SXSW: Green Day Pummels Austin, 3/15/13
Christopher Victorio Green Day at SXSW last night.
ACL Live @ Moody Theater // SXSW
Friday, March 15, 2013
Better than: Watching Wayne's World for the 57th time.
Billie Joe leapt off the monitors. Mike Dirnt abused his bass. Tre Cool cross-dressed and played the jester and drummed like a tornado. Kids were brought up from the crowd to fuck up the lyrics and stage-dive. The setlist spanned from "Christie Road" to "Oh Love," and the songs came out tight, fast, and very loud. Billie Joe let the crowd sing much of them. Even the band's toilet-paper gun and T-shirt launcher made appearances.
So, yes: Green Day pummeled an Austin crowd with stadium-punk for two hours last night, and it was good.
It was every bit as good as the band had been before Billie Joe went to rehab last fall, just as Green Day was releasing a trio of new albums. His roar is still as guttural. His between-song bellows are just as urgent ("Do you want to start a fucking riot!? "Everything IS louder in Texas!") His onstage demeanor is still manic -- almost alarmingly manic, more a St. Jimmy than a Johnny.
Songs from those three newish albums, helpfully titled ¡Uno!, ¡Dos!, and ¡Tré!, dominated the early part of the show, and rightly so: Given the band's recent troubles, most Green Day fans haven't had a chance to hear them live. The new songs were honed with the members working as a live band, rather than the heavy studio work that led to the blockbuster American Idiot and its follow-up, 21st Century Breakdown. Onstage may be where they sound best. "Oh Love" was disappointing as a first single, but its spacious bluntness mades it a sledgehammer live. "Stop When the Red Lights Flash," is one of the hardest, fastest songs Green Day has ever recorded; onstage, it was absolutely thrilling. (In the new Green Day documentary ¡Cuatro!, about the making of the three new albums, there's a scene in which Mike Dirnt says of that song: "I'm not above going for an easy A.")
Unfortunately, some of the new material sounds like Billie Joe has simply rewritten old songs with new lyrics. "99 Revolutions" made an energetic opener, but offered no surprises. "Stay the Night" hits a soaring chorus, but sounds like vintage Green Day, only hornier. Still, these weren't exactly disappointing live -- they just weren't as thrilling as other parts of the show.
Green Day has a sizeable arsenal of songs that work like grenades onstage, and we heard many of them last night: "Basket Case," "Holiday," "Longview," "Minority," and, of course, "American Idiot." Each sent the Moody Theater audience -- which seemed more local and more fan-heavy than most SXSW crowds -- into howls and even some moshing. Each arrived with all the ferocity Green Day had before its career trajectory became a Behind the Music plot line. Each was a delight. We may be at the redemption point of the Green Day story now, but there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.
The real opener: Nine minutes before Green Day went onstage, the house PA played "Bohemian Rhapsody" -- and after about 20 seconds, it turned into a theater-wide singalong. Things climaxed with head-banging, operatic performances by crowd members, and loud cheering. Next up, the PA played the Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop." It was the best two-song opener for a band we've ever heard. And it proved that if you get a bunch of people together on a Friday night and make them listen to "Bohemian Rhapsody," you should expect some Wayne's World action to happen.