Monday, August 03, 2009

Sommet to Springwater, Green Day to Davila 666: A Comparative Study...

Some of the guys from Green Day were backstage at the Dead Weather show on Thursday. They were affable and conversational. This somehow translated into me and Swank finding ourselves at their sold-out Sommet Center gig the next evening.

Swank said he'd never been to a proper arena show (he did see Guns 'n' Roses at the Toledo Speedway on the Use Your Illusion tour, but that was outdoors) and was generally excited. I was intrigued and wondered if they could possibly keep my attention as occupied as New Kids on the Block did back in March.

First observation, before even entering the arena I had to acknowledge how many radio hits Green Day has had. Coupled with Foo Fighters and Red Hot Chili Peppers, that magic trifecta is any brain dead modern rock radio programmer's go-to list. Seriously, any single released by any of those bands is a surefire playlist staple. With their ascent to acclaim coinciding with the emergence of modern rock as a viable format, all three acts have essentially been bankrolled by the massive publicity, quality of the work notwithstanding.

Openers were the Kaiser Chiefs. While performances in their home country find them headlining comparable-sized rooms and selling them out, the sensibility of US concertgoers has yet to have fallen to that level. I seriously cannot understand the fuss about them. I did find out that a line in their biggest single – "A friend of a friend got beaten" from "I Predict a Riot" – is actually written about Ben Swank. First the Von Bondies, then the Kaiser Chiefs…I'm wondering what else I can start blaming on him.

Missed Green Day's grand entrance while killing time backstage. Made way to the VIP riser behind the soundboard and staked my claim there.

What instantly became clear was that this concert, to me, seemed to have very little to do with the music. The performance leaned toward un-ironic spectacle. Whether it be Billie Joe Armstrong hopping offstage and running half-way up the lower bowl of the Sommet Center, the liberal use of pyrotechnics and subsonic charges, the extended drawn-out jamming of seemingly every song to facilitate preaching what felt like a canned message, bringing a fan onstage what seemed like every-other damned song…it was more of a lowest common denominator circus for those with undiscerning taste in rock and roll. There was no art…just artifice.

I took biggest offense at the "props" portion of the set where, in rapid succession, Armstrong:

1) used a Super Soaker-like weapon to douse the crowd with water
2) manned a redneck rigged device that unfurled two extra-length rolls of toilet paper into the audience
3) armed himself with a t-shirt cannon and began to launch tees to the farthest reaches of the Sommet Center

At this point, what had maintained mainly as a bad rock show had delved into pure pageant. The event had ceased to be about music. I could, surprisingly look past their addition of three additional musicians for the live show. I can, somehow, ignore the fact that they unrepentantly rip-off so much, from song titles ("Know Your Enemy" was originally Rage Against the Machine, "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" was at least half a dozen other songs) to actual songs ("Warning" is the Kinks "Picture Book", "Hitchin' a Ride" is the Stray Cats' "Stray Cat Strut", "Brain Stew" is "25 or 6 to 4"). I could pay no attention to the outright pandering of bringing no less than five different members of the audience onstage (not at once, but all at different points) to stage dive, take over vocals, operate Super Soakers, et al. But dammit, if I wanted shit tossed incessantly into the audience I'd go to a fucking Gallagher show.

(Swank, on the other hand, seemed to think this was the part of the performance that elevated the night from "bad show" into "so-bad-it's-good-show")

Equally as inexcusable was the demands coming from the stage. EVERY-FUCKING-SONG required a clap-along, a coordinated waving of the arms over the head, a call-and-response vocal desperately trying to ape those of European football chants (or in one case, just chanting the classic "Ole' Ole'" tune itself) that more often than not sounded like limp renditions of "The Banana Boat Song."

In their defense, the songs off Dookie still resonate. "Longview" to "Basket Case" to "She" to "When I Come Around" all had me singing along, the words forever stuck in my brain. I remember first hearing about the band on a short-lived MTV show hosted by Kurt Loder called "Daily Dose" where they showed the vid for "Longview" and a clip of them touring in a bookmobile. I went out the next day and bought a cassette of Dookie. It seemed that the album didn't hit until a few months later, at which point I was already claiming to be a fan from "way back." Even at age 12 I was a snob.

