Chicago Sun-Times
Tuning in with Thomas Conner

Green Day at the United Center

| 15 Comments | No TrackBacks

Though its members may present themselves as typical snotty slackers, Green Day can't be faulted for lack of ambition.

Not only has the long-running Bay Area pop-punk trio delivered two sprawling concept albums with its last two releases, but it's seen both hit No. 1 on the Billboard albums chart, silencing skeptics who thought its 1994 smash "Dookie" was a fluke.

Meanwhile, 37-year-old Billie Joe Armstrong and his band mates have long since traded the tiny all-ages dives of their early years for the biggest arenas. And they're almost convincing enough to pull it off.

Almost, but not quite: There's just no denying that punk rock was never intended to be heard in an enormodome. You need to feel the bass drum in your gut, the guitars should make your ears ring and you ought to see the singer's sneer, if not dodge his spit.

And no matter how much a band is trying to remain true to its roots, something about playing an arena brings out the arena-rock cliches.

When Green Day performed at the United Center Monday, those came in the form of cheesy pyrotechnics and snippets of corny covers ranging from Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train" to the Jackson 5's "I'll Be There," with a break for "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" somewhere in the middle.

All of this tomfoolery was especially annoying since the group has such a deep and rich catalog, and it only played some two dozen songs during a more than two-hour set.

The band came out strong with a salvo of some of the most ferocious tunes from the recent "21st Century Breakdown," mostly eschewing the melodramatic ballads. Yet while I'm not a big fan of this rock opera about aimless youth in search of a cause--I greatly prefer the more directly political "American Idiot" (2004)--it was still disappointing that the band didn't try to make the case for the entire "Quadrophenia"-like epic.

In the end, when the group was hitting full-throttle--either on new material such as "Know Your Enemy" and "The Static Age" or on old favorites like "Longview" and "Basket Case"--you could almost believe it wasn't just show business.

Then, all too soon, the sax player (one of three sidemen) would come out dressed like Michael Jackson, Armstrong would shout "Chicago!" for the 40th time or the band would lapse into another cover (which have been pretty much the same every night of the tour). And you'd have to admit it was all about as sincere and spontaneous as Neil Diamond in Vegas, though not as
much fun.

No TrackBacks

TrackBack URL: http://blogs.suntimes.com/cgi-bin/mt-tb.cgi/24290

15 Comments

Last night's show was certainly in my top 5 concerts events of all time.
Pyro is ususally cheesy, but many fee shorted without.
As for the arena, would this have been better done at the DD? I think that a venue of this size was the only option.

BJA masterfully worked the audience into full compliance/frenzy and included a heaping helping of circus-like bizarro-fun antics.

Good times!

I was puzzled by this review. For one thing, I don't understand how on earth the guitars didn't make your ears ring (and that isn't a good thing if they do, by the way); I felt like I needed two or three pairs of earplugs to *keep* my ears from ringing. It was very very loud. Too loud, really. Of course, it was Seattle, but I doubt they turned the sound down on subsequent shows.

I too was disappointed they didn't play all of 21st Century B'down (which I also feel is as "directly political" as American Idiot; actually more so, in songs like East Jesus Nowhere, Peacemaker, and Restless Heart Syndrome), but I'd read in advance they weren't going to do that on this tour, so I was prepared for to hear a show of mixed songs. (I also think overall 21st Century is better than American Idiot).

They didn't do any of the covers you mention in Seattle. In fact, they didn't do covers at all (not counting the expected Shout and Stand By Me in King for a Day). I'd kind of hoped they would...

They seemed perfectly fine for an arena to me; I thought the pyro was exciting. Probably in part because I paid a lot extra to get a very good seat. Billie Joe's a fantastic performer and he loves to engage the crowd. I felt he was sincere. I thought all the pyrotechnics were exciting. Esp as they went all thru the show and weren't just kept to the end.

It's true in general any kind of show (not just punk) is better in a smaller space, but when you're popular, what can you do? It's not worthwhile anymore to just play clubs. But punk "never intended" to played in an arena. I don't buy that. Good music should be able to translate to differently sized spaces.

If I wanted to be the only journalist who had overall negative reviews about a typically epic concert, I would have written the exact same article as written above.

What journalit wants to be just like everyone else and say how great the Green Day show was?

Its funny to state the band is 'not made for the arena' when in 2004 THROUH 2005 they played 2 world tours, the second being only in outdoor stadiums.

Its also funny that the same journalist stated how "grateful" Fall Out Boy was to be on stage at a concert. While FOB provides listeners with some catchy tunes, seeing them live magnifies the fact that on record they are over-produced, lacking the ability to duplicate the sound on their albums. Their lack of live-musicality (most notably harmony and maintaining proper pitch with vocal melodies) is an ear sore. Its nice to be grateful on stage, but give any Average-Joe a guitar with thousands of people in front of them, and anyone would be greatful. Does being grateful really provide a great show?---no.

