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POP MUSIC REVIEW

Not Green's day

The band is off its game in responding to a stadium challenge.

October 10, 2005|Richard Cromelin | Times Staff Writer

IT'S been a long time since Green Day had any real punk-rock credibility to lose. The Bay Area band graduated from scrappy punk warriors into MTV pin-ups and slick arena headliners a good decade ago, so it's not as if playing stadiums -- a serious violation of hard-line punk orthodoxy -- is a sudden, startling sellout.

As the trio hit the stage at the Home Depot Center on Saturday for the first of two sold-out nights at the Carson soccer mecca, the real question was how they would play the stadium. The demands of that huge setting can twist an artist into a caricature, and its resources can magnify virtues into something memorably grand.

In Green Day's case, it was a bit of both.

The timing couldn't be better for the group to take this step, which gives it a chance to put a big exclamation point on the "American Idiot" chapter of its career. That 2004 album revived Green Day's sagging fortunes and even added a bit of political thunder to the group's recurring theme of adolescent alienation.

The album sold millions and won a Grammy for best rock album. It also generated some critical respect, which might have been largely a case of overreaction to the band's attempt to do something ambitious and to address the discontent in the air over political authority in general and the Bush administration in particular.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday October 11, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 24 words Type of Material: Correction
Green Day guitarist -- A review of a Green Day concert in Monday's Calendar section incorrectly referred to guitarist Jason White as Jason Wise.

If the president's approval ratings are down in the big polls, here they hit rock-bottom, judging by the cheers that affirmed the expletive that singer-guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong hurled at the commander in chief early in the show.

But even though the concert opened with four "American Idiot" songs, Armstrong, bassist Mike Dirnt and drummer Tre Cool (supported by guitarist Jason Wise and occasionally a two-man horn section) weren't inclined to emphasize the political point.

Actually, they seemed incapable of deciding what to emphasize during their two hours on stage, giving the impression that the stadium was playing them rather than the other way around.

For every winning gesture there were dispiriting submissions to Spinal Tap-like cliches, from the orchestral fanfare to the stage explosions and towers of flame to Armstrong's incessant bellows of "Los Angeleees!"

None of that seemed to distress the audience, which was in a lively mood and eager to celebrate this new peak of popularity with a longtime favorite. The band never let that energy ebb, and there were times when Armstrong came through as a charming and even spontaneous master of ceremonies.

Early in the show, standing on a ramp extending into the packed floor of the stadium, he became a Bono of the mosh pit, insistently interrupting a fight in the crowd and instructing the brawlers to shake hands.

Later, in perhaps the ultimate example of audience participation, he and his bandmates brought up three people from the crowd to take over on bass, drums and guitar for a song. It probably went on too long, but it had such a spirit of fun and solidarity that it hardly mattered. (And somebody, sign up that drummer!)

But such moments were offset by moments of grandstanding, mugging, self-absorbed posturing and cartoonish scampering. It's not as if Green Day comes in with an idealistic purity that's violated by these big-show excesses, but they did keep derailing what's best about the band -- its ability to deliver its catchy pop-punk songs with a bracing energy and precision.

Toward the end they hit that groove on some of their older, punkier songs, and you wondered how much better all this might come across in a small theater such as the Wiltern LG, where they play Tuesday in a concert that will be carried on AOL.

The frills and flames also blunted the force of the political point that's woven into their music and stance. At the end of the show, Armstrong addressed the audience and urged them not to give up their civil liberties, not to let politicians dictate their lives.

It was a worthy and well-received message, but it would have resonated more strongly if its context weren't so fragmented and incoherent.

On this night, Green Day was pulled in so many directions that it ended up going nowhere.

*

Green Day

Where: The Wiltern LG, 3790 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.

When: 9 p.m. Tuesday

Price: $45

Contact: (213) 380-5005.

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