Green Day lead vocalist and guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong may be 45 years old, but don’t try telling him that. The same seizured intensity that has fueled the band for three decades was on full display at the Oakland Coliseum last Saturday for its tour in support of Revolution Radio.
Armstrong and fellow band members Mike Dirnt (bass) and Tré Cool (drums) (with touring musician Jason White on guitar) perform as if they never grew up — the musical equivalent to Peter Pan and the Lost Boys, but if Wendy had brought to Neverland a pack of eyeliner and schooled the boys on the structural inequalities that plague the political system.
Armstrong, standing proudly on a raised podium — chest out, hands on hips — was our anarchistic king, and his wishes were our commands. “I don’t know what the question is, but tonight the answer is yes!” Armstrong roared, and the sentiment was enthusiastically reciprocated. When he dared someone in the audience to streak across the baseball diamond that separated the stage from the seats, a fan charged over the fence (albeit, clothes on), only to be tackled just shy of the pitcher’s mound by the security guards who were clearly not interested in indulging Armstrong’s pleas for mayhem.
But while Green Day was performing on maximum overdrive, the Oakland Coliseum is inherently antithetical to to the band’s punk spirit. The huge scale and openness of the venue, coupled with the enormous distance between the stage and stands, resulted in a palpable disconnect, one that all the riotous screams in the world could not overcome.
It’s a symptom of a much larger problem that faces Green Day — that of capturing the essence of punk music now that they’ve made it mainstream. It’s impossible to convincingly portray the “nobody gets me” vibe characteristic of moody, garage band-esque punk bands when your entire audience knows the words to every single song.
Even in the more somber, intimate moments — such as “Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)” — one couldn’t help but recognize the obvious irony of a dark Coliseum illuminated only by the lights of the thousands of cell phones Armstrong had begged his fans to put away for the night, all of them used to Snapchat each and every angsty, lonely note. Armstrong may profess an anti-capitalist, anti-mainstream agenda, but his audience certainly didn’t.
In other words, the “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” is hardly a lonely road if you’re walking it in a venue designed to host more than 60,000 people.
All that being said, nothing would stop Green Day and its fans from having the time of their lives. In a Green Day concert staple, Armstrong plucked a fan from the frenzied crowd and had them hoisted onstage to sing a verse, only to send them soaring back over the barrier to be caught by the sea of hands flying around from within the pit. When it came time to play “Knowledge,” one fan was invited up to play one of Armstrong’s guitars — which she later made off with as a gift.
More than anything, it was evident that the band was glad to be home. “This is family, this is friendship,” Armstrong exclaimed joyously. “Tonight, every song is about home.” The affection Green Day has for its hometown crowd was unmistakable — each time Armstrong would launch into a political rant, or when he began the iconic bridge to “Holiday” with “the representative from Oakland, California, has the floor,” to an uproarious cheer, the crowd was transported back to the 924 Gilman Street venue of the band’s earliest origins in Berkeley.
It was in these moments of intimate rebellion — not in the haphazard flamethrowers or extravagant firework displays — that Green Day best combatted its own legendary status. The band may have inadvertently shed its true punk status years ago, but, strangely, its total denial of these limitations — its complete unwillingness to accept that which doesn’t work for them — is simultaneously the most punk thing ever.
Shannon O’Hara is the assistant arts & entertainment editor. Contact her at [email protected].