All the While
Arena, April 25
Green Day are the biggest band in the world right now. No
matter how badly U2 want to lay claim to the title, the Berkeley-bred
man-punks are the only non-hiphop act to have sold more than
a million records this year; not bad for an album (American
Idiot) that hit stores last September. To release the
anti-establishment rock opera was a make-or-break move—fans
don’t typically react enthusiastically when “fun” bands get
“serious”—but Green Day transcended by mixing the message
with the madness, and the record restored them to superstar
status. In fact, they’re more popular now than they ever were
(even in the Dookie days), and during Monday night’s
sold-out show at the ol’ Knick, they sure as hell acted like
Monday night’s production had all the trappings of a big,
big show: big backdrop, big stage, big sound. Big band,
even—for the complex (by Green Day standards) material from
Idiot, the trio doubled in size with the addition of
a second guitarist and two multipurpose fellows who tackled
keyboards, percussion, and horns. The spectacle could have
been alienating, but the group did everything in their power
to draw fans in and keep them interested for the better part
of two hours. And that they did, quite well.
Taking the stage to a recording of “Also Sprach Zarathustra,”
Billie Joe Armstrong basked in the fans’ reverence from moment
one. Throughout the show, he acted like he was on top of the
world, pumping his arms in the air between downstrokes, revving
up the crowd with a monster-truck-show-announcer scream, and
darting back-and-forth between a 15-foot runway that jutted
out into the crowd and several platforms around the stage.
His boundless energy was matched only by that of the primarily
adolescent throng, many of whom were dressed up (and made
up) like their hero.
They set the pace with a sizeable chunk of Idiot, charging
through the title track and the nine-minute, several-movement
“Jesus of Suburbia” to open the set. The latter served as
an early opportunity to point out that Armstrong is only one-third
of the reason Green Day are well-loved, as it allowed for
brief (as in “about 20 seconds”) solo turns by bassist Mike
Dirnt and drummer Tré Cool. Dirnt and Cool are one of the
best rhythm sections in rock, and their playing was, as usual,
muscular and precise.
(introduced by Armstrong as “A big fuck-you to all the politicians”—no
need to complicate the message with any big words), “St. Jimmy,”
and “Are We the Waiting” followed. Then, off went the supporting
players, and out came the hits: “Longview,” “Hitchin’ a Ride,”
“Brain Stew/Jaded,” “Basket Case,” “She,” “Minority.” They
could have packed another 10 songs into their set and every
one of them would have been just as recognizable as the last.
What a career.
Perhaps the most telling reminder of the band’s current good
fortune came when they pulled three kids from the audience
to come onstage and play their instruments during a cover
of Operation Ivy’s “Knowledge.” It’s an old trick, sure—they’ve
been doing this at shows for several years—but this time,
they actually let the young guitarist keep the guitar. Do
the math: Over the course of a 40-or-so-date tour, the Stratocaster
budget adds up fast. But they can afford it, so why not give
a little back to the fans?
Armstrong revealed that he still has a bit of the class clown
in him (the one that started a giant mud fight at Woodstock
’94), as he showed off a Breakin’-worthy backspin and
fired an enormous water gun into the audience. The Nimrod
track “King for a Day” got sillier as it progressed, eventually
morphing into a version of the Isley Brothers’ “Shout,” with
Armstrong humping the stage floor while the band got “a little
bit louder now.” The moment was acres away from the quasi-political
bent of their newer material—brilliantly stupid, and absolutely
What to do for an encore? For one, the ubiquitous “Wonderwall”
update “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” plus a (sort of) tongue-in-cheek
version of “We Are the Champions,” delivered as cannons spewed
their charge into the air. Armstrong closed the show all by
himself, crooning another of the band’s megahits to an audience
that had clearly just had the time of their lives.
for Enjoyment’s Sake
Lena, April 20
is our 20th anniversary,” Richard Bob Greene announced during
the Bobs’ recent Caffe Lena show. “We’ve actually been around
for 25 years, but for the first five years we sucked.”
