The foundations of humanity are built upon strange bedfellows.
Art and commerce.
The sacred and the profane.
Green Day and the Formula One U.S. Grand Prix.
The disaffected granddads of pop-punk music, whose snarky, anti-authority influence makes a straight line from Blink-182 to Paramore to Machine Gun Kelly, played the opening night concert on Friday for the 10th annual F1 race at Circuit of the Americas.
Guitarist/vocalist Billie Joe Armstrong, bassist Mike Dirnt and drummer Tré Cool have lived many lives: patron saints of early-1990s burnout culture, kings of shopping mall rebellion against war-hawking and George W. Bush conservatism, multiplatinum Rock and Roll Hall of Famers and … Tony Award nominees, yes. They wore all those skins comfortably Friday night, steering screaming fans through carefully controlled chaos in celebration of cars that go real fast.
Here’s how the show went down. If you don’t want to read to the end, they played “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” last.
“We are Green Day,” Armstrong said late in the show. “Green Day from Texas.”
I mean, I’d claim them, but they’re very much from California. Armstrong clearly had fun poking at the night’s host state, usually with a wink so sly as to be imperceptible to anyone who just fell off the proverbial turnip truck on Elroy Road. (Their touring saxophonist even played a bar of “Deep in the Heart of Texas.”)
You know how when a touring act comes to different states, they’ll plug the name of wherever they are into a song for easy points? Like when Lady Gaga sings “Yoü and I,” she’ll turn “Nebraska, I love you,” into affection for the home team.
Well, the Green Day version of that is to turn the searing, anti-war hit “Holiday” into even more of a burn on the home state of former President Bush. In case you haven’t heard it in a while, a sorta-spoken-word breakdown in the song goes:
“The representative from California has the floor/ ‘Sieg Heil’ to the president Gasman/ Bombs away is your punishment/ Pulverize the Eiffel towers/ Who criticize your government/ ‘Bang! Bang!’ goes the broken glass, and/ Kill all the (expletives) that don’t agree.”
Singing “the representative from Texas” instead is a razor-sharp hoot, especially when the live show pairs that “Bang! Bang!” with pyrotechnics that sound like gunshots.
“This is our last show for a long time,” Armstrong told the crowd at one point, adding that they saved “the best for the best state.”
“Texas is the greatest state in the whole damn world,” he said with a sarcasm bordering on method acting. “Just ask Ted Cruz.”
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One benefit, I assume, to being a band of incredibly wealthy stoners working on your fourth decade of touring is that you can do whatever you want. Green Day on Friday chose to make like Daddy Warbucks and grant some wishes.
On the third number of the night, “Know Your Enemy,” the lead single off 2009’s “21st Century Breakdown” (an Obama-era hangover for newly minted anti-establishment superstars), Armstrong asked the audience if someone knew the words and wanted to come onstage.
The winner, a young lady visibly overcome by emotion, took the spotlight with Armstrong. They hugged, and Armstrong coached her off-mic on what to do. Truly, it was sweet. Instead of singing into the mic for the song’s catchy “oh-ay oh-ay” chant, the guest vocalist seemed a little frozen, so Armstrong helped her do the next best thing: crowd surf.
More successful wish fulfillment came later on for “Knowledge.” Armstrong again posed a question to the crowd: Can anyone play guitar? The lucky fan, a young man named Mauricio who came all the way from Costa Rica, got the same download from coach Armstrong, and then took the axe and let ‘er rip. Toward the end of the cameo, Armstrong motioned for Mauricio to step up on a platform, from which the young man jumped and wailed on his new instrument.
Literally, his: Armstrong said he could take the guitar home after leading a chant of “Mau-ri-ci-o! Mau-ri-ci-o!” That’s gonna be hell to get back through customs. (Update, 12:30 p.m.:He might live in Austin!)
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You’ve met a guy at a party — you might be the guy at the party — who says of Green Day, “I love ‘Dookie,’ but none of their other stuff.” The band’s third studio album, released in 1994, sure does have classic alt-radio bangers like “Basket Case” and “Longview,” and yes, it’s the art of a younger, scrappier band than the one who wrote a Broadway musical and plays F1 concerts.
If that guy saw Friday’s show, though, I think they’d find it hard to deny that the band frankly still whips.
“I want you to be heard, I want you to be seen, I want you to go (expletive) crazy,” Armstrong yelled early on. His rock show commander voice — gravelly, from the chest — is different than his instantly recognizable singing voice, onto which many a nasal-toned pop-punker has imprinted.
Green Day tore into songs old and newer with rock monstrosity. “Bite my lip and close my eyes/ Take me away to paradise,” Armstrong sang on “Longview” as Dirnt and Cool formed a rhythmic hurricane behind him. On “Brain Stew,” Dirnt made crow noises? It ruled. On “St. Jimmy,” Armstrong took a cowboy hat from the audience and rode around the stage to the tune of “shut your mouth before I shoot you down, old boy.”
But for my money, the most cred the band earned came from leading a fervent singalong to 2000 song “Minority.” In a state run by Gov. Greg Abbott, at a racetrack built for $300-$450 million, at an elite racing event that received nearly $200 million from the state between 2012 and 2020 just to help lure said event, hundreds yelled: “Down with the moral majority/ ‘Cause I wanna be the minority.”
“Dookie” was a great record, but baby, that’s a statement.
No unnecessary shade to “Shape of You” (except for the amount it rightfully deserves; that song is dreadful), but it’s hard to imagine Saturday night headliner Ed Sheeran keeping the high-velocity party going quite as well as Green Day set it up.
Stray moments of sheer showmanship:
Armstrong read a sign from the crowd during “Boulevard” that said, “I skipped school today to come see this.”
“I can do one better,” he replied. “I dropped out of school to do this.”
The foundations of humanity are built upon strange bedfellows.