- WHEN I COME AROUND: Billie Joe Armstrong led a charged, acrobatic performance Wednesday night, one that paid homage to the band's Arkansas connections.
I like Green Day, sure. I remember, at the tender age of 19, cracking up at the title of "Dookie," the band's third studio album and spawner of hits like "When I Come Around" and "Basket Case." But it's my husband who's the real die-hard fan. He was quick to purchase all of the band's subsequent releases, from the next year's "Insomniac" (the songs of which I still don't know) to the 2004 release, "American Idiot" (the songs of which are burned into my consciousness), to last year's "Revolution Radio," which the band is now touring on. It's because of my husband that I wanted to attend the Green Day concert at Verizon Arena — to see him bounce to the music like the adolescent he was when we first met, or maybe to gain some closure on the Korn/Slipknot/King 810 fiasco of 2014, which I spent entirely with my fingers in my ears.
But then, it was 1994 when we first met. Same year as the release of "Dookie." Twenty-three years later, we're not in the same shape we were, and an old back injury my husband sustained when he was hit by a car when he was skateboarding at the age of 12 — punks unite! — had flared up, so standing up for two hours to listen to music (much less jumping or moshing to the tunes) was out of the question. What was an aging punk-rock wife to do?
Take her 13-year-old son instead, of course.
Having been mildly indoctrinated by his father with songs like "American Idiot" and "When September Ends," Luc was game to go, and flabbergasted by the crowds that had amassed in the arena. There were at least 150 folks in every single merch line by 6:30 p.m., and everyone from purple-haired 12-year-olds to gray-haired grandpas with canes milled around the vestibule. "It's an hour before the concert and it's filling up!" Luc exclaimed.
"Don't you understand this is the band of my generation?" I replied.
A friend from his middle school walked past and waved. "I guess it's the band for my generation, too," he retorted.
So much greatness goes on before any headlining band takes the stage, and this show was no exception. The people-watching was sublime. Ten-year-olds sported black T-shirts and too-long jeans pooling at the tops of Chuck Taylors. Another lady peacocked down the aisles in a CBGB baseball jersey, carefully ripped acid-washed jeans and rhinestone-studded cowboy boots. The Clash's "Should I Stay or Should I Go" played over the speakers, and my newly minted teenager shouted "Stranger Things!" as if that song originated with the 2016 Netflix series.
When Against Me! took the stage, all four members were dressed in black, head to toe. The beat was good and they're not melodically unlike Green Day, but with the reverb of the arena (or is the age of my ears?) I couldn't understand a word they said — that is, until the lead singer bantered between songs. Laura Jane Grace, with locks flowing and dark enough to make for some prime head-banging, took the time to tell the multiple-thousand people audience that the first concert she went to was Green Day when she was just 14. She said she knows there's a kid there tonight who'll be inspired and start his own band. "That's the power of Green Day," she said.
But really, nothing would've prepared me for the headlining performance. When Billie Joe Armstrong hit the stage, the crowd was immediately on its feet. He sawed on his black-and-white American flag guitar, the pyrotechnics detonated orange geysers behind him, and the band blasted out "Know Your Enemy," connecting immediately with the audience, who sang along in unison. Billie Joe knew exactly how to play that connection to the utmost: When Jason White, the North Little Rock native who's been with the band since 1999, played the opening melody to "Boulevard of Broken Dreams," Billie Joe literally bowed to him. When they began "2000 Light Years Away," Billie Joe reminisced about performing at Vino's. And when it was time to introduce the band, props were given to Arkansas's own Jeff Matika, who's been touring with Green Day since 2009. Later on, Billie Joe donned a plastic Razorback hat. The Arkansas crowd ate it up.
The energy in the stadium was positively infectious. Billie Joe bounced around and jumped off monitors, Tre Cool stepped out from behind his drum set and did high kicks, and Mike Dirnt held down the bass with lock-step rhythm. A girl was pulled up onstage to sing, did a stage dive and I'm the one who flew. A dude who seemed obviously high was pulled onstage to sing "Longview," and though he couldn't carry a tune in a bucket, he was full of glee and Billie Joe laughed with abandon. A shower of sparks rained down, and we were all reborn. Because that, as Laura Jane Grace so astutely declared, is the power of Green Day.
My son asked for a hat, and I left him dancing in his seat to go buy it. While in line, I texted my husband, who was at home with our two other children, that this was the best concert I've ever been to. I'm sorry he couldn't be there, I said.
He returned my text with a simple middle finger. Once a punk, always a punk. Even in solid middle age.