21 May 2009

Maybe The Best Show I've Ever Seen

Not words to be tossed around lightly, especially by someone who's been going to shows for almost 45 years now, and has been lucky enough to see, oh, just for starters, the Supremes, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, the Who, Stevie Wonder, David Bowie, the Ramones, the Clash, the Sex Pistols, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, Dead Kennedys, Avengers, the Stooges, the MC5, Alice Cooper, Operation Ivy, Screeching Weasel and dozens - hell, probably hundreds - more, either in their prime or when they were just starting out, or both.

But having arrived home a couple hours ago from seeing Green Day at Webster Hall and still unable to sleep because of the sheer euphoria of it all, I may just have to elevate this show from my top 5 right into the all-time best show ever spot. I'd thought last night at the Bowery Ballroom was as spectacular as I was likely to see in a relatively small club, and indeed, Billie had told me ahead of time that the Bowery show was the one to watch if I had to pick one or the other.

But this time his normally unerring show business instincts weren't as finely attuned as usual, because as good at the Bowery show was, Webster Hall blew it right out of the water. It might have been the superior sound system, or the bigger, more enthusiastic crowd, or the set list that expanded just enough to allow room for a couple more classics from the early days, but whatever it was, the Green Day that we saw Tuesday night was Green Day at their absolute finest, and I think it's been pretty well established by now that it doesn't get much better than that.

A couple purists - well, Grumpy Chris Grivet, for one - were complaining that the crowd didn't get sufficiently excited when the band dug into their back - way back - catalog for such Lookout-era gems as "At The Library" and "80", but I don't know what he expected; although the audience was almost elderly by Green Day standards - average age might have been late 20s/early 30s - most of them were still children when those records were released. This was a Dookie/American Idiot generation, and naturally songs from those albums got the biggest response (still no "Holiday", however, darn it!).

But there was plenty of singing along to the brand new songs from 21st Century Breakdown, despite their only having officially been released four days earlier. A couple more weeks and they'll already be classics, as was more or less predicted in this very space a week or two ago!

I didn't stick around nearly as long at the requisite after-party as I'd done the night before, partly because I was tired, partly because this "party" was mostly a bunch of people standing around (and two or three, including, most notably, Brooklyn's own Jackie O. and Cristy Road, doing some crazy dancing). There was also the usual open bar, but to a non-drinker like myself, that rates little more than a big meh (except of course that it ensures plenty of sloppy drunks to keep me entertained and amused).

Even more so, though, I was pretty exhausted by the time the show was over - a good kind of exhaustion, I should note, the kind that comes from total physical and emotional involvement... Oh, wait, all I did was watch; it was the band who did the total physical and emotional thing, and came off stage practically glowing with the knowledge that the night had been one of those very rare and special ones.

It might have had at least something to do with the fact that keyboardist/saxophonist/accordionist/vocalist Jason Freese had received the news just before showtime that he was a father; on Monday night he was practically beside himself with worry because his wife had gone into labor, but on Tuesday, the worry was replaced by a beatific smile and a performance that had jaws dropping even among his bandmates.

But most of all, I think, it was just one of those nights when everything gelled. The band was relaxed without being sloppy, adventurous without overextending themselves, finding the perfect middle ground between promoting the new record and having a great time with a bunch of old friends. One of the many images that will stay with me was that of Billie, having borrowed a pair of outsized pink sunglasses from an audience member ("What, you're from Oklahoma? My mom's from Oklahoma!") and wrapped a white silk scarf (no idea where that came from) around his neck that left him looking like Snoopy vs. the Red Baron by way of Edith Piaf. I really do hope there's video of that somewhere out on the interweb.

Although they'll still be in town for a couple more days, it was the last I'll see of Green Day for a while, as I'm headed out to the seaside first thing in the morning. Those of you in the New York area still have a chance to see them play, provided you're willing to get up early enough (or stay up late enough) to be in Central Park by 6 am Friday when they'll be performing for Good Morning America. I know I promised to find out whether they would be playing a full set or just a song or two, but, well, I forgot. My offhand guess is that while only one or two songs will be broadcast, they'll probably play more than that. Sue me if I'm wrong. Anyway, it's supposed to be a beautiful, warm, early summer morning, so it'll do you good to be out in the park regardless.

