Green Day starts well, but loses steam quickly


August 12, 2005

BY JIM DeROGATIS Pop Music Critic

The best punk rock shows boast an undeniable forward momentum, creating the impression that you're in a souped-up hotrod barreling down a straight highway at 120 miles per hour. Green Day's performance Wednesday at a sold-out Allstate Arena, the first show of a victory-lap summer tour through the American arenas, was more like riding on a fancy but defective bus stuck in city traffic and breaking down at every other corner.

With "American Idiot," the long-running Bay Area trio delivered one of the best albums of 2004, as well as the strongest disc of the group's career, surprising many who thought they'd ceded their crown to a new class of snotty young pop punks. Billie Joe Armstrong and his bandmates grew up, but not by churning out soggy acoustic ballads. They stayed hard, fast and tuneful as they got angry about the state of George W. Bush's America, creating an eloquent anti-war rock opera that stands with the best of them.

The group started out strong by tearing into several of the most memorable songs from "American Idiot," including the title track, "Jesus of Suburbia" and "Holiday," all played with the ferocity of marines on the attack during a street fight in Fallujah. "We're not anti-American, we're anti-war!" Armstrong shouted as he stood in front of a giant backdrop of the album cover, an arm holding a bloody heart shaped like a hand grenade.

That opening was about as good as punk rock gets. Unfortunately, from that point on, Green Day inexplicably resorted to one arena rock cliche after another, pandering to a packed young crowd that never asked for it, seemingly forgetting everything it learned about being a great live rock band when it first took the stage 16 years ago at Berkeley's legendary Gilman Street punk club, and undercutting the strength of its political message.

The show started to go into the toilet with the overblown classic-rock anthem "St. Jimmy," which was much more effective in the context of "American Idiot." The group should have recovered from there with its renditions of indelible radio hits such as "Longview" and "Basket Case" from 1994's multiplatinum breakthrough "Dookie," but these were offered in a rote and half-hearted fashion, and extended with needless jams.

Even worse, the band indulged in long, tedious pauses between tunes as Armstrong led countless left-side, right-side "dey-oh" arena chants; relied on pyrotechnic geysers of flames instead of musical fire; let bandmates take unimpressive solos; covered the chestnut "Shout," and introduced the members of the group -- which was beefed up with a second guitarist and two horn players who doubled on keyboards and xylophone -- no fewer than three times.

Granted, Armstrong's traditional recruitment of three fans from the crowd to briefly take over on guitar, bass and drums was an inspiring moment, underscoring punk's central tenets that anybody can do it, and there is no difference between artists and audience. If Green Day had limited the non-musical portions of the show to this one moment, it would have been much stronger. But in the end, the music made up at best 60 percent of the 90-minute concert.

I went to the Allstate Arena expecting to see one of the best bands punk rock has ever produced, a group that proudly furthers the tradition of the Ramones, whose "Blitzkrieg Bop" Green Day used as its intro music. Instead, I got Motley Crue playing at a NASCAR rally, which was a damn shame: This band is capable of much, much better.