Green Day, Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London
“Bad news, guys. Billie Joe has got laryngitis. But I’m here!” said drummer Tre Cool, taking centre stage before singing a solo rude version of “All By Myself”, thus setting the tone for an evening of nostalgic messing around.
Frontman Billie Joe was just hiding, of course. It was with audible relief that the audience welcomed him, and he greeted us with a further two tracks from their 1994 breakout album Dookie, “Welcome to Paradise” and “Burnout”.
Well into their third decade of filling arenas with screaming fans, it was great to see Green Day in the comparatively intimate 2,000-capacity venue. Having just revealed that they will play Dookie in full at the Reading festival over the weekend, the band seem to recognise the draw of their earlier material, bringing plenty of nineties tracks, some from American Idiot, and only a handful of new songs despite the imminent release of new album ¡Uno!.
The band take advantage of the small scale to play with the audience: squirting us with a giant water pistol, sending reams of toilet paper spiralling out into the crowd and pulling front row revellers up onstage to take over vocals, and in one case, an entire guitar solo. Billie Joe remained zany as ever, conducting the crowd when he forgot the words and playing a Kazoo in duet with a saxophonist wearing a wizard’s hat.
The frontman, now 40, is something of a Peter Pan figure. His skinny frame swathed in a teenage style t-shirt and skinny jeans, his jet black hair slightly too resonant of a Just For Men advert to be entirely punk. You could venture that their sound has stayed similarly defiant of time.
The new material, notably “Nuclear Family” and “Carpe Diem”, contains the weighty anthemic threads that make Green Day’s rocky pulse so appealing, but seem devoid of the narrative clarity and humour that lent earlier material such endurance. The biggest yelps and shrieks of applause predictably greet “When I Come Around”, “ Basket Case” and the encore “American Idiot”.
Repeatedly whooping “Hey yo!” dancing wackily, jumping off the amp box, standing on one leg, wearing a bent Burger King hat and showing his bum to the audience, Billie Joe has become something of a pastiche of his earlier self. It feels a bit Cabaret. But we remain captivated by the bizarreness nevertheless. And it’s a relief that their old trick of trashing the stage seems to have become passé. It’s one heck of a show.
Set List (with new material missing as not on Spotify)
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