LIVE REVIEW: Green Day/Jesse Malin – Cleveland, OH – 4/16/15

photo: Aubrey Welbers

Even though the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame is located in Cleveland (and deservedly so), the actual Rock Hall induction ceremony only comes here once every three years. The last time the festivities were in town, in 2012, Green Day opened the show with a scorching rendition of “Letterbomb” then came out later in the night to induct Guns N’ Roses into the Rock Hall. I remember speaking with Green Day’s longtime publicist, Brian Bumbery, that night, telling him the band were as close to a sure thing as there was in rock ’n’ roll and were all but guaranteed to be a first-ballot inductee. He didn’t seem as confident as I was; only a few months later, Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong went into rehab on the eve of the band’s three-albums-in-three-months experiment, ¡Uno!, ¡Dos! and ¡Tré!, touring plans were put on hold indefinitely and the band’s public image took a few stiff hits to the chin. The band eventually regrouped and mounted an abbreviated, relatively poorly attended arena tour in support of the trio of releases, but then they did the strangest thing of all: They took an entire year off.

Even stranger still, the year in question was 2014—not only the 10th anniversary of American Idiot but the 20th anniversary of Dookie, the two albums that pretty much have defined punk rock for the past two decades. Just think of the money that could’ve been made had the band booked an “American Dookie” world tour, playing the albums from front-to-back to packed houses. Yet still they sat at home, taking a well-deserved rest—because despite what their detractors have said throughout the years, Green Day have never been about the money.

This preamble is to remind you that Green Day are not only one of the most popular and influential bands in the history of rock and roll but they also have an incredible amount of artistic integrity. So when Green Day were announced as a first-ballot inductee in the Rock Hall’s class of 2015, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone. What was surprising was the band choosing to make their first live appearance in more than a year in Cleveland—the city was likely a beneficiary of circumstance, given the Rock Hall induction ceremony is in Cleveland this year, as opposed to being in New York or Los Angeles. Still, no one in the crowd felt anything besides jubilation at the notion of seeing the power trio at the 1,000-capacity House Of Blues, even with ticket costing between $75 and $125 a person, which is why the show sold out instantaneously. (This writer was among the 1,000 who happily paid for a ticket without hesitation.)

The show began right at 8 p.m. with New York City singer/songwriter Jesse Malin, looking like an adult extra from Newsies, leading his seven-piece, E Street-adjacent band through a handful of originals as well as some recognizable Pogues and Ramones covers to get the crowd appropriately warmed up. His set was quick and to the point, clearing way for Green Day to go on at 8:45. Only we didn’t get Green Day—we got a ramshackle drumset erected in front of Tre Cool’s kit with a bass drum head that had scrawled on it “SWEET CHILDREN.”

Sweet Children photo: Scott Heisel
Sweet Children
photo: Scott Heisel

No intro music played; instead, John “Al Sobrante” Kiffmeyer, Green Day’s original drummer, wandered out onstage and started telling absurd stories into the mic, followed shortly by Armstrong and bassist Mike Dirnt. The band then launched into an 11-song set comprised of tracks from the 1,039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours compilation, including five songs that hadn’t been played in more than 20 years—”Don’t Leave Me,” “Sweet Children,” “I Was There,” “Green Day” and “Dry Ice.”

Green Day playing “Sweet Children”! #greenday A video posted by substream (@substream) on

Many diehard fans in front were effectively losing their shit at the bevy of rarities being delivered (and expertly so, at that), but it became clear that much of the audience wasn’t exactly familiar with Green Day’s earliest work. It didn’t help that Kiffmeyer would just not stay behind the drumset, getting up after practically every song to talk into Armstrong’s mic and playfully antagonize his bandmates (and unintentionally antagonize the crowd.) So after a half-hour set change (and wardrobe change for Armstrong and Dirnt), Green Day came out in full force as a six-piece band, quickly delivering two of American Idiot‘s biggest hits, “Holiday” and “Boulevard Of Broken Dreams,” getting the entire venue singing along loudly.

Green Day photo: Scott Heisel
Green Day
photo: Scott Heisel

This wasn’t just a greatest-hits set, though; over the next 100 minutes and two dozen songs, Green Day played everything from Insomniac deep cuts (“Stuart And The Ave.”) to Kerplunk! deeper cuts (“Private Ale,” “One For The Razorbacks”). Armstrong’s voice never faltered throughout the entire night, Dirnt’s harmonies are as crisp now as they were 25 years ago and if Cool dropped a beat, we certainly never caught it.

Then, something really special happened: Armstrong brought out Rancid frontman Tim Armstrong from the stage right wings, and the band then performed incredibly faithful renditions of not only Rancid’s “Radio” but also Operation Ivy’s “Knowledge” with the two Armstrongs trading off vocals. It was an absolutely electric moment that may likely never happen again.

In a perfect world, Tim Armstrong would be joining Billie Joe & Co. in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, but if Fugazi, Minor Threat and Black Flag haven’t even been nominated, the odds of Operation Ivy or Rancid ever getting the nod seem slim as well. But this night wasn’t about the Rock Hall; it was about punk rock. Tim Armstrong was the only special guest during the entirety of Green Day’s set—and it’s worth pointing out that Sir Paul McCartney was in attendance at the show, as well. (Maybe that’s why Billie Joe Armstrong threw in a few measures of “Hey Jude” into the vamping section of “Shout” the band have included in their sets for a number of years.) The band concluded their proper set with “Minority,” off 2000’s supremely underrated Warning, also with the assistance of Tim Armstrong on guitar, before leaving the stage. Obviously, an encore was planned, but even had there not been one on the setlist already, the crowd was so demanding of more that the band would have had no choice but to acquiesce. “American Idiot” and “Jesus Of Suburbia” followed, then the band said they were done—for real, this time. Still, the crowd did not depart until the house lights came up and the PA music turned on. No one was ready for this show to end. But judging by the energy of the performance, it is clear Green Day are still in fighting shape—and hopefully, they’ll be returning to the stage full time in the near future.

FIRST SET – as Sweet Children, with John “Al Sobrante” Kiffmeyer on drums
Don’t Leave Me
Only Of You
Sweet Children
409 In Your Coffeemaker
At The Library
I Was There
Disappearing Boy
Paper Lanterns
Road To Acceptance
Green Day
Dry Ice

SECOND SET — with Tre Cool on drums
99 Revolutions
Boulevard Of Broken Dreams
2000 Light Years Away
Private Ale
Christie Road
Stuart And The Avenue
Geek Stink Breath
One For The Razorbacks
When I Come Around
Basket Case
Are We The Waiting
St Jimmy
Knowledge (Operation Ivy cover with Tim Armstrong)
Radio (Rancid cover with Tim Armstrong)
King For A Day
Minority (with Tim Armstrong)

American Idiot
Jesus Of Suburbia