Green Day still relevant as band brings tour to Gwinnett
By: Jon Gallo
Published: March 10, 2017
Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong stared into the crowd of thousands who recently packed Phoenix’s Talking Stick Sports Arena and showed just how far the band has come from its roots, when it wrote hit songs about the joys of drugs and debauchery.
“Tonight, we’re all here together,” he said. “And we’re looking for something. … We’re looking for something positive. We’re looking for some (expletive) love and some passion. Some compassion. And we’re looking for the truth. No more lies. No more corruption. … This is reality. This is us together right now. No matter what background you come from, no matter what religion or if you’re an atheist, if you’re a liberal or you’re conservative, at some point we have to look at each other and take care of each other and show some (expletive) love and respect. Because rock and roll is gonna change the (expletive) world right now.”
If any band in the past 30 years knows about change, it’s singer/guitarist Armstrong, drummer Tré Cool and bassist Mike Dirnt. The trio known as Green Day has certainly evolved since that October day in 1987 when Armstrong and Dirnt played their first show together — as a band known as “Sweet Children” — at Rod’s Hickory Pit in Vallejo, Calif., where Armstrong’s mom worked as a waitress.
After more than three decades, 12 albums, five Grammy Awards, two Tony Awards and more than 85 million records sold worldwide, this much is clear: When Green Day takes the stage at Infinite Energy Arena in Duluth at 7 p.m. Friday, it will do so as one of the most polarizing punk rock bands in music history.
Green Day was inducted into the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2015 because it thrust punk music into the mainstream, beginning with its third album, 1994’s “Dookie,” which was powered by smash hits “Longview,” “When I Come Around,” “Basket Case” and “Welcome to Paradise,” and won the Grammy for best Alternative Album before selling more than 20 million copies to date. The band’s ability to take punk rock, which for years had been a subculture dominated by The Ramones, Dead Kennedys and Bad Religion, and have its music played on the same rock stations accepted by the upper-middle class, made them loved by millions.
But the band also has its critics, who claim Green Day’s music is more pop-punk than true punk, and its acceptance by mainstream society put the genre in a place it didn’t belong — or wanted to go.
The band’s next five albums, which included the platinum-reaching “Insomniac,” “Nimrod” and “Warning,” didn’t come close to reaching the lofty bar set by “Dookie.” It left Green Day on the verge of becoming yet another band whose star fizzled after illuminating the sky to a luminance very few saw coming.
But then came 2004.
And then came “American Idiot.”
And then everything changed, for the better, and as some say, for worse.
“American Idiot,” featuring “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” reinvigorated the band’s popularity with the younger generation, just as “Dookie” did a decade earlier. But “American Idiot” will never be mistaken for “Dookie,” especially since “American Idiot” took Green Day to a place it never envisioned when the trio strummed its first riffs as California teens: Broadway.
In 2010, “American Idiot” debuted as a musical in New York City and was a massive — and perhaps unexpected — hit. The show centered on three boys who fled their homes and their parents’ restrictions to form a hit band — a story that paralleled Green Day’s rise to stardom. Green Day wrote and composed the music for the show, which was attended by more than 500,000 spectators and generated about $40 million in ticket sales before closing after more than 420 performances. The hit was taken on an international tour after it won Tony Awards for Best Scenic Design and Best Lighting Design in 2010, a year before its Broadway cast won a Grammy for Best Musical Show Album.
The band’s next album, “21st Century Breakdown,” featured hits “21 Guns” and “Know Your Enemy,” and won the Grammy for Best Rock Album in 2010 en route to selling more than four million albums. Green Day then cranked out a trilogy of albums, aptly titled “Uno,” “Dos” and “Tre” from September-December 2012.
Green Day’s 12th — and most recent — album, “Revolution Radio,” was released in October of last year and debuted atop the Billboard 200 and also topped the charts in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Italy, Canada and New Zealand.
“This recording process was fresh,” Cool said of the 12-song album. “We built a new studio in Oakland. We didn’t really know how it was going to sound, so we said let’s give it a shot. We just went in there and cracked them out, every day. Of the songs that were written, they went to tape pretty easily. There’s a few songs that were written in there. Those came out, I wouldn’t say easily but naturally.”
The album, powered by hits “Bang Bang,” “Say Goodbye,” “Youngblood,” “Still Breathing” and “Revolution Radio,” has fueled Green Day’s 13-month, 111-date international tour through North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.
“Coming at this tour, I think we’re in a really good place to do it,” Cool told reporters. “We’re having more fun; we’re doing everything with a purpose. The word for the tour is gratitude. We’re going out there with a fresh mindset.”
The tour is a journey through Green Day’s entire body of work, as it features a main set of 26 songs and a four-song encore, capped by the 1997 hit, “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life).” Cool said a major reason why fans gravitate toward Green Day is because of its songs’ authenticity.
“(Armstrong) writes about what he sees and what he’s experiencing. He’s a very honest songwriter,” Cool, 44, told reporters. “So when (expletive) gets hairy, the songs get hairy. He’s very reflective of the society and his surroundings.”
Armstrong has plenty on his mind. Dirnt’s wife, Brittany, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014, and Green Day’s touring guitarist, Jason White, is battling tonsil cancer, though both are in remission. Armstrong, who is 45, also is using the microphone as a mouthpiece to criticize the political turmoil that’s enveloped the nation.
“She’s doing great now,” Dirnt, 44, told reporters. “My wife is a pretty strong person. She never said, ‘Oh, poor me’. She went through nine months of treatment and we gained gratitude and life perspective from that. We learned that sometimes life just happens and you can’t always be in control of everything. We learned none of us are going to be here forever, so let’s really appreciate where we’re at.”
Where Green Day is now is a testament to how its band members never strayed from what brought them together: their love of making music.
“I remember hanging out in the playground area at lunch and — it’s funny — I think the very first conversation we had was about music,” Dirnt told reporters about the first day he met Armstrong in fifth grade. “He was already playing guitar and I was learning and it was just kind of a natural friendship. I was kind of the class clown, so I made him laugh a lot, too.”
Still, in an industry in which even some of the greatest bands — The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Guns N’ Roses, and The Eagles — inevitably get torn apart, Green Day has withstood the test of time.
“Well, I think the common theme with me, Billy, and Tré is that this band is the greatest thing we’re ever going to do, so to not keep doing it would be foolish,” Dirnt told reporters. “And, you know, it’s a great life. We’ve lived and learned everything through this band.”