Finally, saying "only played some 2-dozen songs in a 2 hour set" is an assinine oxymoron. ONLY 2-dozen songs?!? Imagine asking a friend, "hey how was the concert?" and he responds, "it was ok...they only played for about 2 hours and played about 25 songs." Not many bands have the selist to play 26 songs, yet alone songs that millions of fans know every word to.

So go on parading your cheers of 'cliche.' While you do so, millions of fans will be cheering on the "heyy ohhs" from Billie Joe and will be amazed by the on-stage antics seen at a live Green Day show.

Based on his comments, I assume the reviewer has been fortunate enough to attend many of this superb band's performances and thus he may be tired of reviewing the same band over and over again.

I on the other hand have not been fortunate enough to see Green Day perform live at all, until last night. In fact, my ears were ringing like crazy and my right ear is still recovering from the enormous sound that reverberated throughout the stadium. From where I was sitting (on level 200 - section 220), I could not only feel the pyrotechnics trying to rip my guts out, but I could feel the warmth and shockwave of every pyrotechnic explosion enveloping my body. To me the pyrotechnics were awesome, besides, I didn't go to see a fireworks show - I went to see GREEN DAY and their superb talent for writing melodic music accompanied by thought-provoking lyrics combined with a stage performance which engaged the crowd in a way that I have never experienced before. If anything, I realized that this group of three musicians have as much (if not more) pulling power and influence on society as the politicians they speak out against has.

As for punk-rock not meant to fill large stadiums - in my opinion punk rock only happens to be the genre of music here. I think that Green Day have moved past being an "average band" a very long time ago. Their music is true to the times we live in, it is based on reality, yet it is so fantastic that one is able to be entertained by the way they convey their message and the way they engage the audience with it. I was certainly able to escape the reality of everyday life - and they managed to do that in little over two hours - that takes some doing in this troubled world we live in today. Perhaps the best proof of that is the fact that the demonstrators outside the stadium were left standing around with all their printed banners, not having been able to convince anybody to join their "revolution" - people ignored them and walked past them with their Green Day posters. We just want to be entertained, we don't want to be recruited for revolutions and idiotic wars.

In my opinion, Green Day is as big as "Queen" and "The Beatles" were. Again the proof lies in the fact that just before Green Day took the stage, "We Will Rock You" could be heard and people clapped their hands to the beat. "We Will Rock You" arguably is the biggest and best rock anthem of all time and to better that with a performance such as what Green Day delivered on the evening shows that they have come a very far way since their early days of "small crowds and taverns". Green Day is a stadium band, their music is no longer strictly "punk-rock". The roots of their music may be in punk-rock, but they're mainstream artists in their own right. Proof of that is the large crowd that they drew during their "American Idiot" concert in Milton Keynes, England in 2005 - that would be the home of Queen, The Beatles, The Who, The Rolling Stones and many other top acts. I happened to have lived in Milton Keynes for two years after that concert took place and even when I came to the states in 2007 that city was still abuzz with Green Day - everybody I spoke to had great memories of that concert and were astonished by how good Green Day as a band is.

I honestly don't think that if Green Day were just an average punk-rock band that they would achieve that amount of success in a country where music is considered a way of life along with a walk to the pub every night for a beer. Green Day's arsenal of stadium songs is massive - almost every song is an anthem and I cannot praise them enough - great job guys. You (punk) rock!

I am originally from South Africa - if Green Day were ever to tour that country they'd sell out the biggest stadiums that the country has to offer and they'd inspire a lot of people, and perhaps a government too. They'd receive praise from all corners and nobody would dare call them an average band. We're all different, we all expect and want different things in life, but to imply that Green Day is not a big-stadium band is a crime in my view and probably in the view of all those who attended the Chicago United Center performance on July 13 2009.

Thanks Green Day for an awesome show, you know what you're doing and you do it well! Thanks for the reminder and inspiration that we can all be free and be what we want to be! Keep it up!

While not always a fan of your reviews I think you hit this one on the
head. For every minute of covers and goofing around they could have
been playing songs that the fans would rather here, Peacemaker off the
new album being one that I personally wanted to here. I think the boys
need to step back from the large halls and try to get back to their
roots for a while. And yeah, the sax and accordian did nothing for me.

While not always a fan of your reviews I think you hit this one on the
head. For every minute of covers and goofing around they could have
been playing songs that the fans would rather here, Peacemaker off the
new album being one that I personally wanted to here. I think the boys
need to step back from the large halls and try to get back to their
roots for a while. And yeah, the sax and accordian did nothing for me.

