Green Day Sells Politics Via Punk, and Vice-Versa

Green Day performs in front of a collage of fliers advertising gigs from the early days.

Branding for Punkers

It’s fascinating how significant brand image is, even to punks who act as though they care little for such commercial/corporate concerns. But even rebels have to admit how “important” they feel it is to be considered “punk”.

Is Green Day Classic Rock?

Green Day just played a sold-out show at our local corporate-branded amphitheater in Irvine (which I’ll always remember as Irvine Meadows). From modest Bay Area beginnings as a three-piece punk band, Green Day has morphed into a six-piece (for the tour) arena rock powerhouse, complete with corporate marketing, sponsorship, and lots of merchandising in support of last year’s “21st Century Breakdown” album.

A Green Day fan dives back into the crowd after being invited up on stage. Photo by Kevin Sullivan, Orange County Register

As the the OC Register noted in it’s review, the band now gets played on KROQ radio’s “Flashback Weekend” shows, which practically puts it in the “classic rock” category for the Gen-X/Y demo.

A wall of TVs form the backdrop for Green Day's performance of American Idiot.

Punk Meets Broadway Musical

What may be most interesting about Green Day is how the band has managed to hold onto its punk roots while basically “selling out” via its political pop opus “American Idiot,” now a Broadway musical. What’s up with that?

22 years is a good long career for anyone in music, particularly punks. And Green Day has only gotten better with age. Still, I’m one of those Independents who prefers “old school” Green Day, before they got overtly political.

On Tuesday, frontman Billie Joe Armstrong told the audience he was running for governor of California. But the trio’s political roots go back to the 2004 election year with their anti-war punk-opera album “American Idiot,” which gave their career a second wind ten years after their breakthrough. The songs smartly avoided mentioning specific political figures by name, lending them something of a timeless quality. Nevertheless, I prefer songs about boredom, masturbation, intoxication and profanity, to songs about politics. Go figure.

Green Day selling rebellion as a commodity. "Get those hands up!"

A Popular Minority

Green Day can sing “I want to be the minority” all they want, but no amount of f-bombs (and there were at least 50–I tried counting just for grins) can hide the fact that the band clearly enjoys being popular. Yet somehow, the irony of rants about “one nation controlled by the media” and protests “against the mold” of conformity, all while encouraging everyone to “get those #$%* hands up” and sing in unison, seemed lost on most of the crowd.

Green Day invites the whole audience up on stage.

Singer Billie Joe has a talent for transforming immensity into intimacy by involving the audience in sing-alongs and such. The Los Angeles Times offers a fun account of how Armstrong invited fans to get up on stage behind the mic, letting them become rock stars for five minutes.

The band also deserves credit for reaching out to the proletariat with affordable $20 lawn seats (and free parking!). Naturally, this was offset with $40 t-shirts.

Do the Dinosaur

Over the years, Green Day has learned to employ many dinosaur concert clichés to maximum effect, firing up the crowd with the “hey-oh” call-and-response shtick, karaoke-like sing-alongs, “lemme see those hands in the air,” lengthy medley jams, costume changes, plus plenty of pyrotechnics, explosions, confetti and video. Also, “Hello Orange County and surrounding areas!” Thankfully there were no extended drum solos.

Veteran concertgoers have seen it before. But the discerning teens with whom I attended the three-hour show pronounced it the best ever. (And one of them had seen Britney Spears!) My son thought Green Day was even better than Aerosmith (the previous month).

Green Day rocks the house at Irvine Meadows, er... Verizon Wireless Amphitheater. Whatever.

Wherever your rock ‘n’ roll allegiance lies, Green Day fits right in with Aerosmith. Two different sections of Green Day’s Irvine show featured a mock-homage parade of ’70s-’80s classic rock chestnuts, done in an abbreviated punk style. Besides covering “Dancin’ With Myself,” they also riffed on Iron Man > Rock & Roll > Sweet Child of Mine > Baba O’Reilly > Ain’t Talkin ’Bout Love > Highway to Hell, all in a row, before putting one of their own songs (“Brain Stew”) alongside the rock classics.

What is punk?

After all the rock-star/show-biz theatrics, why would drummer Tre Cool be quoted in the concert program as saying, “It’s important to us that we’re still looked at as a punk band”?

Question for Tre: What does it take to not be considered a punk band?

It’s an open question: Is Green Day still punk rock? Classic rock? Or none of the above? Whatever they are, they’re still pretty #$%*’n entertaining.

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3 responses to “Green Day Sells Politics Via Punk, and Vice-Versa

  1. For those who don’t know, the blogmeister himself plays a mean bass guitar, and the central question here is, “When will MITCH get a chance to go national, get “mersh” (commericalized) and sell out?” Hey, Mitch, we’ll love even when your T-shirts no longer sell for half a c-note.

    • Ah, good question, Dave! Thanks for asking 🙂 First, I need to create some merch (merchandise) to sell. How much would you pay for a giant foam middle finger? (Just trying to be punk here, nothing personal.)

  2. Pingback: Disneyland Throws a Rave Party | Love Hate Advertising

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