By Niki D’Andrea
Better than: Lollapalooza ’94.
I guess we should consider ourselves lucky. Foxboro Hot Tubs (a.k.a. all three members of Green Day, plus Jason White of Pinhead Gunpowder, Green Day backing musician Jason Freese, and Kevin Preston of Prima Donna and the Skulls) only announced ten dates for their U.S. tour, and the band’s stop at the Brickhouse Theatre in Phoenix on Sunday, May 25, was one of those precious ten.
Green Day comprises half of Foxboro Hot Tubs.
Up until a few weeks ago, when the band confirmed that it is, in fact, a garage rock side project of Green Day, FHT was generating a modest amount of Internet buzz, with many fans commenting on FHT’s MySpace page that the band sounded an awful lot like Green Day. When Foxboro Hot Tubs posted some advance MP3s on its Web site last December and then took them down after only five days, suspicions grew even greater. Once the identities of the ‘60s-lovin’ upstarts were revealed, boom! Their first single, “Mother Mary,” hits #16 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart, and every show on their brief tour is guaranteed to be packed. The band did not confirm that it included Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt, and Tre Cool until around May 15 – five days before the release of Foxboro Hot Tubs’ debut album. Coincidence? We think not.
Further complicating matters for the average concertgoer, Foxboro Hot Tubs is only playing 500-capacity clubs on the tour, with $20 tickets only available at the box office the day of the show.
The result in Phoenix was that fans started lining up outside the Brickhouse as early as noon on Sunday to score tickets. When I arrived at the venue around 7:30 p.m., the line to get in wound through the parking lot and extended halfway down Jackson Street. All security from Tempe’s Marquee Theatre (whose owner, Tom LaPenna, also owns promotion company Lucky Man Productions) had been pulled from the spacious concert venue and brought downtown to the Brickhouse for the FHT show. Legendary concert promoter Tom Hoppa was working the lot, making sure that the two lines (one for those over age 21, and one for those under 21) stayed separate, and that nobody got in with a camera.
Fans who waited in line for hours finally make it to the door.
Including me. I had brought my camera with the understanding that Brickhouse owner Roger Belfiore (who made sure I got into the venue) couldn’t make any promises as far as photography permission. Sure enough, upon my arrival, Belfiore informed me that Foxboro Hot Tubs’ management was not allowing ANY cameras into the show, not even for press, and vowed to confiscate any cell phones that went up in the air to snap shots.
I made sure that Foxboro Hot Tubs’ on-tour photographer received my contact info., and I hope to post a slideshow of officially-approved photos from the show sometime soon. I did manage to snap several shots of the crowd outside and the parking lot scenes, which you can view in a slide show.
So, how was the show?
First of all, it was obviously sold-out. I’ve been to the Brickhouse countless times in the past, and I have never seen the venue that packed. You gotta figure, Green Day has sold more than 65 million records worldwide, and can easily sell out 65,000-seat arenas. And here they were, cramming themselves into a 500-capacity club. Had more fans been hip to the FHT alter-ego, there could’ve easily been a riot.
Luckily, nobody stuffed into the Brickhouse had the room – or wherewithal – to riot. Security started carrying unconscious people out of the venue’s side door before the opening band, Girls With Guns, had even completed its first song. People were just exhausted – some had been standing outside for several hours before getting into the venue, and once inside, it was a standing room-only inferno. I could literally inhale the body heat emanating from the sweaty masses – the air was that thick. Luckily, venue security had an ample supply of water and a chair set up outside for people suffering from dehydration and heat exhaustion.
