So, who’s laughing now at the Day’s audacious attempt to bring political punk-pop opera to the masses?
At 8.50 in the evening, it’s worth having a look around the huge expanse of the National Bowl, Milton Keynes. The sun is falling, but the evil heat remains; ‘YMCA’ is being pumped from the PA system and wherever you look people are making the motions of the letters with their arms. There’s not a space to be found: 65,000 pack the floor and curve of the bowl and the same number will arrive tomorrow. The Ramones’ ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’ is piped out next, with everyone singing, “Hey ho, let’s go”, in anticipation of A Real Event. Welcome to paradise, indeed.
“Thank you,” says Billie Joe Armstrong, almost two hours later, “for being part of the biggest show that Green Day have ever played.”It is astonishing that it’s come to this; that a band who garnered only lukewarm respect from the critical community and the attention of a dwindling worldwide fanbase should have risen so quicky to the point where they have it all. They have an album, ‘American Idiot’, that’s being recognised as a masterpiece by those who expected nothing of the sort from this group. And they’re rising again to the kind of profile they reached with the release of ‘Dookie’, the difference this time being that Green Day don’t look like cocky kids blinking in the spotlight. For two hours tonight they look as if they own this place. The sound is of a band whose playing is tighter than skin, the sight is of the most natural frontman of his generation running the show from the middle of his palm.
Just as importantly, the feeling from the audience is that they own Green Day/ Tonight’s mega-show is not just about the obvious: the production, the songs, the fireworks, the band. What you really need to make a thing of this size fly is a sense of connection. The people here not only like Green Day but feel they understand them, and understand them well enough to imagine that they actually know them. It’s this sense of empathy that’s the secret ingredient which makes this day truly remarkable. You might call it adoration; you might also call it love.
The gig itself isn’t really much different from the set the band brought to the UK at the beginning of the year. An opening volley of ‘American Idiot’, ‘Jesus Of Suburbia’, ‘Holiday’, ‘Are We The Waiting’ and ‘St Jimmy’ proving that material from an eighth album can be as vital as the cache of hits that follow.
But it’s not all about ‘Basket Case’, about ‘Long View’, about ‘Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)’ , about the sense of revelry that rises like steam. It’s also about the many shades Green Day have at their disposal. Who else could parody the Washington warmongers with a line such as,“Kill all the fags that don’t agree” (from ‘Holiday’) one minute and then the next be writhing around on the floor to Lulu’s ‘Shout’ the next? Who else could meld the personal and the political, commentary and entertainment, in a manner that is both accessible and intelligent?
Aside from a taxi home, tonight this gang of three provide everything we could hope for. It’s hardly a surprise to anyone in attendance but Green Day have finally risen to the throne that was always destined to be theirs.