A Green Day show is simply spectacular, but without too much emphasis on spectacle and fluff. Green Day just digs in and goes, plugs in and peels out. The band — singer/guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong, bassist Mike Dirnt, drummer Tre Cool, and guitarist Jason White — has re-defined, or at the very least dominated, pop/punk since it first came on the scene in the early 1990's. There's a pile of awards and thousands of fans in the band's wake that attest to it all. The quartet has packed a lot into the band's nearly 25-year history.
It isn't in Mike Dirnt's nature to look in the rearview mirror. But when he does pause and get a glimpse of his band's long history, he's a bit stymied.
"Wow," Dirnt says. "Where'd the time go? And how did I get so old?"
Bands don't get much bigger than Green Day. They don't get much better, either. Formed in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1987, Green Day — along with bands like Rancid, The Offspring, and Sublime — was instrumental in re-introducing punk rock to a new generation of disenfranchised music fans who had no outlet. Grunge hadn't been born yet, and kids were still gasping for air beneath a cloud of hairspray.
In 1992 the band released "Kerplunk," which created an underground buzz and an above-ground bidding war between record labels. Reprise Records won and released "Dookie" in 1994. With "Dookie," and in particular the cuts "Longview," 'Basket Case," and "When I Come Around" all going to No. 1 on the modern-rock charts, Green Day exploded into the mainstream. Since then the group has won five Grammy Awards, including Best Rock Album for its 2004 "rock opera" album "American Idiot." "American Idiot" was adapted to the Broadway stage in 2010 — it will come to Rochester as part of a national tour during the Rochester Broadway Theatre League's 2013-14 season — and received numerous Tony Award nominations.
Green Day's latest recorded output is the triple-album release of "Uno!", "Dos!", and "Tre!" last year. Three albums, each released a month apart. Que pasa?
"We went in with a little more than a handful of power-pop songs," says Dirnt. "And as we continued writing and got up around 28, 30 songs, we realized we were writing in three different directions. So we had these power-pop songs — and it correlated with our lives at the time, ironically. 'Uno!' ended up being power pop. 'Dos!' was just a dirty garage, sexually driven, drugged-out rock 'n' roll record. And 'Tre!' was our self-reflection and redemption throughout the process. I think we came full circle, whether or not we knew it at the time."
Green Day's double-clutched intensity and overall sound has wavered very little through the years. The music is loud, fast, fun, catchy, and simultaneously juvenile and profound. This is one band that got it right straight out of the gate. The sound remains the same.
What's particularly interesting about the group is the lyrical balance between its low-brow hijinks and serious social commentary. On one hand (so to speak), "Longview" is about jerking off. On the other, "American Idiot" is an angry rebuttal to the political and social horrors of the Bush Administration, and the willful ignorance of it in the United States. Green Day walks the line.
"It's weird," Dirnt says. "Billie will always say politics has to come from the same place — a real place — as a love song would come from. It has to come from a real place or you're just full of it. I think that's an important thing to this band. If we feel strongly about something, then we're going to say it. This is our venue, our avenue to say something. And it may be political, it may be about love, it may be about hate, you name it. It can be any emotion we may have. We're people, too. The only difference is you get to hear what we're feeling."
If you look at the way bands like Green Day actually convey their feelings and music, the history of the group bridges the gap between the albatross of the old way of doing things and the swirling, ever-shifting music world of today. Consider, for example, releasing three albums in three months.
"These are weird times," Dirnt says. "So many of the record labels have gone away. Music is so free. I kinda like it. It's like the Wild West on the internet nowadays."
"But there's a yin and yang," Dirnt says. "It's really kind of a bummer. On one side you've lost all the mom and pop record stores, and you've lost a lot of the big chains, too. I mean, Walmart is the biggest record store in America. But on the other side of it, you've got a kid at home, and if he's willing to do the work he can find all the connections to all the coolest songs I ever did, and in a hell of a lot shorter time. And you can take it one step further, and it goes back to the other side — a kid can just snatch somebody's playlist and become a hipster DJ overnight. It's a weird world we're living in right now, but I like weird. I think it's blasting down some of the genre barriers for music, because people's iPod Shuffle mentality is so accepted nowadays. It really works for ADD kids — that's me."
Green Day: a name you can trust. It's as if the band is its own demographic. The members belong in the crowd with their fans. They're one of us.
"I think kids can smell a rat," Dirnt says. "We appeal on two levels. We have an absolutely unashamed way of going after melody. Whereas a lot of people are like, 'That's too poppy' — you know what? I love poppy. If you don't like poppy, you don't know how to do it."
"Then there's the other side of things; we're energetic," Dirnt says. "There's a certain energy to us. If there's one key factor that Green Day has, it's probably the energy. I always say it doesn't matter what we do, as long as we don't go out and slaughter a bunch of bunnies — but even that might be considered OK if the music was good enough. Everything is about the music with this band. One hundred years from now I'm going to be ashes — we all will. But the music will still be there. And that's what got me here; somebody else who is six feet under now, who was inspired to live their life the way that I'm doing. It's a great gift they gave to me, and I'm just proud to carry the torch."
As for the legacy that he hopes Green Day leaves behind, "Music, baby," Dirnt says.
"The songs. I think what's remained the same is our approach to writing songs," Dirnt says. "I mean our core approach. There is so much truth in our songs, whether it's just real or real ugly or coming from a real place. And then the fact that we have a never-say-die attitude toward our music. It doesn't matter what's going on out there nowadays, we're going to keep being Green Day."
"It's been a really great journey for our fans and for us," Dirnt says. "The things that are different now...we're obviously not broke anymore. But I've always felt the things in my life that make me happy, that I value most, money's not an important part of those. So I think as long as you can keep that sort of perspective, then you're in good shape. I don't need fucking caviar on my waffles, and to this day I'm not afraid to pick up other people's trash."
After postponing some dates after an on-stage meltdown from Armstrong in September 2012, Dirnt assures the band is primed and ready to pick up where it left off.
"I think we're ready," he says. "There's a reason we took so much time off, making sure we were ready. We didn't hammer ourselves over the head. We want to go out and be successful. [We want to] play them all-out, and actually enjoy the shows, and connect with our fans and friends out there. That makes us feel like we want to do this for the rest of our lives."
That includes playing our little city along the mighty Genesee. "Last time I was there I had a great time," Dirnt says. "And I'm gonna do it again."
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