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Green Day tests new ground on way to "Breakdown"
Sun May 3, 2009 7:52pm EDT
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By Mitchell Peters
LOS ANGELES (Billboard) - Green Day bassist Mike Dirnt is fatigued from the three stage dives he took last night at Oakland, California's Uptown Nightclub.
For the final plunge, "I decided to climb up on the monitors and dive in from there," says the 36-year-old musician, who's also nursing a mild hangover. "I'm just feeling it today a little bit. But it was a good time."
The mid-April $20-ticket gig was the fourth installment of what drummer Tre Cool calls a "guerrilla Bay Area Green Day assault." In the days leading up to the tightly packed show -- the Uptown holds about 750 people -- the Oakland-based trio also played its forthcoming album, "21st Century Breakdown," from start to finish at the Independent and DNA Lounge in San Francisco and the newly opened Fox Theater in downtown Oakland.
The hometown gigs grew from the band's desire to break away from tedious rehearsals and test new material in front of an audience. "We've been deprived of playing live for so long that it was kind of a free-for-all, like we were playing as if our lives depended on it," singer/guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong says. "It was kind of like playing your first show all over again."
The last-minute shows surprised Bay Area concert promoters. "An arena band like that doesn't usually show up at a nightclub, especially in their home base," says Larry Trujillo, co-owner of the Uptown. "You wouldn't see that from Madonna or U2."
Awaiting the May 15 release of "21st Century Breakdown" (Reprise/Warner Bros.) are not only the band's longtime fans, but the younger audience that came aboard in 2004 with the release of "American Idiot."
A politically driven rock opera, "American Idiot" moved away from Green Day's routine three-chord punk anthems and into new depths of songwriting. And at a time when people worldwide were questioning the policies of President George W. Bush, the social and political messages behind the set helped Green Day earn its first No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 and nab Grammy Awards for best rock album and record of the year.
Collaborating with Armstrong, Tony Award-winning director Michael Mayer has adapted "American Idiot" into a stage musical that will premiere in September at the Bay Area's Berkeley Repertory Theater in September.
Like its predecessor, "21st Century Breakdown" has a narrative structure, telling the story of a young couple, Christian and Gloria, growing up amid the turbulence of the early 21st century.
"The main message is trying to make sense out of desperate times and chaos," Armstrong says, noting that the 18-track set features social commentary about religion, war, politics and love. "We're writing the best material we've ever written in the past five years."
Produced by Butch Vig (Nirvana, the Smashing Pumpkins, Garbage), "21st Century Breakdown" is divided into three acts: "Heroes and Cons," "Charlatans and Saints" and "Horseshoes and Handgrenades." But the band didn't set out to do another concept album.
"We went down to Costa Mesa (California) for summertime, let our families take a vacation, and then we hit the small studio every day," Dirnt says. "Billie pulled out all the lyrics and read through them and we started looking at what was making sense, and seeing the correlations from song to song, and what songs were naturally making different chapters of this record."
The album also reflects new musical directions for the band. On "Restless Heart Syndrome," a piano-driven rock tune that morphs into a crunchy four-chord progression, Armstrong sings in falsetto. The album's title track, a melodic midtempo rocker with power chord verses -- featuring Armstrong's observation that "my generation is zero/I'd never make it as a working-class hero" -- moves through a Who-style breakdown with sustained guitar blasts and thumping drums. On "March of the Dogs" the band experiments with complex song structures while proclaiming, "The sirens of decay will infiltrate the faith fanatic."
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