One of South By Southwest’s most pervasive myths is that Green Day scored its major label deal there during the 90s.
The multi-platinum punk group’s ACL Live at the Moody Theater performance Friday night was, in fact, Green Day’s SXSW debut, but the conference’s memory of what frontman Billie Joe Armstrong called “a South By Southwest punk rock extravaganza” will certainly be a good one.
The Austin stop — which included SXSW Film Festival premieres of the two new Green Day documentaries, “Broadway Idiot” and “Cuatro!” — came with another undercurrent of drama, of course. It was the fourth show of the group’s tour to promote its “Uno!” /”Dos!”/”Tre!” releases of 2012, a trek delayed by Armstrong’s stint in rehab. Green Day usually plays to take no prisoners, but in Austin, before an industry-heavy audience and a crowd that got its tickets via lottery, there was a sense of something to prove.
It quickly became clear that the group was as ferocious and, occasionally, funny – and certainly as fun — as ever. As the touring quintet tore into “99 Revolutions,” one of eight songs from last year’s trilogy, Armstrong commanded everyone in the theater to get off their (expletive) (expletives) and “go crazy.” “This ain’t no f***ing café!” he snarled, and everyone in the Moody obeyed his order, fearful of being singled out from the stage.
By the second song, “Know Your Enemy,” Armstrong had already embraced and kissed the first of several fans he’d bring on stage during the 24-song, two-hour and 10-minute show, sending her on a stage dive back into the crowd. And throughout the night he played amiable ringmaster for the show’s disciplined abandon, seemingly willing to do just about anything to entertain – whether extending songs with countless call-and-response chants, or, during “St. Jimmy,” using a variety of devices to fire water, toilet paper and T-shirts into the crowd. “Disappearing Boy” became a medley that included bits of Ozzy Osbourne’s “I Don’t Know,” Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell,” while the jubilant “King For a Day,” with all of the Green Day members sporting some sort of goofy accessory, incorporated and unlikely mix of the Isley Brothers’ “Shout!,” Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” and the Beatles’ “Hey Jude.”
Nothing, apparently, was too corny or too silly — for either Green Day or its fans. As Armstrong noted early in the show, “This is not a party. This is not a birthday. This is a celebration.”
It was also a chance for Green Day to re-establish its impressive repertoire, which has far more than punky angst to offer. Touring without a concept album to promote for the first time in a decade, the group played a song-oriented set that didn’t ignore its ambitious rock operas – including an encore rendering of the “Jesus of Suburbia” suite – but conceptualized them amidst upbeat, hard-riffing and tightly arranged punk both fresh (“Stop When the Red Lights Flash”) and familiar, including “Burnout,” “Holiday” and a generous selection of hits from 1994’s breakthrough “Dookie,” including “Longview” (with another fan, a teenager from Texas, brought on stage to sing the final verse), “Basket Case” and “Welcome to Paradise.” “Minority’s” gallop was enhanced by accordion and Armstrong on harmonica, “Brain Stew” and “Oh Love” were chunky anthems and “American Idiot” packed a fearsome, pulverizing punch.
The quiet moments — “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” and the show-closing “Brutal Love” — while 1992’s “Christie Road” was a welcome early-career rarity. And amidst all that, trilogy songs such as “Stop When the Red Lights Flash,” “X-Kid” and “Stay the Night” fit well alongside their predecessors.
It was a big, triumphant night for the group, which plans to be on the road into 2014. Now, a couple of decades later, there’s a genuine Green Day legend associated with SXSW.
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