“Hello, my name is the Reverend Strychnine Twitch,” the bleach-streaked, shaggy-haired frontman of the Foxboro Hot Tubs declared as he ambled his way on stage. On another day, in another year, the same singer might introduce himself as Billie Joe Armstrong, and the band he would be fronting might be Green Day. If the good reverend is Armstrong’s alter ego, then the pseudonymous Foxboro Hot Tubs are a second persona for the veteran punk band, as well. And not simply in name.
Playing at the famed Roxy Theatre in Los Angeles Tuesday night–a compact venue whose history has been that of host to notable up-and-comers, not typically established, award-winning artists–the band showcased, by and large, and entirely new sound. Certainly Armstrong’s rubber-band vocals are undeniable and unmistakable–a sort of genetic stamp that’s not easily manipulated–but the music departs from the pop-punk core of Green Day’s catalogue. The most immediate explanation of their sound is garage revival, but it’s more complex than that, twisting and contorting the genre borne through the late ’60s and adding to it spins of ’70s rock, rockabilly and, yes, some punk. And this is interesting for at least two reasons.
First, it needs to be understood that the Hot Tubs are not a supergroup a la the Raconteurs. They are not a side project for one of Green Day’s members like Ben Gibbard’s The Postal Service (Death Cab) or Kim Deal’s The Breeders (Pixies). They are Green Day, but they’re not. All three original members are there, Armstrong, Mike Dirnt and Tre Cool, but even the new members aren’t all that new. Jason White (lead guitar), Jason Freese (keys) and Kevin Preston (rhythm guitar) have been touring, if not recording with Green Day for years. You’d think a lineup like that would be rooted, if not mired in their erstwhile musical tendencies. Yet with the same essential elements in place, they’ve managed a new concoction. What Green Day had been spewing with punk, The Hot Tubs are spilling over with rock and roll.
Second, while American Idiot was a tour de force and Green Day’s most decorated album to date, the politically charged record saw the band not spewing or spilling over with much but frustrated, emotional and somewhat melancholy expression. Gone were the days of the frenetic Dookie, in were those of mature ballads. And even the passerby might think Armstrong & Co. turned the corner into pop-radio adulthood. But if you were to try to chart Green Day’s musical progression and compositional growth from there, you’d find the Hot Tubs a refreshing non sequitur and possibly a return to the youthful energy of the mid-’90s. It’s as if they decided to start over. Or to put it another way, all in their mid-30’s–nearly ancient for a punk band–they look like young kids having fun again, without seeming obnoxious or awkward about it.
Granted, this isn’t their first such shape-shifting effort, that is, if you count 2003’s anonymous group The Network (still not claimed by Green Day, despite the carbon copy drums, lead vocals and low-hung guitar stance), and all of the Green day antics are there; at once witty and juvenile banter, invited onstage melees, copious crowd surfing and beer sprayed from bottles, mouths and rafters. But don’t be fooled. The Foxboro Hot Tubs are something new and potentially revitalizing. “Revitalization” may not seem to logically befit a band who came off a award-winning album in 2004. After all, what band toting a shiny Grammy needs a jolt? But as good as Green Day had become up to that point, there was justifiable worry that their evolution would become predictable and pigeonholed–their musical exploration tapped. Enter The Foxboro Hot Tubs. Enter rock and roll.
Photo by Foxborohottubs.com