There will also be appearances on the Letterman and Colbert shows, so don't come crying to me if you end up not seeing Green Day at all, because if you didn't, you weren't even half trying. And with that I'll bid adieu to a pretty amazing week, in which I learned what it's like to be, as it were, king for a day. Okay, maybe not king, but at least a fairly advanced prince. It's really fascinating to see how life operates inside the inner circle: I'm tempted to say I could get used to that kind of treatment, but I'm note sure I could. It's great for a few days, but I seriously have to wonder if I would like it if my life were like that all the time, or at least all the time that I was on tour.

On the plus side, you get to eat and drink very well, attend all the best parties, and meet some truly fascinating people (more than I could possibly list here, but some of my favorites were Bob Gruen, who's been photographing rock royalty for more than 40 years, and Tony-winning director Michael Mayer, whose next big project is the stage version of American Idiot, premiering in Berkeley this September. And set designer (and crazy dancer) Christine and musical arranger Carmel, both awesome!). On the not so plus side, it's difficult to step outside the bubble without people swarming on you demanding, well, just about anything. There was a tense moment on the Lower East Side Monday night when some autograph-hunters who were clearly in it for the money rather than love of the band got kind of abusive when they didn't get what they wanted. And as pleasant and fun as it is hanging out every night with what ultimately feels like a great big extended family, I wonder if sometimes you wouldn't wish that you could just go hop on the subway or wander around the East Village like a regular person.

Well, I don't know. We all make accommodations to suit the demands of our particular jobs or lifestyles, and despite its various drawbacks, there are probably worse jobs to be had than that of rock star. I will say that Billie, Mike and Tre seem to be having every bit as much fun - albeit of a slightly different nature - as they did back in the days of driving around the country in a rattletrap old van and playing any basement, garage, two-bit bar or living room that presented itself. And anyway, it's not as though they could easily resign their positions: as long as they keep making the best music of their lives, fame and fortune are going to keep piling on, invited or not. It's a tough job, but they seem to be handling it better than anyone else I know could.

Shoutouts also to Jason White, who I've known almost as long as the Big Three, and Jeff Matika, who I just met. This is Jeff's first tour with Green Day, and he represents the latest in a long line of Little Rock-East Bay connections. I drove through that town in 1970, liked it so much that I swore I'd come back one day for a proper visit, and never have. If nothing else, I'd like to find out why everyone I've ever met from there seems so goshdarned nice. Well, almost everyone. I'm still not completely sure about that Bill Clinton guy.

Okay, bedtime now, and I realize that even though I'm having my first quiet night at home in a while, it's late enough that I could have just as well been at another after-show party instead of sitting in this quiet room with only the clack-clack of the computer keys keeping me company. But that's just how it should be; writing is this thing I do, and even though it's frequently a great big pain in the ass (I imagine some of you have similar feelings about having to read it), if I don't do it, I get pretty crazy. So that's it for now. As soon as the sun comes up, I'm off to the beach.


crystal! said...

i love bob gruen! next time you party with him, tell him he needs to re-do his website and get the comic sans outta there. his website does not do him justice at all. i went to an exhibit of his in england once that was great.

Delfina said...

I thought both shows were fantastic. And remarkably different. Thanks for your take. I love reading your point of view.

Anonymous said...

Great to hear how it is on your side of the Green Day world. Thanks for the write up, Larry.

Janna said...

sparkly gold headbands. that's all i'm sayin.

Dorie said...

I always enjoy your blogs, but these last two were closer to my heart since I also attended the Bowery and the Webster Hall shows. Webster Hall was extraordinary, I agree! And here I thought it was just me thinking that.

The Bowery was excellent also, but I spent much of that show being pummeled in the pit area - a less than enjoyable time for a short Ohio girl. Live and learn.

Anonymous said...

oh good, something beautiful to catalog this memory now that i dont believe in cameras.