“Are you locked up in a world that’s been planned out for you?” sings Billie-Joe Armstrong halfway through the set, and at a Green Day gig, it’s a highly pertinent question.
The three-piece have, of late, turned into a reliable stadium outfit, churning out lengthy sets filled with crowd-pleasing events but increasingly lacking in spontaneity. More than one fan must have searched YouTube with growing disappointment to find just how many venues had experienced the same magic moment they believed was reserved for them.
The same dip in form has afflicted their albums, too, with 21st Century Breakdown taking the formula that produced the gold of American Idiot and turning it into lead. So this low-key show, announced just two days earlier with a fan club pre-sale, offers a chance of redemption and renewal on two counts – to showcase tracks from forthcoming album Uno, and to show a devoted audience that they’re still the same band that put on ad-libbed nativity shows in dingy northern clubs over 20 years ago.
For the most part, the gig is a triumph. The venue is rammed and the reception rapturous, as the band – with the now familiar extra musicians – bound around the small stage with fresh setlist inspired abandon. Bassist Mike Dirnt is perhaps showing his age the most, though still not averse to the odd scissor kick, whereas the 40-year-old Billie-Joe still Dorian Greys his way into the hearts of worryingly young girls, whose screams only intensify at the sight of his worryingly smooth bum.
The stadium tricks are largely absent, save for a low-tech interlude with a super-soaker and loo-roll cannon, and an extended medley during King For A Day that somehow takes in Shout, We Are Young, Stand By Me, and Hey Jude without changing tempo. It’s certainly entertaining, but the fast-paced, Dookie-heavy set provides more genuine, vital thrills. And when they dip into weaker album territory, they consistently pick out songs that have outgrown their home, with Know Your Enemy, Minority, and Hitchin’ A Ride (still the most popular track about the 635 from Hatfield via Stevenage) the most notable examples.
The new songs are, save for set-closer 99 Revolutions, played in a row near the beginning of the set, displaying the same stripped-down, sped-up ethos as their earlier material. Only Oh Love, like Blur‘s Tender in a bit of a hurry, deviates from the chugging power pop and frantic two-and-half-minute template. Judging unfamiliar songs is always fraught with danger, but Stop When The Red Lights Flash shows the most promise, harmonising “I’ll make you surrender” like an angry Everley Brothers. There are weaknesses, like Billie-Joe’s constant appropriation of Freddie Mercury‘s “hey-oh” call-and-response, and a turgid trudge through Give Me Novocaine, but it’s hard to complain when it’s immediately followed up with cast-iron classics She, When I Come Around, and Basket Case.
And it’s hard to be cynical when 30-somethings are singing along to the same songs they did when they were kids next to kids singing along to songs written well before they born. There’s life in this extraordinary, enduring band yet.