Tuesday night, Green Day celebrated their brand new No. 1 record (215,000 copies of 21st Century Breakdown sold in just four days) with a show for MySpace Music concert series “The List” at New York City’s Webster Hall. An audience of 1000 or so lucky fans and industry bigwigs were treated to an opening hour of material from 21st Century, followed by a similarly timed greatest hits pupu platter.
Another food metaphor applies, too. The concert was a structured like a meal at my Bubbe’s house — no one gets dessert until all the vegetables are gone.
The Breakdown songs are catchy and cleverly composed (Billie Joe Armstrong probably sneezes in hummable melodies), but the mood of aggrieved, power-chorded, and cymbal-crashing protest was monotonously unrelenting.
New songs like the martial “Know Your Enemy” and the buzzsawing “East Jesus Nowhere” were delivered with stadium-sized vigor; the energy coming from the band proved that they weren’t treating this gig like a prelude to bigger one. But it wasn’t until nine songs in, when Billie Joe picked up an acoustic guitar for the triumphant power ballad “21 Guns,” that the show’s emotional arc started to, you know, arc.
The band seemed to know something was off. When Billie Joe told the roadies to haul some monitors away from the foot of the stage so he could be closer to the fans in the front row, and then yelled, “Let’s get desperate together! This is religion! This is rock and roll!” it felt like he was responding to a slight sogginess in the crowd.
But then came the sundae. After a quick break, the band — Billie Joe, bassist Mike Dirnt, and drummer Tre Cool, augmented by an additional guitarist, keyboardist, and multi-instrumentalist — came back with an American Idiot triple shot, playing that album’s title-track, the nine-minute “Jesus of Suburbia,” and an attractively acidic “St. Jimmy.” The middle of the Idiot sandwich was especially tasty, as the song careened Who-like from one chunky riff and cheeky melody to another.
Later, Dookie era classics “She,” “Longview,” and “Basket Case,” as well as a charmingly ramshackle mash-up of Cheap Trick’s “Surrender” and the Replacement’s “Bastards of Young,” helped shift the vibe from party meeting to just plain party.
The group closed with the bouncy “Minority,” from 2000’s Warning. In retrospect that song, with its cry of “Down with the moral majority,” looks like the beginning of the politically charged Green Day we now know.But rather than bronzed in peeling guitar leads and massive choruses, the older tune’s message is leavened with loopy accordion and spritely harmonica. “Minority” is veggies and desert. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.