Needless to say, people were past all patience when openers Girls With Guns got onstage at 9 p.m. Musically, the all-girl band was a solid barrage of old school thrash punk with some melodic tendencies. Singer La-Ni was dressed in a low-cut, strapless black prom dress, and she bounced up and down with such vigor that her breasts threatened to leap out of her top with every pogo. She wasn’t much of a “singer,” however – her stylings reminded me of a cross between X-Ray Spex’s Poly Styrene and 45 Grave’s Dinah Cancer, but without any vocal control or attention to pitch whatsoever. She was just up there screaming her ass off. The audience booed Girls With Guns en masse, even when (or perhaps especially because) the band played a cover of “Beat on the Brat” by the beloved Ramones. La-Ni kept promising the audience “We’ll get off the stage as soon as fucking possible,” and when they finally announced their last song, they got the biggest cheer from the audience that they’d gotten all night.
photo by David Durkee
When it’s revealed that Foxboro Hot Tubs isn’t scheduled to take the stage for another hour, some people are pissed. One girl outside told her friend, “If I didn’t wait to pay 20 bucks, I’d leave right now.”
I’m empathetic, even though I didn’t stand outside all day to get in. The doors opened at 7 p.m., but Girls With Guns didn’t go on until 9. They finished at 9:30, with FHT scheduled to start at 10:30. Why any band – especially one with a huge crew and two tour buses to transport them all -- needs an hour between sets is a mystery to me. 30 minutes is standard – even Tina Turner, who had the largest multi-media stage show I’ve ever seen – didn’t make the audience wait an hour after her opening act.
When Foxboro Hot Tubs finally took the stage (15 minutes before schedule, to their credit), the venue erupted. Billie Joe Armstrong, sporting a blond, mop-top hairdo, announced to the audience that “It’s dancing time.” Then he introduced Foxboro Hot Tubs by saying, “We’re from Mesa, Arizona.” (Yeah, we wish).
Once the band started playing, women in the audience were screaming like Foxboro Hot Tubs were The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. The screams were so loud and high-pitched that people were literally plugging their ears with their fingers.
Musically, I was impressed. Foxboro Hot Tubs aren’t doing anything revolutionary – they’re playing high-end garage rock with sonic nods to ‘60s fuzz-pop pioneers like 13th Floor Elevators and the Kinks – but they’ve got their shit down. They’re like a cross between remixed Green Day and recycled retro rock. Mike Dirnt’s thick, sprawling bass lines are unmistakable, and the poppy, four-chord guitar progressions are similar to Green Day’s melodic hooks. And of course, there’s Billie Joe Armstrong’s trademark thick, nasally voice. Some of the songs were strangely familiar – “Mother Mary” shares a similar beat and bass line with Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” and Jet’s “Are You Gonna Be My Girl?” (one tune even co-opted the bass hook from the beginning of the Zombies’ 1968 smash, “Time of the Season”). The b-side of “Mother Mary,” a mod-ish ditty called “She’s a Saint, Not a Celebrity” borrows the basic chug-chords of the Ramones and infuses them with some go-go boogie. But the most dead-on parallel (read: loving rip-off) was the Foxboro Hot Tubs song “Alligator.” I swear to God, from the verses to the bridges to the choruses to the ending, my friend B-Boy sang the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” over it and it fit perfectly. “You Really Got Me” and “Alligator” are the same song, right down to the backing vocal ahhs and three-bang ending.
Billie Joe Armstrong: Imagine him with shaggy blond hair and no guitar.
As the set wore on, the crowd showed little signs of the fatigue that had set in throughout the day. There was a tightly-packed mosh pit, with a few smaller fans (most appeared to be pre-teens) stumbling out the side door nursing their heads. There was some crowd surfing, too, and at one point, Armstrong pulled a boy from the crowd and brought him onstage, slinging the kid over his shoulder while he sang.
“We’re gonna bust a hole in the big red sky!” Armstrong announced from the stage. “It’s beautiful out here tonight! This is the most beautiful night in the United States of America!”
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Foxboro Hot Tubs played until midnight, and I imagine most of the audience lasted that long. I didn’t. I was able to stand the steaming inferno and Beatles screams for about an hour, but then my feet and head just couldn’t take the cramped pandemonium anymore.
Random detail: Foxboro Hot Tubs had “Mother Mary” seven-inch vinyl singles available at their shows for $2.
Personal bias: I hadn’t been standing in line since noon.