“I couldn’t tell if I was late for my funeral or early for my funeral,” Green Day lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong joked at the Fox Theater on Friday. Armstrong had a point — spending a few hours watching local bands pay tribute to some of your own greatest hits seems a bit like witnessing a eulogy for the living.
But instead, “A Tribute to Dookie,” hosted by Bay Area nonprofit UnderCover Presents, was more so a celebration of life — the life that Green Day’s seminal album breathed into the East Bay punk scene and the life of 924 Gilman, the iconic Berkeley all-ages venue that brought the band together.
924 Gilman’s storied history as the center of the East Bay punk scene is now being threatened by the ongoing gentrification of Berkeley’s Gilman district. Thus, UnderCover Presents has teamed up with the venue to raise money for the upkeep and eventual ownership of the building, all while paying tribute to one of the bands that put Gilman on the map — and donated its well-worn sound system Gilman uses to this day.
Under the direction of guest music director Brian Adam McCune, 14 local acts were selected to perform their own rendition of a song from Dookie. And as anyone who has ever attended an UnderCover Presents event knows, these covers are often a far-stretch from the original tracks.
“If you wanted to hear bands play Green Day songs in the style of Green Day, this is not that show,” said Lyz Luke, co-founder of UnderCover Presents, at the start of the night.
This was evident from the moment Marston’s lead vocalist, Oona Garthwaite, crooned the lyrics to Dookie’s opening track, “Burnout.” The downbeat driven, rancorous punk song was transformed by Garthwaite’s delicate but raspy vocal. The chorus’ declarative hook: “I’m not growing up / I’m just burning out” became an ethereal anthem of introspective yearning, with the use of delay pedal making the track sound more like a dream-pop soliloquy than any song from Green Day’s discography.
The generic distance grew even further as the night progressed. La Plebe’s Spanish-translated mariachi punk rendition of “Having a Blast” warranted the first circle pit of the night. Jazz Mafia’s Choral Syndicate’s gospel rendition of “Longview” drew a sacrilegious congregation, its deeply rooted, church-like organ hook and harmonies giving a new meaning to the lyrics, “Take me away to paradise.” Comedic theatrical punk band The Fuxedos turned the three-minute, whiney whirlwind of “Basket Case” into a nearly 10-minute dramatic performance, complete with bloody tuxedos, sexualized stuffed animals and a diatribe on the state of American pharmaceutical companies.
Green Day’s presence was the night’s worst-kept secret. As Luke continually hinted at the attendance of “special guests,” the audience waited with bated breath to see if and when the famed band would appear — and more importantly, if they would take the stage and perform.
Armstrong, bassist Mike Dirnt and drummer Tre Cool, however, only took the stage alongside Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf, who, according to Luke, had invited 20 of her friends to the concert as a “night out” even before being formally invited as a guest of UnderCover Presents. With a dramatic mic drop, Schaaf declared Feb. 19 “Green Day Day” in the city of Oakland. Schaaf looked toward the band in admiration — rather than with mayoral professionalism — and said, “This is why I went through the election process! Just to do this.”
Green Day graciously accepted the certificate of declaration as Skank Bank, a young ska/reggae band made up of Gilman mainstays, set up their equipment on stage. Armstrong took the mic and offered to introduce the band, leaning over to one of the members and asking, “What’s your band’s name again?”
The moment was emblematic of the night’s overall theme — celebrating the Gilman band that paved the way for East Bay punk while ushering in a new generation of music into the local scene.
Skank Bank’s set transformed the gaudy Fox Theater into the graffiti-lined, sweat-caked space of 924 Gilman. The band’s rendition of “Coming Clean” incited a palpable sense of community and warranted the night’s only crowd surfer — perhaps because those Gilman kids are used to carrying each other, both in and out of the pit.
After three consecutive songs featuring the 90-piece Awesome Orchestra, the curtains closed with one song left on Dookie to perform. The crowd waited anxiously as the shuffle of instruments could be heard from behind the red velvet, hoping that Green Day would take the stage to cap off the night. “Are you ready to see what’s behind that curtain?” Luke said, baiting the crowd. The curtain parted and the crowd’s enthusiastic roar was quickly dimmed, as every act who had performed that night was on stage to participate in a sing-a-long of Dookie’s final track, “All By Myself.” Every act except Green Day, that is.
Although the band did not perform, Armstrong ended the night with a rousing speech celebrating the East Bay, mentioning that many musicians pressured the band to move to Los Angeles after Dookie became a commercial success. He spoke of the band’s scattered beginnings, glorifying San Pablo Avenue for being the road to connect them all, and eventually lead them to 924 Gilman. “Green Day,” he said proudly. “We are an East Bay band. With that said, I’m not going anywhere.”
An album with songs from the event is available to stream and purchase here.
Rosemarie Alejandrino is the arts & entertainment editor. Contact her at [email protected].