31 July 2009

Green Day At The Garden

It's been a couple days now and I'm still buzzing from the two Green Day shows earlier this week. I feel more like a teenager than I did when I actually was one. Back in May I said that Green Day's Webster Hall show was possibly the best I'd ever seen, but I must admit that it paled into near-insignificance compared with the spectacle I witnessed at Madison Square Garden.

I've never been a big arena rock kind of guy; most of my MSG-type shows were in the 60s and 70s and involved the likes of the Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Led Zeppelin, etc., and as I think I've noted, I'd only been to Madison Square Garden itself once before, on July 28, 1973, the night Led Zeppelin were being filmed for The Song Remains The Same (and, incidentally - though I still maintain I had nothing to do with it - the night they were robbed of their share of the box office receipts, some $300,000, which, believe it or not, was quite a bit of money in those days).

In the 90s I saw Green Day play at Wembley and Oakland Arena, but both experiences left me, if not cold, at best slightly lukewarm. Maybe it was because on both those occasions I was up in the seats looking down on the arena floor, whereas this time I was on the floor, only a few feet from the stage. But to be fair, the floor itself was a very different affair for these shows; in Green Day's early arena-rock days, nearly anyone who wanted to be on the floor could get there, and the result was a seething, swirling maelstrom of flying bodies and - sometimes - flailing fists as thousands of people struggled to cram themselves into a space that could comfortably fit no more than a few hundred.

This time, the standing room near the stage was tightly controlled, accommodating, I would guess, about 500 people and leaving plenty of room to wander around or stand quietly if you weren't among those who simply had to be face-to-face with the band. When I say tightly controlled, put it this way: our way was barred by a snarling MSG security guard even though we were wearing passes that allowed us to go pretty much anywhere backstage. We had to spend the first part of the show a few hundred feet back, until the wonderful Carly intervened. Carly was there to look after the several children who were traveling with the band, and for purposes of getting to where we wanted to be, we became, essentially, three more of her charges. She escorted us up to the front, patiently explained to the security guard that she was responsible for us, and turned us loose into what might have been the ultimate punk rock playpen.

I don't say that disparagingly, either. Oddly enough, it felt a bit like being at Gilman (which also was described as a playpen or "punk rock Romper Room" by those who felt it wasn't truly punk if limbs, teeth and blood weren't at risk). There were almost none of the boneheads whose idea of a fun show involves beating up those smaller than themselves, and almost everyone right up front knew and loved the band's entire catalog, from 1988 to the present, well enough to sing along all the way through, and to cheer ecstatically when some of the long-neglected songs from the first two albums were resurrected.

It wasn't until I got home, till the next day, actually, that it occurred to me that those sitting up in the seats, especially in the upper balconies, would have had a very different experience, and that the almost intimate little concert we enjoyed at the very front was only possible because the vast majority of the audience was barred from being there.

But it really did feel intimate. At times, like when Billie was out at the end of the catwalk that protruded into the crowd, we were actually behind him, looking out at the audience from a very similar perspective to what he was seeing. And I found myself thinking, "This place isn't that big, in fact it feels almost kind of cozy." Of course, a great deal of this is probably down to Billie's ability - whether he's bellowing AY-O and insisting that people put their hands in the air, or singing a heartfelt ballad accompanied only by an acoustic guitar - to connect with people throughout the amphitheater, those marooned far up in the nosebleed sector as much as those standing awestruck at his feet.

I've often spoken and written about how, when I first saw Green Day (then known as Sweet Children) playing for five kids in a candlelit cabin in the Mendocino mountains, Billie performed like "the Beatles at Shea Stadium." Even though he was just 16, and the band was playing only its third or fourth show ever, I could, I thought, easily envision them displaying the same commanding presence on the biggest stages in the world. It seemed like a crazy idea at the time, and most people I told about it laughed at me and/or told their friends that I was losing my mind.

Well, I may not have been right about many things in my life, but I think I nailed this one. I've seen Green Day in bigger venues - headlining the 2004 Reading Festival, for example - but I've never seen them or any other band so thoroughly command a stage and an audience. The Rolling Stones at the LA Forum in 1973 might have come close, and Alice Cooper at Cobo Arena in 1971 made a good stab at it, but... ah, I can think of one performance that might have given Green Day a run for their money: the Who at Woodstock in 1969. But while that performance might have contained moments of grandeur and majesty that surpassed what Green Day produced at the Garden this week, it was also diminished by lulls, longeurs, and the simultaneously satisfying and upsetting spectacle of Abbie Hoffman getting knocked cold by Pete Townshend's guitar.

