Green Day at MGM Grand Garden Arena, April 7.
When I told a millennial friend of mine that I was going to see Green Day this past week, she responded, “Are they still a thing?” Judging by the 16,000 or so screaming fans at MGM Grand Garden Arena—a fair portion of which were younger than the questioning millennial—Green Day is most definitely still a thing. But she brings up a deeper query: what is the relevance of Green Day, a band that rose then fell then rose again, in today’s musical landscape, where to many they fit more into the icon category than in the current lifeblood of popular music?
This show, the band’s first full performance in Las Vegas since 2009 and first performance here of any kind since the iHeart Radio Festival in 2012 where Billie Joe Armstrong cursed out the brand then later apologized and went to rehab for alcohol and pill addiction, proved one thing—these old punkers, three decades down the road, can still tear it up like the old days, perhaps even better.
Make no mistake, Green Day, which has had the same core of Armstrong on guitar and vocals, drummer Tre Cool and bassist Mike Dirnt since 1990, plays punk music the way it’s meant to be played—fast and loud. That goes just as much for current effort “Forever Now” from Revolution Radio as it does for early work like “She” from Dookie.
Just calling Green Day a punk band—even considering the necessary part the band played in reviving the genre—has always been controversial. Green Day is mainstream and sometimes that is detrimental to the live show. Armstrong remains a compelling frontman but panders to the audience too much. Lines like, “This ain’t no slot machine, get your ass up,” feel rehearsed and insincere. Commonplace rock tricks—spraying water hoses on the audience, bombastic pyro, obligatory confetti blasts, shooting a T-shirt gun—take away as much as they add to the performance.
It is much better when the band demands approval rather than asking for it. “King For A Day,” for instance, features a duel between saxophone and kazoo, not to mention funny hats, but it feels likes Green Day is having fun not because they were told to, but because they want to.
When the group, which balloons to six members on stage, focuses on the music, it’s a demonstration of exactly why Green Day is both iconic and still relevant. This is most visible during pieces from American Idiot, the politically charged album that relaunched Green Day into superstardom and feels just as powerful today as it did back then—a fact not lost on the group. “Are We the Waiting” could speak to any number of people who have fallen through the cracks of society. “St. Jimmy” is a late set rocket-booster, another blaster played at warp speed. And “Jesus of Suburbia,” with all its parts played tightly, is thrilling, with narrative and technical precision lifting each other up.
Twenty-seven songs. Two and a half hours. Thirty years. Most definitely still a thing.