Live Review: Green Day

It might not be as high-brow as they’d like, but when they’re not trying to be deep it’s a riot. The 02, London, Friday, October 23

It’s 10.03pm in London and 20,000 people are singing the melody to a Mozart Nocturne (seriously) for the third or fourth time tonight, expertly conducted by a short guy who can’t stop pinballing around the vast stage. At various points in the evening’s entertainment he will fire T-shirts into the crowd like we’re at some huge sports carnival, have his power chords punctuated by exploding pillars of fire, invite what seems like half the audience onstage to gurgle a verse or two into the mic and shoot reams of toilet paper into the crowd. The New York cityscape is painted in lights on to the back wall and showers of sparks and flares ensure that, even through closed eyes, London knows the Green Day’s production values. NME looks at our ticket: £37.50. Yup, that’s about right.

But despite the staggering artifice of the show, effectively split into three acts – the first comprising prime cuts from ‘21st Century Breakdown’ and ‘American Idiot’, the second a banquet of classics stretching back over 18 years, the third the inevitable encores – it’s held together by the astonishing showmanship of Billie Joe Armstrong and his relentless belief in his band. He burns with conviction, and it’s visible from anywhere within this corporate cave.

The previous night, at a ‘creative space’ in east London, the band unveiled a series of artworks, each based on the lyrics of a different song from the new record. They’re not just a band any more, see. “This is us pushing the boundaries of art,” bassist Mike Dirnt tells NME at the exhibition, which consists of street art, stencilling and heavy-handed statements (Mickey Mouse ears on soldiers? Really?). “We thought it would be cool to be someone else’s muse for once.” So, Green Day have now reached the status of cultural icons, producing albums conceptually rich enough to inspire real art worth thousands of pounds?

That kind of remains to be proven, but back in The O2, the band are killing it. The opening chords to ‘Holiday’ induce throaty joy, and the pedestrian likes of ‘The Static Age’ and ‘Before The Lobotomy’, a plodding donkey of a tune, morph into communal exorcisms as Armstrong conducts his choir with the skill and enthusiasm of a proselytising priest. During ‘21st Century Breakdown’ he clambers into the stands

to gurn his chops off while not missing a note. Impressively, it doesn’t matter how orchestrated all this is because the band make everyone feel not just included but important. And it’s not through empty wave-your-BlackBerry gestures and mawkish sentiment, but wish-fulfilment on a grand scale. Want to get onstage and sing ‘Know Your Enemy’? That’s fine, but you’ll have to stagedive afterwards. Know the words to ‘Longview’? Prove it, kid, here’s the mic. Tonight could be the best night of your life.

Ah, ‘Longview’: you’d think this sweaty ode to wanking on a sofa would fall flat considering the po-faced worthiness of GD-’09. But no – alongside the flawless old-school treat of ‘2000 Light Years Away’, a thudding ‘Brain Stew’, the ecstatic ‘Welcome To Paradise’, the obligatory-yet-still-powerful ‘Basket Case’ and ‘When I Come Around’, a song so universally adored it’s like the musical equivalent to summer – it’s a lifeline back to the three losers who named their band after getting too stoned. They could have condensed this into a 15-minute medley, but by stringing out the classics and throwing in a few surprises (‘She’! ‘Jaded’!) they service the old-timers and those who weren’t even born when ‘Dookie’ came out with humour and grace. More than anything, it’s undeniably fun in the same way Iron Maiden shows are.

It’s that marriage of dumb entertainment and supposed depth that fuels Green Day, and Mike Dirnt summed it up without realising the previous night. Before talking about how his band are creating and inspiring art above and beyond their own music, he looks at NME through a pair of stupid red plastic glasses. “You can’t take anything I say seriously,” he grins. “I’m wearing ridiculous glasses.” Yes you are. Take Green Day too seriously and you might be left with a $2,600 piece of rubbish sub-Banksy pseudo-graffiti on your wall, but if you want a massive confetti cannon-blast of fun then roll up, roll up…

Ben Patashnik