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At the Coliseum, Green Day Made Sure You Had the Time of Your Life

The East Bay’s conquering rock heroes returned home for a nostalgic victory lap.

Green Day’s massive tour stop at the Oakland Coliseum Saturday night wasn’t a reunion or a bucket-list-check-off deal, like seeing the Rolling Stones just once before it’s too late. They’re still a working band—this tour is in support of the 2016 album Revolution Radio—they’re still headlining stadiums, still making new music. Despite coming up on their 30th anniversary as a band (having formed in 1988), they appear to be going strong. This was no farewell party.

But that’s not how it seemed Saturday night. Rather, the entire night felt like the closing of the circle, especially coming on the heels, as it did, of Corbett Redford’s documentary Turn It Around: The Story of East Bay Punk, a fond remembrance of the music that sprouted out of the 924 Gilman scene in the 1980s and '90s. A pleasant haze of nostalgia (or was that just the weed smoke?) hung over the entire procession, aided in part by frontman Billie Joe Armstrong, who took a moment during nearly every break in the action to reflect on coming of age in Oakland, the East Bay, even “West Contra Costa.” (During one impassioned bit, Armstrong shouted out Rodeo, where he grew up; Pinole, where Green Day got its start; and Concord, where who knows what).

The diversity of the crowd reflected Green Day’s longevity: There were dads chaperoning their punk kids and long-ago punks toting their uninterested kids. There were teens and millennials and 40-somethings and, curiously, not a few old ladies. “Any of you old-school Green Day fans?” Armstrong asked before the band launched into a run of Dookie-era hits, to which, umm, duh.

So yes, the show felt extra special, particularly for those of us who grew up with Green Day. For those of us who owned Kerplunk before Dookie sold 20 million copies. For those of us who hummed “2,000 Light Years Away” on our way to school. For those of us who took outsize pride in living in the very same town as one of the biggest bands on the planet. (A friend of mine grew up around the corner from where Armstrong lived for several years! Around the corner!)

Growing up in the '90s in Berkeley, I was most definitely one of those kids—as were, apparently, a whole helluva lot of people in the crowd. So when they played “2,000 Light Years” and “When I Come Around” and “She,” it’s a pretty safe bet to assume that 25,000-odd people were being transported back in time. A couple of rows behind me, longtime Live 105 DJ Aaron Axelsen was snapping photos on his cellphone. (Back when Dookie was on the radio, I remember listening late at night to the young DJ’s show; today, he’s the station’s music director. Time flies!

For their part, Armstrong, Mike Dirnt, and Tre Cool—along with several session players brought in for the evening—lived up to their end of the deal. Armstrong, now sober, was a ball of energy from start to finish; Dirnt played the straight-faced power bassist, Cool the goofball psycho on drums. If the pyrotechnics and the eyeliner didn’t read as very punk rock in 2017, well, Green Day never was punk-punk. They were more of a gateway drug for suburban kids to discover other 924 Gilman acts like Operation Ivy and Rancid and Pennywise. (Fittingly, the band played an Op Ivy cover.) When the group broke into a medley that included the Isley Brothers’ “Shout,” the Stones’ “Satisfaction,” and the Beatles’ “Hey Jude,” not only did no one hold it against them, but no one seemed to even bat an eye.

As is the band’s tradition, Armstrong invited people from the audience onstage several times to sing a chorus or, in one case, take over on guitar, before sending then back out with a mandatory crowd-surf. It’s a stunt that remains impossibly charming. Halfway through “Longview”—the song that led 20 million preteens to their first bongload—Armstrong pulled a young woman out of the crowd to finish the verse. The woman, who couldn’t have been born when Dookie was released, was wearing a tied-up T-shirt of G-Eazy, the Oakland rapper who’s probably inherited Green Day’s mantle of Bay Area’s Biggest Act. She gave Armstrong a hug, paused a beat, and then dove right into a perfect, euphoric, final verse. 

 

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Email Ian A. Stewart at istewart@modernluxury.com
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