru(i)n a Record Label, the intended title of the song was â€œOne for the Razorbackâ€. â€œRazorbacksâ€ remains a typographical error.