I think it was the two-minute sax solo.
Or maybe the sight of Billie Joe dry-humping the stage and singing, ‘Love Me Tender’.
Either way, Green Day’s latest live show made me realize that they are punks no more. They’re bona fide, big-ticket stadium entertainers.
And it sucks!
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to launch in to some elitist screed about, “I saw them when they were nobodies, yadda, yadda.” I don’t mind a good stadium show. Last year’s Coldplay concert, for example, was a brilliant evening with a populist band at the height of its commercial powers.
But let me just count the ways that last Saturday’s concert – Green Day’s first time in Hong Kong (!!) – was a frustrating, annoying vaudeville mess:
1. There was the sax solo, as mentioned.
2. There was BJ’s continuous ‘Come On!’
3. The Spinal Tap-worthy pyrotechnics. What, no midgets?
4. An AC/DC interlude – yawn. Billy Joel covers AC/DC now.
5. Then the Elvis tribute.
6. Followed by a Beatles cover (‘Hey Jude’) with a Deep Purple riff thrown in.
With each cover, however, BJ and Co. would start the song and then not finish it! If you want to do a cover then do a complete cover, putting your own stamp on it. Not some lame ‘Hooked-on-Classics’ style medley. And btw, you know that great part in ‘Hey Jude’ when McCartney sings, ‘Jude, Jude, Jude-y, Jude-y, Jude-y, Jude-y’? He sings that once, not on every chorus – that’s why it’s so powerful.
The most annoying part of the show – it felt like the whole show actually – was Billie Joe’s constant (I’m not kidding you when I say constant) need for an audience call and response:
BJ: I say Aay-Ooh!
BJ: I say Aaaay-Ooooh!
BJ: I say AAaaaAAaaaAAaaaAA-Oooooooooh!
(audience loses plot at this point.)
Where is Harry Belafonte when you need him? Green Day come and me want to go home.
THE SEX PISTOLS NEVER DID A SAX SOLO!
Was it the unsophisticated audience? Did Green Day think Hong Kong – in our imaginary Mao caps – would lap up this crap? Or do they do this at every show? I can’t imagine a SoCal crowd putting up with this call-and-response patter BETWEEN EVERY SONG.
In fact I did see Green Day in Orange County once. The band blazed through song after song, and the audience did their best to foil security and rush the stage. Green Day was playing big venues then too (Anaheim Pond), but they kept it lean and mean.
And what about making the audience do the singing? Sing a line, then make us sing, sing another line, make us sing the chorus. Do you realize this is what Robbie Williams does?
I read that BJ mooned the audience in Singapore. Uh, Robbie Williams does that too.
Billie Joe even pulled up an audience member to sing the entire ‘Longview’ by herself. I paid HK$550 (US$70 and they weren’t even great seats!) per ticket; I didn’t pay to hear Gabriella so-and-so sing the damn song!
Green Day has always had populist DNA. From “Dookie” onwards they’ve produced reliable, catchy pop songs, the punk being just window dressing, like Billie Joe’s ubiquitous eyeliner. But with “American Idiot” (released in 2004), they captured a political, more mature voice, and joined the ranks of ‘important’ bands.
“Idiot” rocked hard. Unfortunately, they’ve tried to replicate that power on “21st Century Breakdown”, and it just falls flat. It’s a paint-by-numbers dud: a bad (meaning bad) rock opera screaming, “Phoned it in with a rhyming dictionary!!!”
Maybe that’s why the concert felt so underwhelming. It was a facsimile of a real show. It was Green Day saying, “We’re in China, boys. Let’s throw out a few ‘thank you’s’ in Cantonese and screw around with these neophyte rockers. They’ll love it!”
True enough, we Hong Kong’ers don’t know how to stage dive. We point our phone cameras at any thing that moves – even when it’s 100 feet away in low lighting.
(Those of you who screamed and took pictures of that pink bunny?)
But even we don’t deserve your schtick.
Just play the f’ing songs!