I had a 24"x33" poster of the Dookie album cover in my bedroom back then. I strategically placed it at eye-level right next to my bed. While my interest in the band was nowhere near Nirvana-levels of fervor, that album cover provided countless hours of staring, laughing, dissecting and rapt attention where a poster of the In Utero album cover was on the wall as a matter of principle rather than entertainment. Fifteen years later you could say my intentions of attending a Green Day concert were the same as placing that poster next to my bed…I wanted to be entertained and despite their all-out attempt to do so, I think I would've just preferred something less flashy and a bit deeper. Like Nirvana.

I even remember girls in middle school prank calling my house while I wasn't there. When I asked my brother what they said, he replied "They asked 'is the fritter fat boy there?' and then immediately hung up." The "fritter frat boy" is in reference to a cop depicted on the cover of the album. Why do I remember these things?

I remember because in a time where MTV was my only significant exposure to new music Green Day stuck out as something different. The shenanigans of a mud fight at Woodstock '94 were like crack to a 12-year-old by trying to be benignly deviant. Seeing Armstrong play his baby blue Fernandes "BJ" Strat (the same one used at the Woodstock gig) put a smile on my face. I respect those who stick with a specific model for ages…Willie Nelson and his 40 years with Trigger, Mick Collins and twentysome years with his Kent Videocaster…I guess I just never expected a performer of Billy Joe's ilk to hold on to something very long. It's refreshing to see otherwise.
We went backstage without watching the end of the set or either of the two encores. Why was I not surprised to see that they ended it all with "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)?"

Instead Swank and I rolled over to the Springwater. The room was packed and we arrived just in time to see Jeff the Brotherhood take the stage. It seems like these guys just keep getting better. I love the three-stringed guitar that actually sounds MORE full than a six-string one. I like it that Jake seems to be singing more. I adore the fact that they remind me of a more tune-driven version of the Melvins (which is by no means a slight on the Melvins) and I can wholeheartedly endorse their upcoming Heavy Damage album as riff after totally-bitching riff of must-hear quality.

Next up was Davila 666 from Puerto Rico. I had the album but had yet to listen to it. There was an instant feeling of kinship with them as we are label-mates. For people who aren't on labels or don't have the benefit of being on one they love as much as I love In the Red, I guess I'd compare it to being an older brother. You want to look after the younger bands on the label. You want to go to their shows and support them, buy their 7"s, pay the cover and make sure they're taken-care-of on the road. The fact that I'd never met them made no difference. Once you are part of the In the Red family, there's an unspoken bond I feel that, while difficult to explain, definitely exists.

These six guys, all looking like characters I knew from my days of baseball in Southwest Detroit, utterly smoked the place. Sure there were long pauses between songs. Sure the feedback was squeal-y and unrelenting. Sure they were mostly out-of-tune. But the all-around solid performance coupled with a downright explosive crowd reaction and all I could do was be excited for the band.

I can't imagine what kind of notions one has of the States coming from Puerto Rico. As I stood there, watching the mayhem and interaction, the CLOSENESS of it all, I wished to be in Davila 666's position. I can't imagine they pegged Nashville for being an exciting place to play, because, for most bands, it's not. Instead, they're greeted with what arguably has to be the best response they've received in this country. I was excited FOR them, just imagining the happiness and joy (and drugs and girls probably) swirling around their heads. Collective calls of "uno mas!" were met with an encore. The whole thing felt special.

Turbo Fruits had the unenviable task of following that blast and they did so with poise. While the new rhythm section still doesn't have tons of miles backing Jonas Stein, they're already on their way to becoming his best assortment of players yet. Barring any disastrous mistakes, I can't see how the newest Fruits material could be denied by anyone whether it be live, on record or in theory. The Turbo Fruits are scary good.

The evening's two shows were oddly similar. Davila and Green Day were clearly both intent on having fun but that manifested itself in different ways. Every band wanted a connection with the audience, but a dank bar and massive arena don't facilitate those connections in the same way. As much as I disliked it, I cannot blame Green Day for their actions. They are merely filling a need. They're not evil…they're just not for me. I'll take the smoky bar over the arena any day.