There have been times in my life when I was enough of an unbearably punk purist to turn my nose up at the elaborately produced and tightly choreographed sort of rock show that Green Day have now honed to a fine art, but that's just one of many ways in which I've succumbed to the prevailing idiocy rather than think and judge for myself. When I went to see La Traviata at the Sydney Opera House, I didn't complain that the production was too ornate or expensive, or that the sound was too slick and clean; instead I marveled at how the talents of the set and costume designers combined with those of the composer, the performers, the sound and lighting engineers, even the ushers and ticket takers, to create a living monument to what was bright and glorious about not just art and civilization, but to the very essence of what it is to be a human being: the desire, no, the need, to constantly transcend oneself.

Okay, before I risk climbing any further into the heights of grandiloquence, let me point out that, yeah, dude, this show also totally rocked and they played (almost) all my favorite songs, etc. I was especially ecstatic to, early on, hear the opening chords of "Holiday", which was noticeably missing from their New York shows in May. In fact, that's exactly when the feeling kicked in, the one that let me know I was in for one of those shows that I would remember and treasure all my life. What more could I have asked for? Well, "Christie Road" would have been a thrill (he did sing a couple bars of it during his "Shout" breakdown near the end, and on Monday night Nate Doyle and I were screaming like crazy for "Dry Ice", a song I've been (mostly unsuccessfully begging them to play ever since they dropped it from their repertoire sometime in the early 90s.

Someone also threw an outsized pair of men's briefs at Billie, on the back of which was emblazoned "No One Knows". It was going to happen, of course, but it was a sentiment I heartily endorsed; for many years I cited it as my favorite Green Day song ever.

But between the two nights we did get to hear "Going To Pasalacqua" (aka "Here We Go Again"), "Who Wrote Holden Caulfield", "2000 Light Years Away", "Welcome To Paradise", "Disappearing Boy", and a not nearly so old, but equally unexpected treat, "Macy's Day Parade", enough to satisfy all the most curmudgeonly old school Green Day fans (there are still some who bristle any time the band plays anything newer than Dookie, but since American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown are my favorite Green Day albums of all, I had no problem at all with hearing much of the former and most of the latter.

The band played two hours and forty-five minutes on Monday, which cost them quite a bit of money, since they were heavily fined for going past the Garden's curfew. So I halfway expected them to cut things a bit short on Tuesday. Instead, they played almost three full hours. There are not many bands - in fact, of the bands active today, I can't think of any - who could pull this off. I usually get impatient when a band goes over 30 minutes, unless it's one with a lot of history and hits behind it, in which case I can stretch to 45 or 50 minutes. But not since my days of watching the Grateful Dead on seven hits of acid have I voluntarily subjected myself to multiple hours of of one band's music, and yet I could easily have watched at leat another half hour of Green Day. More that that if they'd dug up some of the more obscure gems from 39/Smooth, Slappy, 1,000 Hours and Kerplunk.

I've already commented on the inspiration provided by Stephanie's guitar playing on "Jesus Of Suburbia" (and was totally stoked when she responded to my blog entry!), but her star turn shouldn't obscure the fact that nearly a dozen other kids were invited up on stage over the course of the two nights, and all - all but one, I should say - acquitted themselves magnificently. So much so that many people have expressed suspicion that these little guest spots are planned in advance, but it's just not true: Billie indeed does pick people right out of the audience. His wife was telling me how he's developed a real sense for who is up to the task and won't succumb to crippling stage fright. The boy who looked to be about 12 or so and played bass on "Longview" showed no such tendencies; before he was halfway through the song he was tearing around the stage as if he'd been born on one, and at the end jumped up to the mike and shouted, "Thanks, Madison Square!" He also walked off stage with a brand new bass, courtesy of Mr. Dirnt.
On Tuesday night, my friend Jim Kim was standing more or less behind me for the entire show, and he's posted this portfolio of photos that should give you an idea of what things looked like from where we were. However, the photo above was taken by my 13 year old nephew, Jackson, who, despite it being his first attempt ever at photographing a big rock concert (and using my new camera for the first time ever), produced a number of pictures that totally eclipsed any of my efforts. To be fair, on Monday night, when I had the camera, I wasn't quite close enough to get any really good shots, and on Tuesday night, when I was, Jackson had the camera, but was farther back engaging in kid-type shenanigans with the Armstrong boys and other members of Emily's Army. I never saw any kind of show until I was 16, so I can't even imagine what it was like for him, but as far I was concerned, if there was anything greater than seeing Green Day at the height of their glory, it was being able to share that experience with my completely awesome nephew.

