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Green Day and Kaiser Chiefs at Madison Square Garden: “Do you want this fucking time?”

Before the encore Green Day leader Billie Joe Armstrong sings the last song off their new album “21st century Breakdown” and reaches a conclusion: “The moral isn’t to do the right thing but to do the right thing together”. The smartest thing he has said in two albums worth of material and it got me to thinking of Bruce Springsteen in the 80’s. Like Springsteen, Billie Joe has a bit of the demagoge in him and like Springsteen he believes that rock will set him free and like Springsteen he shows tremendous respect for his fans. This is a giant leap forward for Billie Joe -I saw him on the “American Idiot” tour in 05 and he did not have this ability to move an audience. Good, absolutely, top showman, no he wasn’t. “Turn off your cells, turn off your TVs.” Billie Joe screams, “Do you want this fucking time?”

But on the other hand, earlier in the night Billie told a very funny story about having a loud argument over his cell with his wife when a car stops and a guy in the back seat shouts out the window “Hey Billie, Green Day sucks and so do you.” Billie puts his wife on hold and chases after the car which stops at the light. Billie jumps in the window and whales on him, punch, punch, punch… hardly, Springsteen, right?

But certainly frontman stuff. It was a night for frontmen. English rock band Kaiser Chief were the best opening act I’ve seen since February and Ricky Wilson was the main ingredient. A extroverted maniac he was holding onto the microphone one moment while jumping up and down, diving into the audience (there would be a lot of that this night), seating in the mezzanine and watching the band, leading the audience in a Green Day cheer and playing one crowd pleasing, arena tearing anthem after enough that cut their recorded works to pieces. It’s real easy: their three albums don’t begin to capture this bands live intensity. I had thought they were essentially a one song band, “Oh God” was great but that’s all there was but nothing could be further from the truth. “I Predict A Riot” is even better “Angry Mob,” off their second album which I thought was kinda a drag, is as intenseand emotional and fun as anything you can imagine. Apparently Kaiser Chief’s is taking a break at the end of the summer and that’s a shame because based upon my and the rest of MSG’s response to this superb set they are ready to break US and break it big.

Of course, Green day have already passed the audition but even so it is hard to overstate the case for Monday’s concert. This felt like GD throwing down the gauntlet in the only band that matters sweepstakes. Billie Joe was unreal: one moment waddling like Charlie Chaplin on steroids, the next lying on his back and kicking up his legs. Billie wanders the stadium, all the way to the cheap seats, and he glad hands and hugs his audience with a genuine humility belied by his complete arrogance and certainty. For instance, Jerry Rivera brought a girl out from the audience and sang to her on Saturday, Billie Joe brings a girl out of the audience, hands her a guitar and has her play (very well) “Jesus Of Suburbia”. That’s truly respecting your audience. In 1979 I saw Public Image, Ltd. Invite six members of the audience on stage to sing “Poptones” for him (John Lydon) and it is magical, Billie does the same thing with three members and it is equally magical.

Hell, the entire night is magical. The GD method this tour has been to play the entire “21st Century Breakdown” in sequence and encore with a healthy dose of hits. Halfway through the set somebody shouts out for “Basket case”. “What the fuck,” Billie says, “We’ll play anything” and so they play it and then veer right off the set list performing stuff like “When I Come Around” and “Brain Stew”and a cover of “Shout” with Armstrong adding “Earth Angel” and “I’ll be There” and a little later in throwing some Guns ‘N’ Roses our way. He goes so far off “Breakdown” Green Day doesn’t play one of my faves off the new album “Peacemaker”.

I liked “Breakdown” a lot, I liked the way it sounds and that I think his politics are relentlessly naïve is completely unimportant (I mean: the US Godless? Anybody who has read the book of Samuel II can tell you just how Godly a country this is). But I only love a handful of songs and it is to GDs credit there isn’t a sag of even a second: the band is overwhelming for two and a half hours straight and the pleasure is just unbearable. Dirnt and Tres Cool are Armstrong’s brothers and enablers -they are the glue that keeps Armstrong from coming unglued; they are so good, they are so loud, they are so free. And Billie Joe is a star and a nutcase, the Rolling Stone interview found a man running through the horrors of stardom I’ve been describing for the past couplamonths but there are rewards for those who are willing to pay the price: “I’ll do this till I’m dead” he says but when will that be? Whatever, tonight he is an indefatigable star presense and he is communicating completely with the audience. It’s a love thing, a man who knows our mood completely and shares it and with a band (an extra coupla musicians along for the tour) who can vamp as easily as they rush forward and who play, and this is the punkiest thing about them, tight and fast. I counted precisely one guitar solo all night.

The set is fabulous with a changing backdrop(they start with a Manhattan skyline) and powerful red and white colors though they should have kept a camera and screened it for the denizens of the upper levels.

Billie Joe ends the night with two acoustic songs and then “Good Riddance”. It’s a fine song and a lovely parting from a thriller of a set.

Song of the Century
21st Century Breakdown
Know Your Enemy
East Jesus Nowhere
Holiday
The Static Age
Before the Lobotomy
Are We the Waiting
St. Jimmy
Boulevard Of Broken Dreams
2000 Light Years Away
Welcome To Paradise
Castaway
When I Come Around
Disappearing Boy
Brain Stew
Jaded
Longview
Basket Case
She
King For A Day
Shout (The Isley Brothers cover)
21 Guns
American Eulogy
Encore:
American Idiot
Jesus Of Suburbia
Minority
Encore 2:
Drama Queen
Last Night on Earth
Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)

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