The line for Green Day’s performance at the recently refurbished UC Theatre on Thursday stretched from the entrance, around the corner at Shattuck Avenue and then all the way to the Downtown Berkeley BART entrance. There’s nothing particularly interesting about that in and of itself; plenty of popular bands have long lines for their shows.
The composition of this line was peculiar, though. The distribution was bimodal, parents in punk T-shirts tugging along their kids, who donned oversized protective earmuffs. It was a weird composition for a punk show, or perhaps it was indicative that this wasn’t a punk show at all. If anything, Green Day is the most glaring example of the inherent contradiction that exists in punk music — you can’t be angsty, broke and anti-establishment if you make it big.
Green Day made it very big. Its stadium-rocking career and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction were the result of a humble start at 924 Gilman. (And a long-time ban from that same establishment.) Plus, it’s hard to be a disenchanted teenager when you’re 40 years old.
It didn’t seem to matter Thursday night as people chatted in line about watching Green Day back at Gilman Street in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. They were just happy to see their band come home.
Green Day seemed pretty happy about it, too. Dodging the fact that, according to some people in line, tickets to the show were going for upward of $500 on StubHub — very not punk — the band roared to the stage with a scream of “East Bay!” and then launched into a 30-song setlist that left little room to ponder the intricacies of the punk-credibility dynamic.
It was an objectively great show. Billie Joe Armstrong knows how to play a crowd and is exactly immature enough to leave the band’s songs feeling authentic to it even two decades after they were written. The band drew from everything in its discography: It played from its 1994 breakout album Dookie to new release Revolution Radio, which, despite bookending Green Day’s career, are remarkably sonically similar. With 30 songs to rage to — and yes, the crowd of 40-somethings still knew exactly how to jump and mosh at a punk show, thankfully — no one was left disappointed.
“We’re gonna give it our fucking all tonight,” Armstrong promised at the show’s start. “Because we always save the best for our fucking hometown!”
By the end of the show, what looked like golf ball-sized drops of sweat were falling from his arms from all the sprinting, jumping, prancing, curtseying, rolling on the floor, tossing his guitar into the air, instructing children how to stage dive and watching them leap over the barrier. Midway through the set, keyboardist Jason Freese stepped out front with a saxophone and promptly launched into “Careless Whisper” before the band joined in on a loosely jointed medley of covers of “Shout!” and “Have You Ever Seen the Rain,” and “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and “Hey Jude.”
The band felt completely at ease with the hometown crowd, joking between songs about busking on street corners a block away from the theater and about the Raiders’ move to Las Vegas — Armstrong predicted a “Mad Max”-esque caravan of Oakland fans racing through the desert to Las Vegas. He also had a litany of East Bay phraseology to scream during gaps in songs, such as “Berkeley, you progressive motherfuckers!” at the end of an encore performance of “American Idiot.” At one point, glancing down at the setlist, he noted that, really, most of the songs were about the East Bay, pointing to “Welcome to Paradise” and “Stuart and the Ave.” as examples. “Huh, just noticed that,” he said with a sly grin.
At one point, the lights dropped entirely as Armstrong waved a spotlight wildly over the crowd, asking whether they would let Donald Trump become president (“No!”) and what were they gonna do about it (“Vote!”). It was over-the-top, but for a band that produced a rock-opera about the George W. Bush era, it seemed appropriate enough, though his conclusion was surprising.
“No more hate; we’re done with that shit,” he said to cheers as the lights turned on. “What we need now is a little love. … I never thought I’d hear myself say that, but it’s true!”
And it was. Despite the rage-fueled lyrics behind Green Day’s “American Idiot”-era songs, the prevailing mood of the evening was the wholesome goofiness of earlier works. It was unambiguously apparent that Green Day cared more than anything about putting on a loud, fun show for its hometown. What it got back from that crowd was nothing but love.
Contact Imad Pasha at [email protected].