And, late-breaking development: almost as if he'd been reading my blog, Billie busts out his acoustic guitar and delivers a partial (all but the final majestic bridge and chorus) rendition of one of the greatest Green Day songs ever, "Christie Road". It's got to be only a matter of time before the full electric version once again becomes a concert staple. To all of you out there in lands where this Green Day tour hasn't yet arrived, I beseech you: put aside any prejudices you may have against "big" or "commercial" or "arena" type rock shows and do whatever is necessary to witness this one. Miss this and I can virtually guarantee that a couple decades from now your kids will be hitting you with the mid-21st century equivalent of, "Mom/Dad, how could you have been so unbelievably lame?"


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Got to agree with you, Christie Road is one of my ALL TIME Green Day songs. It pops into my head all the time lately, especially in this time of all these big scary life changing events going on in my young adulthood, and things in the world in general just being scary.

I saw them play in Seattle and was absolutely blown away. They are so amazing on so many levels, onstage and off. If anyone can begin to describe the sheer awesome experience that seeing a band of this magnitude is, it's you Larry, again, always enjoy reading your reviews.

4:19 AM

Anonymous said...

My girlfriend and I saw them at the Detroit show (well, Auburn Hills), and we had a blast. This was my favorite time out of the 5 times I've seen them play.

The Detroit show was before they started really playing any older songs on this tour, but Billie came out and did "Macy's Day Parade" before doing "Good Riddance." Warning is my favorite Green Day album, so naturally I was completely pumped to hear MDP.

LMB said...

I can testify that the kids who get pulled up are not planted. I spent a great deal of time discouraging my kid, telling her not to get her hopes up on getting up there, etc. She has been a fan since she was 11 years old (when she taught me another lesson - I wouldn't let her buy American Idiot because of the Parental Guidance sticker. My wise little girl said "Mom, I am so disappointed in you. You banned this without listening to it first? I think you should listen, and then make an informed decision". I was shamed into listening, and the rest is history - I was hooked!). Anyway, we went to the Boston and Hartford shows, and she got pulled up on stage in Hartford:
This is a moment that we will remember for the rest of our lives, and I learned yet another lesson from my girl, and from Green Day – dreams can come true!

In Boston I had a seat (can’t say “sat in a seat” – nobody in the whole place sat down at all), and in Hartford I was in the pit – they were completely different experiences, each of them magical in their own way. And if anybody reading Larry’s blog thinks he is exaggerating, or gushing because he has personal connections to Green Day – he is not. Larry really captures how awesome, amazing, incredible, and wonderful the shows have been. (Thank you Larry for putting it all so succinctly, far better than I ever could!) If you don’t catch Green Day on this tour – you are missing out big time.

In Hartford they did the full “Christie Road”, and Tre sang “Dominated Love Slave”, with Billie Joe on drums! Billie also did an acoustic “Macy’s Day Parade” before “Good Riddance” at the end. I’m serious when I say I will never forget that night.

Anonymous said...

By the way, Larry, where did you grow up at in Detroit?

Anonymous said...

You can yell at a cop in America. This is not Iran. And if some people don’t like what you’re saying, too bad. You can even be wrong in what you are saying. There is no law against that. It is not an offense for which you are supposed to be arrested.

That’s a lesson that should have emerged clearly from this contretemps.

It was the police officer, Sergeant Crowley, who did something wrong in this instance. He arrested a man who had already demonstrated to the officer’s satisfaction that he was in his own home and had been minding his own business, bothering no one. Sergeant Crowley arrested Professor Gates and had him paraded off to jail for no good reason, and that brings us to the most important lesson to be drawn from this case. Black people are constantly being stopped, searched, harassed, publicly humiliated, assaulted, arrested and sometimes killed by police officers in this country for no good reason.

