Calling the arena-sized, Broadway musical-inspiring Green Day a punk band is like referring to Wolfgang Puck as an up-and-coming chef, but the NorCal trio (bolstered by a couple of touring musicians) sure acted like they were still snot-nosed kids during a tour warmup show Monday night at the Echoplex in Los Angeles. And that makes sense: The 325-person room is about as close as its audience (mostly composed of radio winners and industry types, as well as a lucky few who managed to buy last-minute tickets) will ever get to experiencing the band as it was at its inception in Berkeley more than two decades ago.
That meant churning power chords, rapid-fire drum licks and an insanely musty heat that had the rafters in the basement club literally dripping sweat on the front few rows. It also meant a couple of early-career oldies: the lovelorn “2000 Light Years Away” and a by-request run-through of “Christie Road,” from the band's second full-length, 1992's Kerplunk, both of which proved two seemingly dissonant points: the band's strengths -- singer Billie Joe Armstrong's nasally, harmony-ready voice, their 1-4-5 song structures, their tight-as-nails smackdowns -- haven't changed much, giving them a consistency matched among their peers only by Foo Fighters. But the lyrical maturity found in such later songs as “Holiday” and “Murder City” was a far cry from the band's girl-bumming early days.
This show also was the first time most of the audience got to hear songs from the band's upcoming album trilogy, ¡Uno!, ¡Dos! and ¡Tre! -- with new songs peppering modern-rock classics including “Longview” and “Hitchin' a Ride.” “Carpe Diem” blasted through three-part harmonies and a breakdown that recalled the “this is our last dance” section of “Under Pressure”; “Let Yourself Go” was a double-time, scream-sung assault; and “Stray Heart,” minus its distortion pedals, could have been a British Invasion breakout.
The new songs weren't all home-runs, though: “Kill the DJ” is a groovy gimmick that seems more in the cartoonish vein of their once-contemporaries The Offspring's unfortunate later catalog than Green Day's usual snarly snark. It was an odd miss for the band, who've always teased around silliness (“Dominated Love Slave,” from the band's breakthrough disk “Dookie,” is a pre-Fifty Shades of Grey S&M ode sung by drummer Tre Cool, for instance), but it's always had a tongue-in-cheekiness that's made their forays into funny effective, rather than desperate.
For all their originals, though, the highlight of the show might have been an unexpected assault through Operation Ivy's “Knowledge,” a cult classic but far from a massive hit. As the front-row throng pogoed to the song's relentless bounce and Armstrong growled “All I know is that I don't know/all I know is that I don't know nothing,” the years faded away, with the frontman’s always-youthful pose looking like it must have in some no-name basement club in Berkeley in the late ’80s -- when Green Day was just a punk band, trying to emulate their old-school heroes, without ever thinking that one day they might become those heroes themselves.