“Green Day rocks the United Center.” – Concert Review.

By Julia Barr

The United Center’s lights go down, the crowd grows silent, waiting for those dramatic opening chords; the curtain opens….and a guy in a fuzzy pink bunny suit staggers onto the stage drinking a PBR.

Everyone cracked up, looking at each other with identical expressions of “what the fuck?” written on their faces. The mysterious drunken bunny man (who turned out be bass player Mike Dirnt) flopped around the stage to “Rock n’ Roll Radio,” by the Ramones, chugged the rest of his beer, and then suddenly took off and ran behind the curtain. Now we knew it was going to be a good show.

Billie Joe Armstrong, lead singer and guitarist, started out the set singing “Song of the Century,” the first track on the new album “21st Century Breakdown” a cappella into a crackly microphone, the rest of the band joining in on the title track. “21st Century Breakdown” seems like something from a musical, or a rock opera. It centers on a theme of living in America in disillusioned times; as do lots of songs on the new album.

The last time I saw Green Day was four years ago, after the release of “American Idiot,” an extremely political album, full of rage at the Bush administration, and anti-war songs, such as “Holiday.” The last time they played it, it was announced with the battle cry of “This song is not anti-American, it’s anti-WAR!” This time around, all he said was “This is our lives on holiday,” and it seemed like a victory song.

Now that Obama’s in the White house, Green Day’s rebellion is not so much targeted at the government, but more at the general mindset that Americans have grown accustomed to. “Static Age,” on the new album, is all about that materialism and chaos, and before they started playing it, Billie Joe paced back and forth screaming at the crowd to ignore all the “bullshit we see every day on the television and the Internet and all the useless information coming at us constantly.” What I love about Green Day though is that no matter what messages they are trying to send, it never gets too serious. Billie Joe never seems like a glorified rock god; he’s more like that spastic kid at your lunch table in high school who just clowns around and never shuts up.

He dedicated “Before the Lobotomy,” a song about “whiskey shots and cheap cigarettes,” to a guy in the audience that had shown them around Chicago the night before, saying “We got really fucking wasted with him last night. He’s probably here somewhere right now. Let’s get a round of applause.”

After playing their classic song, “Brain Stew,” he trailed off into a series of funny noises, making the crowd repeat after him, and finally he said “This is what we’re gonna do… I want everyone in the audience to make fucking sounds!” and the arena burst into a cacophony of ridiculous sounding sexual noises, and then Billie Jo busted up laughing and pointed at this guy in the front, and said “You! In the tenth row… I can’t believe your wife, girlfriend, whatever, likes it when you get on top of her and go ARGGHHHH (blood curdling scream). But hey, that’s how you roll!” And then, like that, he’s off on another tangent.

He led into a song off the new album called “East Jesus Nowhere” by talking like a Holy Roller preacher - “Can I get an Amen?” - and halfway through the song, stopped and said “I need a child! Where can I find a child?” and pulled a curly haired kid up onto the stage. He whispered something in the kid’s ear, marched him out to the end of the platform during the quiet part of the song, and then, as fireworks behind the stage went off, in time with the last loud chords, the kid fell down. When he popped back up to applause, he was grinning ear to ear.

There was audience participation like this throughout the entire show. During “Longview,” an old favorite about sitting on the couch being bored out of your mind, he picked fans out of the audience to get up and sing. This great big guy sang the first verse and was hilarious, jumping around and repeatedly hugging Billie Joe. Then a girl in tube socks sang the last one, and at the end, Billie Joe said “You’re so awesome. Now get your ass of my fucking stage!” and she ran off the end and did a stage dive.

“Longview” wasn’t the only old hit they played, they also did “Basketcase” (my all time favorite Green Day song), “Hitchin’ a Ride” (during which they squirted everyone with squirt guns and blew toilet paper on the crowd with leaf blowers), and the hilarious “King for a Day” (about the joys of cross-dressing) with Billie Jo in a cop hat, drummer Tre Cool in an Easter bonnet, and Mike Dirnt sporting the tell-tale bunny ears.

All three of them had an insane amount of energy throughout the whole show. They played a covers medley with “Shout,” “Stand by Me,” and a surprising few seconds of “I’ll Be There,” in a tribute to Michael Jackson. Their radio hit, “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” was another surprisingly touching moment. When it first came out, I thought it was whiny and never liked it, but I have to admit, when he held the microphone out and let the crowd sing an entire verse, it sent shivers up my spine, and made me feel good in a way that only singing a song about loneliness with a stadium of people who know every word could. “21 Guns” is this album’s equivalent to “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” an epic ballad, which was even better live than on the CD because they added piano in the middle.

For the encore, they played a super-speed version of “American Idiot,” followed by “Jesus of Suburbia,” an epic song with multiple parts. For this one, Billie Joe said “Who here knows how to play this song?” and scanned the audience. Finally he said “Ok, it’s cute little kid time!” and this kid who couldn’t have been more than ten climbed onstage, Billie handed him a guitar, and he played the entire song, and even sang a verse in his squeaky voice. That was the best thing about this show. It was all about giving people moments they’ll always remember, and as cliché as it sounds, letting regular kids feel like stars.

During the anthem “Minority,” he thanked the crowd for being there and said “We’re doing this now! We’re in the present, and it’s great,” and at that point I realized that behind all the constant chanting of “hey, hey, hey, hey,” and doing the wave, and all of the other audience participation, there was a mission to make people wake up. To make them experience this show as an active part of it, not just like they would if they were sitting around watching television.

This show was a perfect mix of new and old, of silly and epic, and it was all about the crowd. By the time they ended the show with “Good Riddance,” you could tell they really did “hope we had the time of our lives.”


Julia Barr is a creative writing major at University of Iowa who is obsessed with music of almost all genres. Check out her Facebook or shoot her an e-mail.

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