Concert Review

Green Day Isn't Punk, and That's Okay

Green Day Isn't Punk, and That's Okay
Jim Louvau
Poor Green Day.

For decades, the California band has served as a punching bag for the dispossessed punk rockers clutching their Dead Kennedys records while playing the Ramones' first album on repeat.

Is Green Day punk rock? The answer is most certainly no. The band proved as much at its concert at Talking Stick Resort Arena last night.

But that's okay.

Green Day's concert last night was nothing if not fun. During the first song, "Know Your Enemy," Armstrong brought a young boy with a green mohawk on stage to sing with him, which was pretty much the most adorable thing ever. The band then marched through a parade of hits, and the crowd was on its feet the entire night. There were pyrotechnics, crowd participation, and throwback classics.

"Rock 'n' roll is gonna change the fucking world right now," Armstrong said at one point.

Overall, the band sounded great. Armstrong brought a fan on stage to sing "Longview," and he played the first half of "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" on acoustic guitar. They band covered Operation Ivy's "Knowledge," and Armstrong brought a girl from the crowd to play guitar. (She killed it.) Impressed, Armstrong gave her the guitar.

Hits like "When I Come Around," "Basket Case," "She," "American Idiot," and "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)" got the most enthusiastic responses from the crowd, and the band delivered a musical performance that was practically flawless. Say what you want about Green Day: The band gives a fantastic live performance.

Now, for the issue at hand.

If punk rock is an attitude of anarchistic creativity, Green Day displayed the exact opposite. The show felt more like a pep rally than a punk rock concert.

Here are some corny things that happened:
  • A guy in a pink bunny costume pumped up the crowd before the band came out.
  • Singer Billie Joe Armstrong pitted both sides of the arena in a contest between who could be louder.
  • Drummer Tré Cool left his kit and ran around the stage dancing, like the living embodiment of a dad joke. Or your drunk "cool" uncle with green hair.
  • Armstrong picked up a water hose and drenched the crowd, then launched t-shirts with a cannon.
  • The band put on hats and did a medley of "Shout," "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life," "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," and "Hey Jude." They did this while lying down on the stage.
  • Brought out a saxophone, and Armstrong played a kazoo. The saxophone and kazoo traded bars during "King For a Day."
But who cares, right? That's just a band that has achieved at the highest levels cutting back and being goofy. Not necessarily worthy of revoking the punk card.

What was decidedly not punk rock about the concert was the way Armstrong treated the show like a pop concert.

Pop music must appeal to the broadest audience possible. As such, pop concerts are filled with bland inspirational pabulum that absolutely no one can find objectional and is, as a result, meaningless.

"Be yourself!" "Be kind!" "Friends are forever!" "Love conquers all!" — no one can really argue that these sentiments are bad, and that's precisely why you hear them at pop concerts. They make people feel good, and no one can really complain without looking like a bitter jackass.

Early on during the concert last night, Armstrong shouted, "This is the United States of America! Rise up! No more corruption! No more racism! No more sexism! No more homophobia! And no more walls!"

It was the punk rock equivalent of the empty feel-good platitude. Who likes sexism? Corruption? If there's one thing punk rock should do, it's that it should fearlessly speak truth to power. Armstrong, the brain behind the anti-George W. Bush song "American Idiot," has a gigantic platform and a powerful microphone. Last night, he used both to play some nice pop songs.

By not attaching a name to the forces behind the corruption, sexism, racism, and homophobia, Armstrong was just shouting into the wind. And that seemed like a cop-out designed to not polarize his audience while maintaining some sort of anti-authority image.

And that is the least punk rock thing ever.

Critic's Notebook:

Last Night:
Green Day at Talking Stick Resort Arena

The Crowd: People who grew up with Green Day, mostly. Lots of flannel tied around waists.

Personal Bias: I love Green Day. Dookie was the first album I ever rocked out to as a child.
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David Accomazzo is a music wrangler, award-winning reporter, critic, and editor with more than a decade in the business.
Contact: David Accomazzo