A successful a cappella vocal quartet can enjoy no
illusions about themselves. Vocally, you’re out there, naked,
relying on keen ears and much interpersonal diplomacy to keep
the blend as effective as possible. That includes not only
vocal technique but also material and programming. And touring
is guaranteed to exacerbate any problems.
Fortunately, the Bobs have weathered a quarter-century of
changing musical taste and unpredictable commercial forces,
occupying, as one of their original songs puts it, a “narrow
market niche” treasured by enthusiasts, who packed Saratoga’s
intimate café last Wednesday to hear and see the crazy quilt
of songs—originals and covers—that this group make uniquely
Like the Golden Gate and Juilliard quartets, membership of
the Bobs has changed over the years, and the current show,
part of their Build a Bob Tour, showcases newest addition
Dan Bob Schumacher, who also is celebrated as the tallest-ever
Bob. Sartorial originality also being a group characteristic,
Schumacher stayed true to the ensemble’s vision by sporting
As the repertory of original songs has grown over the years,
the more recent numbers typically have dominated the concerts.
This time, however, a number of older songs were effectively
revisited. Dating from the group’s original configuration,
many of them were co-written by founding member Gunnar Madsen,
and reflect his quirky worldview.
Some have to do with physical discomfort and discovery—“My,
I’m Large” and “Cowboy Lips,” for example—others, like “Art
for Art’s Sake” and “Prisoner of Funk,” offer an endearingly
cockeyed view of society.
And then there’s the fabric of sound the singers create. During
Madsen’s era, the sound was more abstract, like an instrument
in itself. The hypocrisy decried in “Art for Art’s Sake” is
reinforced by a plangent, machine-like sound; “Beluga,” the
lament of a fisherman’s wife, is sung against the harmonized
repetition of the word “beluga” in tones marrying a whale
cry with a distant foghorn.
Over the intervening years, the original songs turned outward:
Added to the “What’s wrong with me?” repertory were “What’s
wrong with you?” numbers, like the delightful “Late-Model
Love,” an assessment of the mechanical deficiencies in the
world of available men.
Close-harmony singing is best known in its doo-wop, barbershop
and gospel forms, all of which the Bobs do superbly. They
also add vocal effects and harmonies not common in those realms.
Schumacher has taken over the instrumental-effect chair, turning
himself into a one-man band while accompanying Greene and
the others in “The Crow,” one of Greene’s originals (“See
how my feathers steal the light . . . I’m Al Pacino meets
Matthew Bob Stull, one of the group’s founders, displays an
affecting lyricism when he sings lead, making an odd song
like Kurt Weill’s “Alabama Song” work beautifully. He also
is funny as hell, as when he deadpans his way through “Mr.
Duality,” which suggests that there can be dullness in being
Each of the four is as convincing an actor as a singer, and
their between-songs banter is sometimes almost as funny as
the funniest of the songs. Amy Bob Engelhardt, who completes
the quartet, adds her own level of dry wit, and her singing
is superb, whether plaintively soloing (“Beluga”) or sounding
arch (“Art for Art’s Sake”) or taking a ferocious guitar solo
(a hilarious cover of “White Room”).
Together, they remain dynamic, hilarious, and unclassifiable—and
who wants to sandwich entertainment into easy-to-digest categories?
Here’s hoping for a return before too long.
you ever had sex with a woman?”
you ever been laid?”
(pause, accompanied by dumbfounded expression)
you’re gonna get laid tonight!”
Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong to a 15-year-old boy picked from
the audience to play guitar during Monday night’s show at
the Pepsi Arena.
Band in Town
Guerin, lead singer and guitarist for the Raven Society, kicked
off the show Saturday night (April 23) at King’s Tavern in
Saratoga Springs. The Buffalo-based band made their Capital
Region debut on a bill that also included local pop-rockers
the Day Jobs and Gobhi.