Monday, August 31, 2009

Live in Concert: Green Day 8/15/09

It's rare I see a big name band at the top of their powers. I tend to gravitate to the nostalgia circuit in an effort to either catch one last glimpse of a former favorite (John Mellencamp, Steely Dan), or play catch up on someone I ignored back in the day, only to finally come around to their brilliance later (Def Leppard, Camper Van Beethoven). So, I was on the fence whether to bother with Green Day since, I'm sure, they'll be around long enough to see them in some package deal with the Offspring, Sugar Ray and Live in about 10 years (that's usually how it works).

But, I went against tradition and decided to see the real deal in all it's present glory. I'm glad I did. It was an especially welcome example of fan payback compared to the distant stiffarm from Trashcan Sinatras a couple nights earlier. If you want to see it done right, see Green Day. Surprisingly, I'm not even the world's biggest GD fan. I self-identify as a product of the 80s, while GD are totally and completely aligned with the 90s (no matter how crucial their more recent work is), so they never belonged to me. There isn't a moment in my life that's capped by a GD song (they were completely ubiquitous during my first days and months and year after my mission, but by then my innocence had been lost and songs didn't carry the weight they did during adolescence).

However, it occurred to my while watching the show that no band in the last 15 years have more effectively and exactly held a mirror to their generation than Green Day have. Let's explore the parallels.

First, they were birthed out of the early 90s grunge scene. While not being grunge themselves (I heard a lot of Social Distortion at first, which no one ever mentions), they were harder edged rock and that was in style (finally). Also, their attitude was that of a slacker who sat around their parent's house aimlessly daydreaming about what to do next, both in the macro sense (for a job) and the micro (what's on TV). Songs like "Longview" (a song about masturbating while stoned) and "Basket Case" (name says it all) perfectly summarized in clear and direct words how the youth of America were feeling at that time. The message was powerful, millions listened and followed. They had yet to lose their innocence.

As the indulgent 90s wore on, messages like that became less and less immediate (even the Clinton administration became mired in sex scandals, probably out of a lack of anything better to do). After a couple years of living the slacker dream, it was time to grow up and growing up can be hard, especially if you are ill-equipped. Green Day's next few albums, while trying to expand on the snotty punk that had painted them into a corner, made less impact and the band found themselves as irrelevant as a guy in his late 20s still getting high in the basement.

Then, suddenly in September of 2001, the country woke up. Woke WAY up. Shaken from their juvenile stupor, Green Day got wise. Feelings began to boil inside, like anger and skepticism and frustration, that weren't there before not pointed in this direction anyway. Matters became more important. But, this is the generation that gets their facts from the Daily Show. They aren't reading the New York Times, rather they're obeying their media heroes. Information funneled this way may not be complete, but it's potent and it sparked one of the most miraculous turnarounds rock has ever seen. And, once again Green Day were talking in a language their generation, as well as just about everyone else, could understand when they released American Idiot, the album that changed everything.

American Idiot managed to take the bits of facts and soundbites of the media and regurgitate them in a way that incited action. It gave words to the feelings of the less informed that the New York Times couldn't touch. It didn't have to. All this generation needed to hear was our President called an Idiot. That alone made us feel better and, God knows, no one else was doing it. It managed to direct that anger at the singular person who embodied the trainwreck our country was racing headlong into. Who is this idiot and why are we listening to him and what can we do about it? It was also a huge smash.

Fast forward five years and Bush is no longer in office and Obama has assuaged some of that anger, but now what are we left with? Christian fundamentalism. A new great depression. A whole ton of residual frustration. If American Idiot said "I'm pissed!", 21st Century Breakdown says "I'm still pissed because I still don't see any reason not to be!" If Green Day's career isn't the trajectory of, what Pepsi called Generation Y, I don't know what is. They go from uninformed slacker, to Daily Show educated, to media ingestion 24/7, just like everyone else.

The best part about the show was how they got the crowd involved, inviting people up to the stage to sing backup, play guitar, stage dive, you name it. The highlight was when a 12 year old boy came up to play "Jesus of Suburbia" with the band. Green Day made these people's lives better. That 12 year old gets to go to school and tell his friends (not to mention the bullies who may beat him up) that he got to jam with Green Day in front of a few thousand people. That is what being a true rock band is all about, knowing enough to give back to the people who got you there. Green Day know this. They live by it. And it helps to ease the anger.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Live in Concert: Trashcan Sinatras 8/06/09

This feels like blasphemy. One of my favorite bands and I'm speaking ill of them. I was even lucky enough to meet them once and they couldn't be nicer. It doesn't feel right, but neither did their show. In fact, neither does the trip they're on these days. I'm disappointed.

