We’ve made no bones about our lack of enthusiasm for the overly self-important streak that populates Green Day’s most recent album, 21st Century Breakdown, but seeing how the band has built a solid reputation over the last fifteen-odd years as one of the most energetic live bands in the land, we went into last night’s show at Madison Square Garden with an open mind and even more open ears. From our perch high in the rafters of MSG, we saw and heard the sounds of a band at a crossroads, a band that initially rose to popularity thanks to its irresistibly bratty, three-minute power-punk songs but now finds itself dually burdened by the weight of adulthood and critical expectations.
The evening started off on a high note, as Green Day bounded onto stage filled with the sort of enthusiasm that you would’ve expected from them back in the mid-nineties when they were all much, much younger. After opening with the title track from their latest record, they broke into a spirited version of their hit single “Know Your Enemy,” which closed with lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong leaping offstage, sprinting up into the crowd, slamming a fan’s beer and kissing a girl. However, the show’s momentum quickly slowed down from there, likely owing to the fact that the band’s first ten songs came from their two most recent records. Even Billie Joe could sense the sold-out crowd’s energy waning, so he fell back on the tried-and-true arena-rock trick of shouting “New York City!” every time he sensed a lull in the arena. Throughout the evening, he would revisit this trick more times than we were able to count, and he even briefly lost his temper with the crowd full of teenagers, screaming, “Put down your iPhones, put down your cameras; this is a fuckin’ memory, so live it!”
However, once the band started dipping into their back catalogue, the vibe in the arena was immediately lifted. Old faves like “2,000 Light Years Away,” “When I Come Around,” and “Longview” sounded just as snotty and energetic as they did when they were first released, mainly because the songs required bassist Mike Dirnt and drummer Tré Cool to actively engage themselves in propelling the tracks forward. Although there were a few missteps along the way — the prime example of which was the seven-plus-minute medley of “Shout,” “Earth Angel,” and “I’ll Be There,” which came complete with a saxophonist dressed like Michael Jackson and made us pray with all our might that their next career step won’t find them playing the house band in Tony and Tina’s Wedding — the band was clearly having fun onstage and the crowd responded in kind.
By the time the band wrapped up their encore, it was nearly midnight; a quick glance at our watch revealed that Green Day had been playing for a Springsteenian length of time, some two hours and 45 minutes. For the most part, the show was highly entertaining, and we have never heard Billie Joe’s voice sound this good. However, we would be remiss if we didn’t point out that while the songs from their last two records may be bolder and more accomplished than the rest of their catalogue when viewed on an “artistic” level, the reason everyone fell in love with Green Day in the first place has very little to do with “Art.” Rather, it had everything to do with their hooks, their attitude, and their incomparably energetic enthusiasm. More of that on your next record, please!