When they formed in 1987, it’s doubtful anyone envisioned the California trio Green Day evolving into 21st century protest stalwarts as well as one of the world’s most popular ensembles.
Yet that’s precisely what the trio of vocalist/guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong, bassist/vocalist Mike Dirnt and drummer Tre Cool are today. With record sales now topping the 22 million mark and the winners of three Grammy awards including Best Rock Album for American Idiot and Record of the Year for "Boulevard of Broken Dreams," Green Day has helped spur renewed interest in punk rock, political music and elaborately structured concept productions.
Now in the North American phase of a world tour that will keep them on the road both domestically and international into early 2010, they’ll appear at the Sommet Center on Friday night along with the Kaiser Chiefs.
Green Day’s current release 21st Century Breakdown continues the “rock opera” format they utilized so successfully with American Idiot. Even though some questioned the strategic wisdom of crafting another recorded statement hammering ills and problems tied to a now out-of-power administration, Armstrong and company didn’t relent in their attacks on a host of things they tied to the eight years and two terms of President George W. Bush.
In a recent interview, Armstrong deemed the current disc closer to penning a novel than making a recording.
“You try to come up with creative ways that the songs relate to each other, and they sync back into each other,” Armstrong said. “That’s what makes a listener want to go back and investigate an album.”
Dirnt added: “There are three different acts to this record. There’s a lot of content. We almost treated it like a vinyl record, therefore giving more for people to hold on to and call their own.”
As one of the first bands willing to take public stands both in song and interviews against the Iraq War in 2004, they took over three years to complete 21st Century Breakdown. Part of the delay involved choosing the right producer, which finally wound up being Butch Vig. Songs began leaking online as early as the fall of 2008, with two videos eventually ending up on YouTube. They eventually spent time in four different recording studios around the country before completing the CD this past April.
Though nowhere as musically creative as a band like The Clash, which incorporated elements of ska and punk into the musical process and had the amazing presence of Joe Strummer driving things, Green Day can still make very effective, surprising punk music.
Cool’s barreling drumming is an integral ingredient, coupled with Dirnt’s buzz saw bass lines that also feature a high, treble-heavy sound. Add slicing, distorted guitar riffs and furiously paced numbers that usually conclude in less than four minutes and you have the basic Green Day formula.
Yet, it's on the conceptual end of things that Green Day has made the most improvements since their first big hit release Dookie in 1994. During their early days they were so closely influenced by bands like The Ramones (multiple covers) and Husker Du (cover of “Don’t Want to Know If You Are Lonely”) that they drew some fire from first-generation punk bands for an alleged lack of creativity and distinctiveness.
Those objections were forever obliterated with American Idiot, which became their first disc to open on top of the Billboard charts and which not only was a Grammy winner but a radio and MTV smash.
“Boulevard of Broken Dreams” in its lament about the demise of hope and faith in the current generation about almost everything connected with America’s values and promise topped the rock charts for four months, though later the Foo Fighters tune “The Pretender” set a new high mark by staying at No. 1 for 18 weeks.
21st Century Breakdown once more uses a group of recurring players whose reflections and commentary guide listeners on a tour of dissent, dismay and reaction to such events as economic disarray, frustration at the nation’s still unresolved foreign wars and the general unease and uncertainty so many young people currently feel.
There are no throwaway or disposable tracks, no feel-good party tunes added for a thematic change-of-pace. Instead, you’re taken on a full journey through a musical vision, and every cut relates to both its predecessor and the song following it. Its album production and presentation are in grand style, even if older rock fans don’t put Green Day in the same ballpark conceptually with The Clash, Ramones or Sex Pistols (whose Johnny Rotten has frequently skewered Green Day in print).
But Green Day has achieved a level of worldwide fame and audience identification that Rotten and the Sex Pistols never achieved, and are making openly political music during an age when many other bands are more interested in being celebrities than anything else.
21st Century Breakdown may not be Sandinista!, but it’s a lot closer than many people might think in both form and spirit.
What: Green Day in concert along with Kaiser Chiefs
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Where: The Sommet Center
Cost: $27.50, $49.50
Info: 770-2000, sommetcenter.com