It’s not a long way from the White Horse pub on Georges Quay to the O2, a couple of miles at most. You could easily walk it. In fact many of the crowd who greet Green Day‘s return to these shores with a response beyond ecstatic probably hurried past it this wet Autumn evening, unaware of its place in the band’s history. Billie Joe Armstrong certainly remembers their appearance at a Hope Collective Saturday afternoon at the venue (then known as the Attic) in 1991, when people couldn’t dance for fear of the floor collapsing onto the pub below.
Green Day’s journey across the Liffey and down towards the docks has taken them some eighteen years and through a number of very different guises – underground punk rockers, mainstream punk rockers, washed up ex-pop stars and now the intelligent face of American stadium rock. Which Green Day will we get tonight? As it turns out, a little bit of all of them, all mixed in with a spectacular stage show that puts most of the tours to pass this way to shame. It’s as if the pantomime has come to town early, with a riot of pyrotechnics, confetti, water cannons (yes, water cannons) and audience participation.
Like most pantos, however, we’ve seen a lot of these tricks before. On the American Idiot tour, to be precise, which visited the Point in early 2005. Open with a chunk of new material? Check. Follow it up with the older greatest hits? Check. Wrap yourself in the Irish flag and lead the crowd in a chorus of -ole ole’? Check. Get a member of the audience up on stage to join the band? Oh yes. There’s no doubting that Green Day, and Armstrong in particular, give their crowd value for money. Charging around the stage for the full two and a half hours of their set, he is forever cajoling and engaging with the O2 – be it through constant singalongs, dropping his trousers, firing t-shirts into the crowd and generally mugging it up while the five other musicians cover the gaps. He’s a charismatic presence alright and when it works – as when they get two fans up to sing -Longview’ – it’s great entertainment. Over the course of a whole evening, however, it does start to feel like the enforcded jollity of an office Christmas party, with Armstrong as the prankster who is desperate for the guests to have a good time, all the time. This approach reaches a nadir on their extended, silly hat wearing medley of -King For A Day / Shout’ (which again they’ve been peddling for a while now). That’s fine for the likes of NOFX, Less Than Jake and the other cartoon punks but Green Day should have a lot more to offer.
It seems to be a recurring problem for the band, just which version of Green Day should be leading the pack. There is a definite desire to stay in touch with their past (at one point a montage of old punk flyers seeks to put them in the context of contemporaries Fugazi, Operation Ivy, the Beatnigs and the rest) and they certainly connect with their past material in spectacular fashion, even as far back as Kerplunk (-2,000 Light Years Away’). Whereas last time out the songs from Dookie sounded a bit thin in when played as a three piece, tonight sees Green Day do them justice – helped no doubt by the superb sound. Yet that was then and the band are at their most interesting when dealing with the now. The opening salvo of -21st Century Breakdown’ and -Know Your Enemy’ aside, the material from the new album doesn’t quite hit the mark. The representations from American Idiot, however, are stunning, the point where Green Day bring their various elements together – the rage of youth directed in a more meaningful direction, a musical maturing and that ever present knack with a melody. The most political they get, apart from the impressive images projected on the huge screen, is when Billie Joe wipes his arse on a U.S. flag thrown on stage but it’s these songs that have, so far at any rate, defined them as a band.
So it’s not the perfect night, although it does have some nearly perfect moments. What Green Day don’t have yet is the ability to stop you dead in your tracks, as with many of the bands from the big league that they aspire to join. They come close, but something is holding them back – hence maybe why they chose to dress up their show with all manner of unnecessary high jinks. The world has shown that it’s willing to accept the new, grown up Green Day on record, surely they should have the confidence in us as a live audience as well? The dilemma is crystallised by the show’s finale, a spine tingling solo version of -Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)’ from Armstrong. The spotlight fades, our night has closed on an undisputed high. Until that is TrÃ© Cool emerges from the wings to pull a few funny faces and hurl some drumsticks into the crowd. The moment is lost and a night of not inconsiderable bangs and crashes ends with a confused whimper. Sometimes you just have to accept that it’s time to grow up.
Photo: Stephen McLeod