Here's some backstory. TCS burst on the scene in 1990 with their debut album, Cake (my 2nd all-time favorite album). Their popcraft was immediate and beautiful, their wordplay clever. It was the perfect sound for the time and completely in line with contemporaries like the Ocean Blue, the Smiths, and Aztec Camera. Cake was not the smash in America that it should have been (though popular on alternative radio thanks to the obvious perfection of singles "Obscurity Knocks" and "Only Tongue Can Tell" which if you don't like them, you don't know what joy feels like) and they followed it up with the comparatively darker I've Seen Everything, which also underperformed in spite of another infectious single, "Hayfever". Here's where things get dicey.

This was followed by A Happy Pocket, an almost glacially paced album of heavily hushed tunes that their record company refused to release stateside and remains out of print and hard to find to this day. Not that it's a total lost, despite a few pretty tracks (including their somber take on "To Sir, With Love") it is quite a bear to get through. Then, they disappeared without nary a peep for eight years before coming back in a major way with 2004's Weightlifting. Their fans rejoiced! The songcraft hadn't lost a step in the years off, but, if I'm honest, the songs got very delicate and soft. Still beautiful, in fact there may have been TOO high a premium on beauty, (as evidenced by "Weightlifting" and the gorgeous "Got Carried Away"). No one minded too much because we were so glad to have them back. I love that album, but that joy has been replaced with some sorrow and sympathy.

Ok, here's the point: the concert was almost completely dominated by new material. They just produced a new album called In The Music that has, so far, only been available online. If Weightlifting was soft, then In The Music is practically weightless. The show consisted of ZERO songs off Cake (I was so pissed), three from Everything, ZERO from Pocket (just as well), three from Weight and the rest new.

So, do the math with me on this. A beloved band returns from hibernation choosing (that's the key word here, bands don't forget to play those songs, it's a choice) to ignore the past and focus on the now. That works if you're a band like U2 or the Cure who have an extensive catalog of hits and crowd faves that people will forgive you for skipping some obscure early faves. But, TCS only have five albums and it was the early stuff that hooked us! You can't throw us a bone and just sprinkle a couple of them here and there? There was a section in the show of about seven sleepy new songs in a row (remember, the album has not even been officially released). You expect people to stay awake for that? Here's another sort of nervey thing, they kicked the show off with a new song (of course) and then played two crowd faves ("Hayfever" and "Easy Read") back to back and then didn't return to the classics until the end of the show. That's such cruel foreplay! It's like they wanted to get that stuff over with as soon as possible, yet satiate the crowd who don't know that's the last bite they'll get for a long time.
Bands will often try to distance themselves from their past because they get tired of playing the hits, or they were only that way in the first place because of label pressure (notice the descent of the Police, especially Sting, who went from angry, artful punks, to guys who write music for soccer moms). But when your career and output are as scattered as TCS's, ignoring a chapter of your history is ignoring half the story! Plus, it's the good part!

I'm afraid my TCS worship has fallen off the rails. I'll continue to get their music (the new album, which I bought at the show, is underwhelming so far), but I doubt I'll pay to see them live again. It's a shame, I was rooting for them. The world is a better place with them in it, and I mean that from the bottom of my heart. The weird thing is, I'm a "friend" of theirs on facebook and they post setlists and such every couple days. Well, I took it as an opportunity to tell them I was annoyed about the show. They didn't respond, but the other fans sure did. Some of them were on my side and felt similarly, others were calling for my head. My feeling is, if you're going to purposely alienate your fans like that, you deserve to get kicked in the nuts a little. I just hope they don't get their feelings hurt and disappear for another eight years.

The opener, however, was a band I had never heard of but now love called Brookville. No one knew them, they asked the crowd a couple times to no response at all, but people were impressed. Turns out, Brookville is basically Andy Chase's band and Andy is a member of Ivy, an excellent band that I like a lot, as well as the producer of some of the TCS's stuff. So, the night wasn't a complete waste. It's like I went on a double date and ended up with a crush on my date's friend. It ain't cool, but love is love and so is good music.