Last Call With Carson Daly/Henry Fonda Theatre
By Jeff Miller
The day before the biggest punk band in the world (and likely the biggest band in the world, period) played a triumphant show at the tiny-for-them Henry Fonda Theatre in Hollywood (capacity: 1,200, give or take a few hundred if the fire marshall looks the other way), they played a mini set for a much smaller but nearly equally rabid group of fans, on stage nine at the NBC lot in Burbank.
The band just released a much-hyped, fantastic new album, the lush, rock opera–ish 21st Century Breakdown, (the follow-up to their massive, hit-packed American Idiot) so this stop — on Last Call With Carson Daly — could have been just another dull bit of promo, an in-and-out, rote run-through of their current hit (the hyper "Know Your Enemy"), and that's that.
Except this is Green Day, and with a band this workmanlike, nothing's that's that. So, the band (original members Billie Joe Armstrong, Tre Cool, and Mike Dirnt, as well as three auxillary players) played not just one song but a mini set: "Know Your Enemy," sure, but also the ballad-like "21 Guns," and the 50s-sounding "In The Static Age," as well as three other "Breakdown" tracks, to an audience of fewer than 200 fans so psyched to be there, they were nearly shocked into silence when Armstrong (who, with his shaggy, dyed-hair, buttoned-all-the-way-up shirt, and cherubic face looks like he's 37 going on 14) leads them in "waaay-oooah" call and response — just as he would, repeatedly, at the Fonda the following night.
And when they think that's it, the band re-emerges in new clothes, and plays two songs as Foxboro Hot Tubs — a just-for-fun side-project that most fans assumed was defunct following a small club tour last year.
It's the first in a series of surprises that culminates in the second set of their Fonda show, where the band takes requests from the audience, and then plows through non-hit after non-hit from their before-they-were–rock stars albums Kerplunk and 1039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours, with Armstrong having to teach the rest of the band "Brat" (from 1995's Insomniac) when it's requested, since it's been so long since they've played it.
What's amazing is that this band, who's gotten so much press for maturing along with their visibility, were that same reliable trio all along: Take the lovelorn, melodic circa-'92 singalong "Going to Pasalacqua" and say that one of Armstrong's living-in-the-heartland characters is the narrator, slap it on "21st Century Breakdown," and you've got even one more hit single.
That's not repetition, that's consistency, in the same way U2 (a band with which the relatively newly politically conscious Green Day share more than one trait) can be counted on for reach-for-the-rafters choruses and clangily echoing guitars; the same way Bruce Springsteen will always mention the backstreets at least once per album; the same way you can hear Pete Townshend windmill on each Who song just to prove he can.
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With the songs on 21st Century Breakdown and these shows — celebrations that found the band inviting fans to sing classics on stage, welcomed them to shout along from the audience, and even let them mess with the set list — it's clear that Green Day belong, squarely, in the pantheon that houses those classic artists. And that's that.
Note: Green Day's performances on Last Call will be broadcast all next week.