LOS ANGELES (Billboard) - Green Day bassist Mike Dirnt is fatigued from the three stage dives he took last night at Oakland, California’s Uptown Nightclub.
For the final plunge, “I decided to climb up on the monitors and dive in from there,” says the 36-year-old musician, who’s also nursing a mild hangover. “I‘m just feeling it today a little bit. But it was a good time.”
The mid-April $20-ticket gig was the fourth installment of what drummer Tre Cool calls a “guerrilla Bay Area Green Day assault.” In the days leading up to the tightly packed show -- the Uptown holds about 750 people -- the Oakland-based trio also played its forthcoming album, “21st Century Breakdown,” from start to finish at the Independent and DNA Lounge in San Francisco and the newly opened Fox Theater in downtown Oakland.
The hometown gigs grew from the band’s desire to break away from tedious rehearsals and test new material in front of an audience. “We’ve been deprived of playing live for so long that it was kind of a free-for-all, like we were playing as if our lives depended on it,” singer/guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong says. “It was kind of like playing your first show all over again.”
The last-minute shows surprised Bay Area concert promoters. “An arena band like that doesn’t usually show up at a nightclub, especially in their home base,” says Larry Trujillo, co-owner of the Uptown. “You wouldn’t see that from Madonna or U2.”
Awaiting the May 15 release of “21st Century Breakdown” (Reprise/Warner Bros.) are not only the band’s longtime fans, but the younger audience that came aboard in 2004 with the release of “American Idiot.”
A politically driven rock opera, “American Idiot” moved away from Green Day’s routine three-chord punk anthems and into new depths of songwriting. And at a time when people worldwide were questioning the policies of President George W. Bush, the social and political messages behind the set helped Green Day earn its first No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 and nab Grammy Awards for best rock album and record of the year.
Collaborating with Armstrong, Tony Award-winning director Michael Mayer has adapted “American Idiot” into a stage musical that will premiere in September at the Bay Area’s Berkeley Repertory Theater in September.
Like its predecessor, “21st Century Breakdown” has a narrative structure, telling the story of a young couple, Christian and Gloria, growing up amid the turbulence of the early 21st century.
“The main message is trying to make sense out of desperate times and chaos,” Armstrong says, noting that the 18-track set features social commentary about religion, war, politics and love. “We’re writing the best material we’ve ever written in the past five years.”
Produced by Butch Vig (Nirvana, the Smashing Pumpkins, Garbage), “21st Century Breakdown” is divided into three acts: “Heroes and Cons,” “Charlatans and Saints” and “Horseshoes and Handgrenades.” But the band didn’t set out to do another concept album.
“We went down to Costa Mesa (California) for summertime, let our families take a vacation, and then we hit the small studio every day,” Dirnt says. “Billie pulled out all the lyrics and read through them and we started looking at what was making sense, and seeing the correlations from song to song, and what songs were naturally making different chapters of this record.”
The album also reflects new musical directions for the band. On “Restless Heart Syndrome,” a piano-driven rock tune that morphs into a crunchy four-chord progression, Armstrong sings in falsetto. The album’s title track, a melodic midtempo rocker with power chord verses -- featuring Armstrong’s observation that “my generation is zero/I’d never make it as a working-class hero” -- moves through a Who-style breakdown with sustained guitar blasts and thumping drums. On “March of the Dogs” the band experiments with complex song structures while proclaiming, “The sirens of decay will infiltrate the faith fanatic.”
Green Day’s world tour, its first in more than three years, opens with a 38-city North American arena jaunt, beginning July 3 in Seattle and wrapping August 25 in Los Angeles. Ticket prices for the United States and Canada will be between $25 and $50. Dirnt declined to reveal production details for the summer trek but says it will be “angry and sexy and all that s--t.” The stage design will reflect the cover art for “21st Century Breakdown,” which features a spray-painted sketch of two young lovers embracing against the backdrop of a brick wall.
The North American dates will be followed by performances in Europe, Australia and New Zealand. In 2010, the band will hit Japan, Southeast Asia and South America before returning home for more North American shows. Armstrong also hopes to “explore some different places that we’ve never been before,” which might include China.
“They’re truly defined as a global touring band, because they can sell tickets in every corner of the globe,” says Jason Garner, CEO of global music at Live Nation, which will promote about half of Green Day’s performances worldwide. “It’s one thing to sell a lot of tickets in one city, state or country, but Green Day has become one of those global touring powerhouses that can sell tickets from Stockholm to Paris to Kansas City to Toronto.”
Green Day proved its strength at the box office in 2005, when it cracked the Billboard Boxscore top 10 list of the year’s biggest tours, pulling in $36.5 million from 76 concerts that drew more than 978,000 people. For the first time, the band played multiple arena dates and even a few stadiums.
Before its success with “American Idiot,” Green Day maintained respectable album sales, but the trio was “clearly not having the impact they once had,” Warner Bros. chairman/CEO Tom Whalley says. “Insomniac” and “Nimrod,” the two studio albums that followed 1994’s “Dookie” -- which, with sales of 7.9 million copies is the band’s best-selling album to date -- have sold 2.1 million copies each, according to SoundScan; “Warning” (2000) has sold 1.1 million.
Green Day’s Cool says the band was getting used to being the underdog but that it was never driven by sales. “We don’t do it for record sales,” he says. “I don’t think any record is going to do what ‘Dookie’ did ever again, so you can’t really compare the record to something that was that much a part of pop culture. We just wanted to keep going forward and opening new doors for ourselves musically and challenge ourselves as songwriters.”
Even so, when the band returned home after the “American Idiot” tour, it didn’t want to lose its rediscovered stardom. “We came home and were at the top of mountain, saying, ‘I sure as f--- don’t want to get off the top of this mountain,'” Dirnt says. “So we somehow had to figure out how to get to the highest peak. It definitely had an impact and inspired us to chase some of our heroes and try to go for that next step and be the greatest band Green Day can be.”
To keep things interesting, the threesome toured small clubs last May as their alter-ego side project, the Foxboro Hot Tubs. “We were sitting around one night and drinking a bunch of wine at the studio,” Dirnt recalls, “so we decided to write a bunch of trashy songs.” The result was the EP “Stop Drop and Roll,” which debuted at No. 21 on the Billboard 200 and has sold 55,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. The side project “gave us a platform to put something out and have some fun and get out from underneath the Green Monster,” Dirnt says.
Armstrong notes that the ‘60s garage-rock sound of the Foxboro Hot Tubs is the “complete opposite” of material found on “21st Century Breakdown.” The other members agree that the rock opera is the band’s most ambitious album to date.
After playing it live for the first time at clubs in San Francisco and Oakland, Dirnt says, “21st Century Breakdown” is “probably the most physical record we’ve ever done. It’s physically really hard to play.” Cool says his intensive drumming during rehearsals and the gigs erased some of his fingerprints and has given him “new muscles on my arms that I don’t know where the hell they came from.”
All three band members say that fans so far have reacted positively to the new material, and they look forward to playing the new material for the rest of the world. The punk-at-heart trio won’t stop making new music anytime soon, Armstrong says. “Nobody leaves this band,” he says, “unless it’s in a coffin.”
Editing by Sheri Linden at Reuters