You can't accuse the members of Green Day of laying down on the job, not when they turn in the kind of spirited, sweaty, celebratory and hit-filled two-hour performance they did Wednesday night at Tricky Falls.
Well, actually you can accuse them of lying down on the job. That's exactly what they did in the middle of a blowout version of "King For a Day" about two-thirds of the way into the exhilirating 23-song, career-spanning concert, part of a four-city warmup tour designed to shake off the dust and road test singer-guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong's newfound sobriety before a delayed arena tour launches late this month.
The goofiness started when the band members donned hats (oddball drummer Tre Cool went for a pink bra and lavendar Kentucky Derby hat). It took an impish turn when Armstrong whipped out a kazoo to duet with sideman Jason Freese's saxophone. Then, after a couple of rousing choruses of the "Animal House" party anthem "Shout," the musicians got everything a little bit quieter now as all but Cool laid down on the stage.
"Sing me a Texas song right now," Armstrong commanded. Freese responded with a snippet of "Deep in the Heart of Texas," which the packed-like sardines crowd of 1,500, in good voice all night, answered. Then guitarist Jason White sang the intro from Marty Robbins' "El Paso," before Armstrong rose to his knees and led the crowd in a few verses of Ben E. King's sweetly sentimental "Stand By Me."
It was a moment of revelry, to be sure, something these grownup punks have excelled at since their transformation from playing club and theaters to arenas after "Dookie" blew up in 1994. But the King inclusion also may have been Armstrong's way of asking and thanking fans, including those in a city where Green Day has never played before, for standing by him after he melted down and went into rehab last fall.
He led the touring concert version of the band, buoyed by Mike Dirnt's big percussive bass lines and expanded from a trio to a sextet, through the frenetic paces of a show that had little let up — save that catch-their-breath moment during "King For a Day" — and a lot of transcendent release.
It's not every day a band as big as Green Day stops off in our fair city for a rare club show. "They're just one of those bands that doesn't come around. You've have to see them," observed Noe Garcia, who, at 41, is Armstrong's age. Garcia was there with his wife, having left their 15-year-old home for the night.
The band certainly seemed to be enjoying its stay here, having been spotted at a West Side Taco Tote the day before, outside the Camino Real Hotel the day of the show, their six buses and one semi truck for equipment filling up side streets near the club, where patrons lined up around one block of San Francisco Street and another block of Santa Fe.
""We had a great tme here in El Paso, walking around checking out the sights. It was f------ great," Armstrong said in the middle of third song "Stay the Night," one of eight songs from their three new albums, "Uno!," "Dos!" and "Tre!" performed Wednesday night.
It was a special kind of night, the kind of experience you'd expect to have when a band of Green Day's stature opts to play the smallest venue on a warmup tour that started in suburban L.A. and Phoenix and heads to Austin for a South by Southwest show on Friday.
But it got off to a rough start when it took venue personnel longer to check off the names of people who snapped up the precious tickets, limited to two per buyer, before slapping wristbands on them and allowng admittance.
A show that was supposed to start at 8:30 p.m., with no opening act, started at 9 with what could be the only performance by the musicians' instrument techs, rushed into service for the occasion. Dubbed, no doubt hastily Classic Hugo and the Dirty Dick Beaters for the occasion, they banged out four serviceable punk covers, including Iggy Pop's "Tonight."
Green Day finally hit the stage at 9:30 and didn't let up for two hours, reaching back to the mid-'90s for crowd-bolstered versions of "When I Come Around," "Longview" and "Brain Stew," augmented by quotes from AC/DC's "Highway to Hell" and Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama" (revised to "Sweet Home El Paso, Texas" one of several El Paso and Juarez references in a show that also was heavy on showmanship and singalongs).
After opening with "99 Revolutions," a driving new punk anthem inspired by the Occupy movement, the band tore into 2009's punk chant "Know Your Enemy," during which Armstrong enticed a young fan to drop from the balcony into the open arms of the show's yeoman security detail (who handed out cups of water all night), take over a chorus onstage then dive back safely into the mass of arms and heads the tightly swayed side to side for most of the night.
This kind of audience interaction is a vestige of the band's do-it-yourself roots and is a virtue the group has never lost as the venues got bigger and bigger. Tricky Falls, with its tricky sound and close quarters, is so small the kid almost could have jumped on stage.
New songs made up easily a third of the set, but with 37 new ones from which to choose, the band had a hard job picking the right songs from this diverse bunch of pop, punk, rock and R&B-flavored songs fit among the tried and true. I would have liked to have heard the suite-like "Dirty Rotten Bastards," but encore closer "Brutal Love" (essentially a rewrite of Sam Cooke's "Bring It On Home to Me"), the poignant "X-Kid" and "99 Revolutions" were among the standouts Wednesday, all with an obvious lived-in feel already.
Also obvious is how much 2004's anti-Bush, anti-war punk opera masterpiece "American Idiot" revitalized the band after a steady slide. It played very well in arenas nearly 10 years ago, and those songs have lost none of their tunefulness or immediacy today.
Particularly impressive were "Holiday" (with Armstrong shouting, "The representative from Juarez has the floor") and a one-two encore punch of the angry "American Idiot" and episodic, five-part "Jesus of Suburbia," a tour-de-force that, like so much of Green Day's music, sounds wholly fresh and original while drawing from the likes of David Bowie and the Sex Pistols.
Green Day could have easily rolled into Tricky Falls with a rock star chip on its shoulder. Instead, the band played hungry, to a hungry and very vocal crowd, for two hours. None was more ravenous than the newly clean Armstrong, who in a soulful moment during a soulful moment from "Jesus" closed his eyes and seemed to let adrenaline be his drug of choice, when, that is, he wasn't feeding off the audience's considerable energy.
"Oh my God, we're back," he declared early in the set. Indeed, they were. And they did it playing their butts off on their feet, not laying down on the job.