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A Neo-Punk Band Rated PG-13 : Pop music review: Although Green Day delights teens, the group will need to show more depth before those fans move on to more liberating attractions.

December 14, 1995|ROBERT HILBURN | TIMES POP MUSIC CRITIC

Green Day is a great band if you're under 16 and bored, a demographic wide enough to generate sales of 8 million copies of the Bay Area trio's "Dookie" album last year.

Singer-guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong and his mates, who filled all 14,500 seats at the scaled-down Pond of Anaheim on Tuesday, can serve up deliriously energized songs that chronicle teen suburban blues with the convincing ring of young men who have indeed been there and done that.

There was even a twinkle of self-deprecating humor and artistic promise in the best moments of "Dookie"--including a good-natured slap at teen apathy that deserves a Beavis and Butt-head award: "Peel me off this Velcro seat and get me moving."

Green Day's bratty wit and furious beat on that album helped push punk into the commercial forefront, much the way Nirvana had earlier pushed alternative rock into the mainstream with "Smells Like Teen Spirit."

But Green Day is no Nirvana--nor even, it turns out on its new album, a Rancid, a rival band that more fully reflects the invigorating independence and spirit of the Clash and the other landmark punk groups of the '70s and '80s.

All too often, Green Day--which also includes bassist Mike Dirnt and drummer Tre Cool--simply comes across on record and especially onstage as guys who know how to re-create the furious, nonstop punk beat, but don't have a lot of ideas on how to expand or enrich it.

On its new "Insomniac" album, the trio shows evidence of trying to grow as writers, with themes touching on everything from the dangers of drugs in "Geek Stink Breath" to some elementary attempts at understanding adolescent confusion and fears. But little of it steps beyond places punk and rock 'n' roll have already been and done.

Most of the tunes aren't much deeper or revealing than Armstrong's teasing but elementary taunts to the young audience at the Pond.

"You should be home with your parents . . . studying . . . listening to Hootie & the Blowfish," Armstrong told his fans sarcastically, each admonition drawing a predictable chorus of boos or expletives from the crowd.

Neither Armstrong nor the fans seemed to notice the irony involved on a night when there were more parents in the Pond than at your average PTA meeting--all dutifully escorting hundreds of youngsters to the show.

The parents probably couldn't understand a word of the songs, which are played at such high speed and volume that they become neutralized in the roar. But they were no doubt relieved things went so smoothly.

The only alarming moment occurred when dozens of fans stampeded down the aisles, leaped a small barrier and raced onto the main floor of the Pond, pushing past ushers and security personnel to be closer to the band. If the arena has more general admission shows, the staff had better find a better way of securing the main floor.

Most of the youngsters, however, were well-behaved--entertained not only by Green Day, but also by a delightful opening set by Hi-Five, a good-natured punkabilly outfit. The girls, especially, seemed to have a good time during Green Day's performance, squealing with delight and dancing so vigorously that they must have burned off a couple thousand calories each.

Still, you couldn't help but feel Green Day is in a race against time. The band has touched a sociological nerve, which is one sign of an important band. But it must now exhibit more imagination and depth before those young fans graduate to more substantial and liberating attractions.

At least Green Day doesn't demand much of your time. The group's two Reprise albums each clock in at under 40 minutes, and the band was onstage for less than an hour, so the show was over by 9:45.

Of course, it was a school night.

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