Try as they might to display a more mature side as songwriters and lyricists, the members of Green Day – a third, fourth or maybe even fifth-generation punk band – are still working the same schtick that powered them to rock supremacy in the mid-1990s.
It’s snotty and obnoxious, a blur of three- and four-chord rockers strung together in a manner that puts exclamation points after every barre chord and chorus. But when it’s working, Green Day is far and away the head of the class.
Green Day delivered an involving, career-spanning show that included five tunes from the new disc “Warning” (Reprise) at a packed Bren Center Saturday, with non-stop crowd-surfing and an inordinately large mosh pit at the UC Irvine venue. It was one of those good nights for the band, when it became a simple task to put Green Day into the punk rock pantheon of the Stooges and Ramones – two bands that knew their strengths and didn’t attempt to become stylistic chameleons -despite the overwhelming sense that everything they do has been heard before.
Green Day still milks the cartoonish aspects of punk rock, and the confident swagger and “how did I get here” demeanor of their leader, Billie Joe Armstrong, can be confounding. But the audience can relate; the difference between Armstrong and them is that he has the guitar and the microphone. So he says stupid things and a lot of obscenities, plays some hard rock riffs to show he knows what he’s doing, catches or dodges the shoes being tossed onstage and even drags people out of the audience to join the band. And he does it all without flinching.
That is simply punk rock.
To see Green Day perform means watching Armstrong. There are other people onstage – the steady drummer Tre Cool, bassist Mike Dirnt and, on occasion, a second guitarist, trombonist, saxophonist and man wearing a bee outfit playing trumpet – but Armstrong exudes everything anyone would ever want to know about the band.
What Green Day’s successors (Blink-182 and their ilk) fail to recognize is that the cartoon isn’t enough, that there has to be driving force behind it, just as the songs need catchy reference points. Even in the din of Armstrong and Dirnt strumming guitar and bass, the lessons of listening to a lot of older rock ‘n’ roll is apparent on tunes such as “Hitchin’ a Ride,” the brilliant “Waiting” and “Brain Stew.” The ballad”Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” is still an anomaly for the trio, and it remains a solo Armstrong vehicle as an encore – it won’t fit anywhere else in the set.
The band’s early popularity – Green Day’s first disc for Reprise, “Dookie,” sold 10 million copies – seems to work against it only before the release of an album, when it’s suggested that the new disc may garner similar sales figures. But the succeeding albums haven’t and odds are, they won’t. On the positive side, the band’s fans welcomed the performance of the first single from Green Day’s latest album, “Minority,” with the same vigor they display in responding to the breakthrough works “Longview” and “When I Come Around.”
Openers the Living End suffered the ignominy of having guitar and amp not cooperate after the first striking of a chord, but leader Chris Cheney took the technical troubles in stride and powered the Australian three-piece through an invigorating set of rootsy, bone-rattling rock ‘n’ roll. Intensely popular Down Under, the Living End has lived off one KROQ hit (“Prisoner of Society”) for years, but its new Reprise disc, “Roll On,” shows the band’s capable of much more than just a single anthem. Album’s stand-out track, “Riot on Broadway,” didn’t make it into Saturday’s set list; the power-pop-rocker “Pictures in the Mirror” was instead the highlight. Cheney, much more than Armstrong, displays a command of his instrument that goes a long way toward defining the Living End’s identity.
Green Day and the Living End will continue to tour together through early August and then spend two weeks separately in Europe.