Green Day Brings Classic Rock Feel To U.S. Airways Show

Categories: Concert Review
Luke Holwerda
Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong on stage at U.S. Airways Center in Phoenix. See more shots in our Green Day slide show.
​Depending on who you ask, there's something either:

a) vaguely


b) obviously and irredeemably

pathetic about a 37-year-old man in skinny black jeans. So, yes, Green Day singer Billie Joe Armstrong immediately looked a little silly strutting on stage at U.S. Airways Center as the piano-driven opening of "21st Century Breakdown," the title track to his band's latest record, played over the PA. It's forgivable though, when a band which I've argued made the last truly monumental rock album we'll ever hear delivers a stellar show. Green Day certainly delighted the near capacity Phoenix crowd, but the bloated six-man version of the Berkeley band we saw for much of the two-plus hour concert struck me as oddly similar to what you'll see at a Lynyrd Skynyrd show these days, where a lone original member playing rhythm guitar is the only thing standing between the "genuine" article and a tribute band with intellectual property rights.

Not that Green Day's show was bad. I can't say for sure that Green Day are the only truly great DIY scene punk act to successfully transform themselves into respected classic rockers, though they've got to be on a short list. But to say the band we saw -- setting off enough pyrotechnics to shame Ted Nugent, shooting a spirit squad style t-shirt launcher and making at least 30 pandering mentions to "Phoenix, Arizona" -- bears any resemblance to the one that played 924 Gilman Street nearly two decades ago, or even to the band that broke through in 1994, would be ridiculous. Green Day is now Poison, if Poison had more than four good songs.*

Luke Holwerda
Green Day at U.S. Airways. See more shots in our Green Day slide show.

​Hitting stage around 9 p.m., Billie, bassist Mike Dirnt and drummer Tre Cool had three other guys playing with them, doubling the size of the original trio. The fattened version of the band had a full sound, but brilliant bassist Mike Dirnt's contributions were totally buried for the first hour of the show. Even with all the help, Billie Joe chose to yell "Phoenix, Arizona" at least five times during the first song, probably trying to generate the sort of energy you'd have seen from the band at their peak. It only partially worked. By the second song, I was squeezing out of the way so my rowmates could get beer. By "Know Your Enemy" Billie Joe had played the "watch me walk out in to the crowd" card and the "I said hey-ooooo" sing-along card. Things continued that direction, and before the encore, we had a medley of Doors, Jackson 5, and Patti Smith songs during a breakdown in "King For A Day."

Staying close to their newest record for the first hour of the show, the band sounded solid but out of their element. I know the rest of the world loves the band's Bush-bashing (which, yes, I'm sick of in general) but at a certain point I grew weary of hearing a high school dropout with millions of dollars in the bank lecture me about politics. Give me the meth-fueled paranoia of the Insomniac era any day, especially if I can actually hear Mike Dirnt's always amazing bass lines.

For example, backup guitarist Jason White's noodling on "2,000 Light Years Away" -- one of the rare pre-Dookie tracks still in the band's set list -- spoiled the song. True, White has been with the band for a decade now, so this probably wasn't all that new, but since I first saw the band in 1994, and most recently saw them in 1996, it was new to me.

What's more, working their way through the new stuff ("Static Age," was the highlight) the band seemed content to let fans and the hired help do most of the work. Armstrong couldn't even play the simple acoustic chords to the opening verse of "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" which a man servant strummed out while Billie Joe saved himself for the onerous task of playing rhythm guitar on the refrain. Much like that terrible Weezer show at last year's Arizona State Fair, the band made Herculean efforts to get fans on stage, a gimmick which, admittedly, seems to entertain lots of folks but generally leaves me cold. An overweight teenage girl sung the first two verses to "Longview," hamming it up while Billie barely managed to muscle his way in for the chorus. A less stylish Adam Lambart stand-in filled in for the third verse. Thankfully, Billie did "Basket Case" on his own immediately after.

Things started picking up with "Hitchin' a Ride," the first Nimrod single, a song that revived the bands' career enough to keep it salvageable for when American Idiot hit seven years later. "Welcome to Paradise," was ushered in with the sort of pyrotechnics that suggest C.C. DeVille might be a resident of Paradise, while "When I Come Around," was admirably unadorned.

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