It saddens me that Green Days punk days are over. I have seen them every time they have come to Chicago, and this was by far the WORST! I think what the most sickening thing about it is how the youth of America have become little wimpy drones. I was on the floor and the people against the railing in the front row looked back in horror the 1 time they were pushed. Parents bringing their 3 year old children on their shoulders up by the stage, mothers with their 8 year old daughters up by the front where used to be an area where only the die hard fans would go to be pushed and wedged between people and leave with 1000 different people's sweat on you. While this may not be fun to some, this is what a rock concert should be, and if you can't handle it, get in the back where you belong. I was literally in the 3rd row with enough room to do jumping jacks. Not ONE mosh pit (although, it wasn't REALLY expected), and not one person crowd surfing, except for the one Billy Joe "picked out of the crowd" to do it. And what happens when you go stage diving at a show with a bunch of wimpy drones? There is not enough people to catch you and you get dropped, just like she did. I felt like I was at a Jonas Brother's concert, not the band I had been following for the past 15 years. To top it off, when I vocalized this, I was told to "shhh" by one of the dads like I had just dropped an F bomb or something so that I would not offend his child who wanted to believe he was at a "rock concert". And how about that little boy Billy "pulled out of the crowd" that just happened to know ALL of "Jesus of Suburbia" on the guitar and all the lyrics and played it PERFECTLY? Right. I would hate to think a 12 year old can do Billy Joe's job.

They definitely could have played some older stuff besides the standard "She" "Basket Case" "Longview" "Minority" combo. And if I heard Billy Joe plug "Chicago" ONE MORE TIME I was gonna puke.

Green Day used to stand for being a "minority", an individual, a free thinker. Now the shows are all call and answer with Billy Joe, and clap now and put your hands in the air now, and put them down now. I swear to God, they even had a light-up sign to time the crowd in chanting "Green" - "Day" at the end like a bouncing ball over words so that it would be synchronized. And they all followed it. Even SLOWED DOWN the original pace to match the light up sign... sheep.

All this may be attibuted that is seems like Green Day is becoming the "McDonalds" of performers. It was THE SAME performance as American Idiot. Same "cheesy" pyrotechnics, same cheesy stunts, same cheesy confetti at the end. And what WAS up with Michael Jackson playing the sax? While I have to say they are as energetic as they always have been, it seems there is something missing... their soul, which now belongs to Verizon Wireless. And 21st Century Breakdown IS way less political than American Idiot, I think, mostly, because they have run out of steam with that since Bush is no longer in office.

Some may say they sold out after Kerplunk, some may think after Dookie... While there is specutation as to when it happened, I believe it was a gradual decline to rock bottom. While Green Day will always hold a place in my heart, they have sold out their punk roots to a big corporation... exactly what they preach is wrong with our country. And, unfortunately, the next time they tour, I will be "2000 Light Years Away". And although I want to tell them "Don't Leave Me", I have reached the "Road To Acceptance". And "In The End" I had the "Time of My Life".

Oh come on people. Yes I have seen them before and this was not the same experience as a smaller venue, but it was still an entertaining show. They played a good mix of old and new songs, a cheesy stage show but appropriate for the size of the venue, and good sound. Like it or not, they are targeting and tailoring their show to a new generation of fans who can and do fill arenas and buy $50 tee-shirts. You can call it sell-out if you want, but with CD sales half of what they were 10 years ago this is reality if a band wants to stay around.

Bottom line is that while it wasn't a life changing event it was fun and a decent value. Don't overthink it.

Such vitriol aimed at Mr. DeRogatis for offering a fair and accurate assessment of last night’s “show” is sad. It’s nice to see people resort to expletives and name calling because they lack the ability to articulate a coherent defense of such a horrid homage to Motley Crue. I despised the show so much I want a refund. Unfortunately I’ll never get back the two and a half hours that were stolen.

Yes I’m a fan. And Yes I’ve seen them on numerous occasions dating back to 1994. The fact that Green Day are thumbing their noses at everything they once stood for says as much about today’s "market" as it does about the band. The audience participation and chants of “Chicago” were patronizing at best and utterly lazy at worst. At some point it would have been nice to actually hear the band play a song from beginning to end allowing them to focus their substantial energy into the music itself and not “the show”. Call me old fashioned but I firmly believe good music can stand on it’s own.

There’s a reason a lot of touring artists, if you can call them that, rely on dancers, lighting and pyrotechnics: the music has nothing to say so they’re forced to distract us with a “kick-A** show”. I believe that the band that produced American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown (and Kerplunk!!!) are better than that. Those albums are works of art and it’s a shame that the band that made them has lessened their impact by augmenting their performance with Super Soakers and confetti. The music should be the spectacle.

I thought I was going to a Green Day concert. Instead I saw Spinal Tap sans the irony.

To Green Day: Joey Ramone is spinning in his grave and asks you to stop playing Rock N' Roll Radio before you hit the stage.

