It’s been more than 16 years since Green Day hit the Pensacola area, performing at the old Bayfront Auditorium on Jan. 15, 2001, in support of its sixth studio album, “Warning.”
This week, the band makes its return, hitting The Wharf Amphitheater in Orange Beach, Alabama, on Wednesday, and a lot has changed.
While the band is still made up of the same three guys — singer/guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong, bassist Mike Dirnt and drummer Tre Cool — the band that performed here in 2001 was just beginning an evolution into the band it has become.
Few people would have thought of Green Day in 2001 as a political band. True, their 2000 single “Minority” did include the line “down with the Moral Majority” and a skewed take on the Pledge of Allegiance, but that was an unusual step in a band that was best known for songs like “Longview,” “Basket Case,” “When I Come Around ” and “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” that dealt more with personal and interpersonal issues, and songs that might stress social issues, like “Welcome to Paradise,” were relatively rare.
That changed with 2004’s “American Idiot” album. While the band is loathe to call it an anti-George W. Bush album, the rock opera, which went on to become a Broadway musical, certainly didn’t cast the former president in a positive light, either, not with lines like “Seig heil to the President Gasman” in the hit “Holiday.”
Since then, Green Day took home four Grammy Awards — three for projects related to the “American Idiot” album — and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in its first year of eligibility.
They’ve also become seen as one of the music world’s standard-bearers for left-wing politics, especially in the world of punk rock, from which they’re certainly the best-known act among mainstream listeners.
The new album, “Revolution Radio,” was released before the 2016 election, so it doesn’t directly address its results, but it definitely still touches on politics. Lead single “Bang Bang” is about the issue of mass shootings, and the cries of “Legalize the Truth” in the title track and “What part of history we learned/When it’s repeated” in “Troubled Times” speak for themselves.
More than that, though, the band is responsible for popularizing a chant that has become common at protests against President Donald Trump and among anti-racism and anti-fascist protesters, and was even heard during last week’s rallies at the Confederate Memorial in downtown Pensacola.
During a fiery performance of “Bang Bang” broadcast live during the American Music Awards on Nov. 20, the band added the chant “No Trump! No KKK! No fascist USA!” to the song. Derived from a 1981 song, “Born to Die” by the hardcore group M.D.C., Green Day’s performance went viral, and the chant is now commonplace.
But how much does it matter? Do messages like Green Day’s do anything more than preach to the choir?
Some in the Pensacola area believe that the message still matters, from Green Day and from other groups.
“God, yes, it matters,” said J.J. Fox, a transgender activist. “It’s relevant to our current issues. For example, trans woman Laura Jane Grace is in the punk band Against Me!, and during the North Carolina bathroom bills, she went on stage in North Carolina and burned her birth certificate in demonstration. Punks rule!”
“Political punk will always matter for those that venture into its growl,” said Chris Kubiak, a long-time punk fan. “However, there are few bands left that make the impact on the scene as those in the past (did).
“Also, factor in the fatigue from centrists who are just ‘tired of hearing your political/social views,’ and you get a large amount of people who want to ignore the message,” he said. “For it to matter more, a fresh and new voice needs to emerge from the scene. There will always be Anti-Flag, some Pennywise, some Green Day and others from the past 20 years who will make music and speak out about what’s going on in politics, but there needs to be a band or bands that can create a movement, an emotion for the masses to grasp to and use as their anthems. I would love to see a band like War on Women answer that call.”
“I feel we’re a voice to join the resistance,” Green Day’s Armstrong told Rolling Stone’s Andy Greene in March. “I don’t know what shape or form that’s going to come in. I mean, you can see a little bit of that now with people showing up at town halls. But it’s hard.”
It remains to be seen whether the band will be looking to make a point at Wednesday’s show, or just to make great music. We may not all agree on the politics, but we can all agree that there’s nothing like a great rock show.
Want to go?
WHAT: Green Day in concert, with opening act Catfish and the Bottlemen
WHEN: 7 p.m. Wednesday
WHERE: The Wharf Amphitheater, 23101 Canal Road, Orange Beach, Alabama
TICKETS: $82.50, $66.50, $56.50 and $46.50 at the Wharf box office, Ticketmaster.com or by phone at 800-745-3000. Additional fees may apply.
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