Larry Livermore said...

a) "Black people are constantly being stopped, searched, harassed, publicly humiliated, assaulted, arrested and sometimes killed by police officers in this country for no good reason"? And you know this exactly how? Especially since I'd be willing to bet almost anything that you're an angst-ridden middle-class white boy whose interaction with black people exists almost entirely in the theoretical realm.

b) This has precisely what to do with a Green Day show?

Larry Livermore said...
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Joe said...

Great! Saw them in Seattle, first show of the tour, and I'll be seeing them again on the 25th in LA at the forum.

Some Random Dude said...

Those are some awesome pictures in that portfolio. You should give that man some money for those pictures. Perhaps $65?

Anonymous said...

a) I'd be willing to bet almost anything that you're an angst-ridden middle-class white boy whose interaction with black people exists almost entirely in the theoretical realm.
--This is a simple direct quote copied from Bob Herbert's NYTimes column.
He really appears to be black and middle-age in the photo so better keep your money in your wallet and hold off on the betting.
Having another flashback, Larry?

b) This has precisely what to do with a Green Day show?
--Remember your stab at being a guru and teaching us kids that "everything is everything"?-well, it applies here, surely, yes?

I remember you in Detroit.
Do you still like to dress up like Alice Cooper and get one over on the youngsters?

Larry Livermore said...

a) Yeah, I'll bet Bob Herbert gets jacked up by the po-po all the time. Or maybe, just maybe, he gets paid by the Times for being the perpetually aggrieved black man who no amount of mainstream success and privilege will ever satisfy. On the other hand, I often find myself agreeing with Bob Herbert on some issues. Race is not one of them. The man is stuck hopelessly in the past, the civil rights equivalent of the 60s hippie on an acid flashback.

But never mind that aside; my point was that YOU are an angst-ridden middle class white boy (who apparently can't even be bothered making up his own rhetoric or crediting those he borrows it from). Though judging from the length and depth of your vendetta, I guess angst-ridden middle-aged (or elderly) white man would be more accurate.

b) Yes, I dress up like Alice Cooper almost on a daily basis and am constantly mobbed by starstruck youngsters wanting me to drink blood and/or play golf with them. There are numerous pictures of me in my everyday glam garb. I'm surprised you weren't aware of this, as I'm regularly photographed for the society pages of our more prestigious journals.

Tom said...

Anon. really does not have shit-else to do with his time.

Tom said...

You'd figure Anon. would get more satisfaction out of airing whatever grievance he has--and attaching his real name-- via email and then be done with it, rather than hectoring you and annoying the hell out of all your other readers with his ramblings. I mean, that's what an adult would do.

You are the lowest life form on the Internet.

Dom said...


You would be setting a better example for your son by spending your time in a more productive manner. He's probably embarrassed that you use your free time to anonymously harass Larry.

Zoe said...

Fabulous recap, Larry!

Billie's sixth sense must've been a little rusty at the beginning of the tour - i was pulled up to sing in Seattle and almost pissed myself up there.

Can't wait until the LA show!

Anonymous said...

How predictable. Livermore declares the Green Day show the best concert ever performed in the history of the music, and remind us along the way that when he first say this band he felt they'd be better than the Beatles and this proves he's not 100% vindicated.

To the rest of the world, this concert came and went and was of no consequence.

Anonymous said...

How predictable. Livermore declares the Green Day show the best concert ever performed in the history of music, and reminds us along the way that when he first saw this band he felt they'd be better than the Beatles and this proves he's 100% vindicated.

To the rest of the world, this concert came and went and was of no consequence.

Anonymous said...

Hey Larry,
I know how much you like trashing the so-called 'homeless'--fekking worthless parasites--and I thought you'd get a kick out of this:

A report due out this weekend from the National Coalition for the Homeless documents a rise in violence over the last decade, with at least 880 unprovoked attacks against the homeless at the hands of nonhomeless people, including 244 fatalities. An advance copy was provided to The New York Times.

Cool, huh?

Larry Livermore said...

If by "trashing the homeless," you mean urging that they get the care and help that they so desperately need, then guilty as charged. However, I suspect that you're one of those bloody-minded hatemongers who *likes* to see people living on the streets because they serve as feral pets and poster children for your dingbat revolutionary fantasies. Never mind that they live miserable lives, die wretched and often violent deaths, and exact a terrible toll on the morale and morals of the larger society; as long as they're useful propaganda tools, you're quite happy to see the carnage go on indefinitely.

