Green Day / Against Me! FirstOntario Centre, Hamilton ON, March 20
Published Mar 21, 2017Green Day's legacy now far outstrips whatever cultural relevancy they currently hold. American Idiot, their most ambitious album, dropped like a bomb when it was released in 2004, articulating the fears and anxieties of its politically charged era. The band's most recent effort, last fall's Revolution Radio, was released into a similarly turbulent time, but traded political bite for broad platitudes.
But Green Day remain a force live, and while the requisite tour in support of that record saw Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt and Tre Cool pulling out many politically charged barbs in song, in between (and sometime, during lengthy mid-song diatribes) Armstrong preached unity and positivity.
Tour openers Against Me! took a similar tack, with singer-guitarist Laura Jane Grace making politics personal. Whipping through tracks culled mostly from the Gainesville, FL quartet's last two albums, Grace spoke about the Green Day concert she attended in 1995 (a compliment that was reciprocated by Armstrong late in Green Day's set) while giving the impression that, if ever given the opportunity to play to a stadium full of dedicated fans, Against Me! would be more than up to the task.
Following a stadium sing-along to Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" and a person dressed in a pink bunny outfit dancing onstage to the Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop," Green Day emerged with "Know Your Enemy." Backed by long-time live guitarist Jason White, as well as multi-instrumentalists Jason Freese and Jeff Mitika, they eschewed big-budget flash like a state-of-the-art light show and video screens in favour of pyro and their own performance. Armstrong pulled a member of the audience up to sing partway through their opener, the first of three times lucky fans would get to live out their fantasy of playing with the band, before moving onto a pair of Revolution Radio tracks.
Working their way back through a hit-laden catalogue for over two hours, the band worked hard to please fans of every stripe. Mega-hits like "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" drew big cheers, but so did deep cuts like "Letterbomb" and "2000 Light Years Away," from 1991's Kerplunk.
Much like Foo Fighters, though, Green Day can't just play these songs; they need to turn each into an event in its own right. Sometimes the tactic is effective — pulling fans onstage certainly breaks down the barrier between performer and audience. At other times, they just felt gimmicky, as Armstrong deployed a T-shirt cannon or water hose. Green Day built their name on playing catchy two-and-a-half minute songs. Why they feel these perfect pop confections should be stretched to four and five minutes (especially with the band already playing oversized rock-opera numbers like "Jesus of Suburbia") is a mystery, as was the padding of the set with three covers.
They ended the main set with the U2-esque "Still Breathing" and "Forever Now" from Revolution Radio, then returned for a three-song encore that included "American Idiot" — during which Armstrong got in his only political dig of the evening screaming "Fuck You Donald Trump!" — and "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)."
Though the band have been playing the latter live for two decades now, on this night the track felt transformed; gone was the bitter sarcasm, replaced by a sense of sincere optimism. Tossing political critiques, especially during troubled times, can be an easy way of scoring points, but more often than not it comes across as cheap and, ultimately, futile. In using their bully pulpit to bring people together, Green Day transcended their sloganeering to create something a little closer to revolutionary.