This article originally appeared in the September 16, 1994 issue of the Boston Phoenix.
Yes, what happened at the Green Day show at the Hatch Shell was one hell of a mess. And what really sucks is that people got hurt. But it was great theater – and snotty, brash, aggressive punk rock at its best.
Green Day aren’t jerks. As openers the Meices came offstage, sweat dripping, Green Day’s singer/guitarist Billie Joe came out of his group’s dressing room to ask them about the crowd’s feverish pitch. “Man,” he said with concern, “they’re crazy out there.”
But as artists, Green Day could not hold back when they hit the stage. After their CD Dookie’s chart ascent and Green Day’s Woodstock ’94 set – the event’s most exciting performance, which climaxed in a literal mudslinging war that covered the band and the crowd – and the industry as well, for word on high-profile shows like this one travels the grapevine faster than a spider. And Green Day are in that tender position in which all eyes are upon them, at a time in their career when any perceived failure to deliver the goods could halt their rise.
So Green Day had to rock. And rock they did, tearing into their opener, the radio smash “Welcome to Paradise,” with all the piss and venom of punk heroes like the Sex Pistols and the Clash. (Shit, there is a tradition to be upheld here as well. But unlike those bands, Green Day tend to write songs about slacker angst rather than overt rebellion.) Billie Joe kept his guitar at a smart 45-degree angle while he smacked three-chord stomp and dished out Green Day’s special sauce – melodic vocals that separate the band from can’t-write-a-tune wanna-bes like the Meices. Bassist Mike Dirnt hopped through scissor kicks as he and drummer Tré Cool locked into a deep, pile-driving thunder – made all the more thunderous when the crowd surged and the soundman’s hand started slipping over the faders. At one point the bass frequencies came howling off the speakers like a Godzilla-size coyote.
By then, the first barriers had come down, and Billie Joe, seeing the WFNX promo balloon buffeted by the fans, urged them to “tear that fucker down.” At that point, the band became a soundtrack for the action in front: police and security yellowshirts struggling to hold back a crowd that occasionally spilled over the tops of the steel barriers like salmon. Green Day grinding zesty sparks, flailing, belting it out. Somebody came over the top dead center and took an unprovoked swing at a state cop; suddenly, six troopers materialized on top of the pud. End of story; end of song. Boom.
The pushing, the barrier-jumping, the flying bottles and clothing, the people with guest passes running to get their asses the hell out of the way – it was confusion. And the band got caught up in it, too. By “Chump,” which Dirnt dedicated to the cops (hey, this is punk rock, remember?), the songs were still furious but skidding to a halt when they ended, one player at a time.
And when Billie Joe leapt at the flower beds in front of the stage, it was like a bratty kid trying to piss off Mom. A simple, unfocused anti-authoritarian statement. But in the context of so much sound (how do you communicate with a fan pushing too hard against a barrier when the volume’s on 10?), lights, establishment, from the MDC on down to WFNX and the Phoenix – pulled the plug.
Hell, maybe Green Day wanted it that way. You can’t buy the kind of press that’s ensued. And you can bet the word on this concert’s traveled the grapevine.