The overwhelming majority of homeless people, "so-called" or otherwise, are where they are because of drug, alcohol or mental illness problems. There are agencies, organizations and institutions that can offer real help in these areas, but as long as phony liberals or even phonier radicals like yourself insist that people should be allowed and even enabled to continue living in their current squalid state, they're far less likely to get the help they need.

In other, plain and simple words, your dishonest and cynical "concern" has probably murdered more homeless people than all the thugs and bashers in the report you cited.

Dom said...


Anonymous said...

LOL! Larry Livermore spent years railing against affirmative action, and then backed 100% the affirmative action presidential candidate Obama. No surprise to me he is going down the tubes in record time. He had no qualifications to be president in the first place. Except his skin was darker, so people like Livermore overlooked all his faults so they could say they voted for the guy with the darker skin.

Anonymous said...

I work in Berlin, Germany now, and knew that GD would be playing somewhere in town that week back this past May....so after work, I rode around the city to the obvious venues until it got to the one, right around the corner from where I lived! Kesselhaus, the old skool boilerhouse that was in the Kulturbarrei of Berlin`s Prinzlauerberg District.

Anyways, I saw two massive tour busses, the GD posters and did the math. They had a guitar tech I recognized, so asked him where Jason White is (which is a better code word than foaming at the mouth for Green Day) and mentioned a friend from touring. I left my cell phone number (which is Japanese) and got a call an hour later to get into the show! It was some type of radio listener giveaway thing, and all kinds of people were lining up.

Anyways, just like the Webster Hall show you mentioned, this one was pretty awesome. They come back in October, in a proper arena but I`m still debating whether it`s going to be disappointing...but how could it be?!??


greendaytone said...

Awesome blog Larry, great to read your thoughts on the MSG shows. Glad i was able to experience it with you. I could see how much you were enjoying it!

Jason said...

Thanks for the great review Larry, I completely agree. I saw them in Ottawa and it was a completely different experience than the last time I had seen them (Warning tour), they've always been great live but now they just command the stage.

As for 'Christie Road', back in the height of Dookie which is when I got into the band I saw Jaded In Chicago on MuchMusic and when they played Christie Road I was hooked, I bought their first two albums the next day and they've been my favorite band ever since. Bring it back guys, its a classic. I'd love to see each album represented by at least 2-3 songs which I think would keep everyone happy.

Anonymous said...

After pondering for 10 minutes over whether or not I should leave a comment, I decided I would. I figured that everyone has a story to tell, and I decided to respond to your review of the 7-27 and the 7-28 shows at MSG.

I was at the 7-27 show. My seat was in the 400s. Section 424 to be exact. I can imagine that it really would have been a different experience, had I been on the floor. It was my first Green Day concert, and I know that it will not be my last. I brought really strong binoculars with, and it was worth the headache I felt after. The show was amazing. Seeing a band like Green Day in person is COMPLETELY different from watching music videos and concert footage. It's a different feeling that courses through your veins. A feeling that you don't get when you're blasting the music. It's a different experience.
Your review was great, and I agree with your comments about the 7-27 show. Stephanie's playing blew me away. My father, who was with me, thought that it was rigged, and that she was chosen beforehand. I gave him a look and the response, "Wow. I can't believe that you just assumed that. Not all bands are the same."
I too wished that they would have played Dry Ice. It's my favorite song by them.
I took pictures of the show. Even though I was so high up, I got some really good shots. If you'd like to see them, feel free to message me.

Bibbles said...

I've seen green day 3 times, and "knowledge" and “welcome to paradise” aside, never got to see them do any songs off the first two records. I would love to see them played live though. The first time I seen them I was lucky enough to be plucked out of the crowd to play the drums in front of thousands of people in a cricket ground in Manchester. This obviously more than compensates for not hearing the old classics in person, as it’s one of the most memorable days of my life. I seriously doubt I’ll see Green Day again though unless I’m at a festival, or I’ve got a free ticket; both highly unlikely.

Anonymous said...

I'm seeing Green Day in October and I can't wait! I'm a little nervous about it just because its in London and I'll be going to the concerts by myself, well, with thousands of other Green Day fans. I'm just excited to finally be able to see Green Day in the flesh rather than through some TV screen, if they pull out rare songs or something then thats just a bonus! :D

I know I shouldn't take advantage of your blog like this, but I was hoping you might have some info on this early Green Day song (its never been recorded)


toni said...

Great Blog..