Jim,

Your review nailed it. A performance totally devoid of spontaneity. The perfomance was so scripted, I can't tell it apart from the performances I can see this month via my cable's "on demand" service.

I do disagree with one of your points. Just as I was thinking to myself, "I wish Green Day played better songs," they broke into "Ain't Talkin' Bout Love." I would have rather enjoyed hearing the whole thing. If even just to shake it up.

That said, I like when a band performs "outta left field" covers. But if you're gonna do it, play the whole song.

Dear Mr. DeRogatis,

Yesterday, I read your piece on Green Day's concert at the United Center and was very surprised at the harsh review you gave them. Aside with the points some people have made about them not altering the set list enough from their last tour and the repetition of "hey-oh"s and Billie screaming "Chicago!" I had an absolutely amazing time at the concert and thoroughly enjoyed it. I thought the "cheesy pyrotechnics" were awesome and the "corny covers" serving for comic relief were fun. And about the "tomfoolery" you wrote of: the members of Green Day aren't stupid enough to take themselves too seriously and let all the attention they receive get to their heads. However silly some of their antics were, the band always remained very engaging. I was more than satisfied with the number of songs they pulled from 21st Century Breakdown to put on the set list (it made up almost a third of the list, which is fine considering that Green Day has released six albums while they have been signed to Reprise). If I were to add a song to the list, it would have been another old favorite like "When I Come Around," and I wasn't even old enough to know about Green Day when Dookie came out. I'm sure much of the audience present Monday night were there to hear the old stuff as much as they were there to hear sections of the new album.

Just to pick one more example: last year, you wrote a review on a Fall Out Boy concert and had plenty of good things to say about them. I really don't understand how you can follow a review like that with the negative one you just wrote. Fall Out Boy's stage presence is nothing compared to Green Day's and I'm sure that most people would agree with me that Green Day is a far superior band, if you want to look at the two concerts from a purely musical standpoint. Even you admit that they have a "deep and rich catalog." Everyone was on their feet from the moment Green Day took the stage to the last note of "Good Riddance" and if you couldn't tell that everyone there (except for you, I guess) had a blast, then I really don't know what to say. You either had preconceived ideas about what you were going to write in the review before you even witnessed the concert or weren't paying attention at all.

I will say that everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but I personally don't understand where yours are coming from at all.

Sincerely,
EH

Greetings Mr. DeRogatis,

This morning I read your review of the Green Day show at the United Center, and it seems our views differ. I don't want to harass you or call you names, as you are most certainly entitled to your opinion. I'd just like to politely disagree and give you a different perspective to consider.

Green Day is in high demand right now. Because of "21st Century Breakdown's" success, they have, once again, become one of the hottest topics in the country. It obviously makes sense for them to book larger venues, although they have already played a series of small clubs earlier this year. Their label as being a punk rock group is just that: a label given by the media. Many artists agree that labels are too confining. Just because you have an image in your head of what a punk rock concert should be like, you shouldn't expect certain things.

Between Billie Joe Armstrong's seemingly unlimited energy, Mike Dirnt and Tré Cool's skilled performances, and the help of Jason Freese (the saxophone player referenced in your article), Jeff Matika, and Jason White, the band puts on a lively, exciting show. Also, although the fire effects didn't delight you, I can assure you that many would agree that this adds to the thrilling atmosphere of a Green Day concert.

In conclusion, for your future reviews, I would suggest writing more details about the band's stage presence and energy. I'd focus less on covers that were barely played and what one of the touring musicians was wearing. While you may not have enjoyed the concert, I know many other people were ecstatic about the entire event. Billie Joe, Mike, and Tré pour their hearts into writing and playing amazing tunes that many of us enjoy. All of their hard work really shows when they do what they love the most: performing in front of a crowd. Green Day has a stunning amount of passion for music, and I doubt you'll find that at any Neil Diamond show.

Thank you for your time.
Elizabeth Amazing

Right on, Sidnancee. Jim you got it perfectly. Verizon Wireless is the proud owner of Green Day's soul. I'm done. Good Riddance.

I was there and have to say that this was the BEST concert I've ever attended in my life. Green Day does many antics, but it never gets old. Billie Joe connects with the audience extremely well. It was my first Green Day concert and I've been a fan for the past 6 years. "Punk is a state of mind". It doesn't really matter where the heck they play. Green Day does whatever they want when they want, that's whats punk about them. Go to greendayauthority.com to check out pictures and comments about the concert, as well as some defense to this article.

Well Jim,

You were obviously not one of us standing in a group of 30,000 other packed up against the front rail having the time of our lives.

Green Day is still amazing. Green Day is still punk.

Mikal.

Leave a comment

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Jim DeRogatis published on July 13, 2009 11:06 PM.

Previewing Pitchfork 2009 was the previous entry in this blog.

Shellac added to Millennium Park's New Music Mondays is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.