Sunday, January 17, 2010

Have a Green Day

Back in November when I first ordered the mosh pit tickets for the Green Day concert in Singapore, I didn't fully understand the ramifications. Sure, my daughter Billie's excitement about the gig announcement was clear. And certainly I am an admirer of the raucous band's hard-driving music, considering American Idiolyrically and musically one of the most important American cultural statements of the first decade of the 21st century. So I quickly got online and did the Sistic credit-card thing. But the mosh pit?

Should we get tickets for the mosh pit? I asked. Yes! was the response. Our fate was sealed.

Within a week the tickets arrived by mail. After opening the envelope, it suddenly came to me: I saw on each ticket the ominously printed section name: Pen A. Oh to feel like a soon-to-be caged (and slaughtered?) animal.

Months passed, the holidays came and went, and I had nearly forgotten about the concert and the mosh pit. Apparently, I had also overlooked Green Day's appeal, even here in Singapore. The day before the concert Billie asked me when I'd be home from work, in the same breath suggesting that we head to the stadium venue by mid afternoon in order to have a chance to get in early and get close to the stage.

What? Mid afternoon? I asked incredulously. Why?

I was remembering how two years earlier we'd gone to WOMAD Singapore at Fort Canning, and for the concert by Britain's Asian Dub Foundation, we'd waited to the last minute to go and still gotten choice spots alongside the stage. This would be different, I'd imagined.

I'd still balked, but I came home from school by 4pm so that we could leave the house by 4:30. When we arrived by taxi at the stadium grounds, I was surprised so few cars were in the lot. There ya go, I thought. No one here yet.

Right on one front, but generally wrong! What was true was that no one who could drive a car was there yet. After a detail of security dudes directed us to the line for Pen A, we discovered, hidden under the eaves of the stadium, at least a 150 fans sitting on cold concrete in a line cordoned off by a thick purple strand of theater rope. My guess at the average age: 18 or so.

Still, things were calm---it wasn't anything to worry about. So there we sat for nearly two hours, amidst the developing line and growing piles of burger wrappers. But that was just the beginning. As more fans arrived, the buzz became more palpable, and then just after 7, the doors were opened and through the turnstiles we quickly went. Unlike the fans in several of the stadium concerts I'd been to in the distant past -- seeing The Who in Cincinnati and the Stones (twice) in Cleveland come to mind -- these kids were amazingly well behaved.  In fact, once through security, I was one of only half a dozen people I saw running for the front!

Easy as pie. I got right up to the chest-high metal barricade separating the mosh pit area from the stage. And that's where we stood as the arena filled. And filled. And filled some more. And the more it filled, the tighter our space became. Finally, just before the opening band got on stage (a rather dull and pompous glam rock group named Prima Donna), I realized that yes indeed we were penned against the barricade. The only way out would have been via "life flight" care of the muscular bouncers who stood just opposite us, smiling in their own spacious comfort zone.

Then came the moment we'd all been waiting for, Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt and Tre Cool running on stage, and the audience sway became a tidal wave.  It seemed that everyone behind us, from little Malay dudes in colored hair to Indian girls with nose rings, wanted to enhance his or her position so as to see these musical heroes. With hundreds of cellphones and video cameras held high, with sharpened elbows plying for the perfect screen shot, the impassioned fans heaved into a collective mass of humanity. Luckily, I was able to hold my own in the fray (and protect Billie), but smaller characters, including a skinny 15-year-old Chinese kid Billie had befriended back in the initial line, now fought for a breath as they were squeezed more and more. From the rhythmic force of the first bars of the first song, a power surge ensued, and the crowd's moans and bellows followed.  Within our immediate view, at least a dozen kids soon were begging the bouncers to be plucked out of the maddening throng. (After being lifted over the barricade, they were escorted out of the front of the arena to the back, from where they could still watch.)

Up on stage it was all a 21st Century Breakdown. What excites fans about Green Day is the high energy level and great execution. These guys play with a maniacal conviction. No one hits the drums (or loses drumsticks) like Tre Cool. No one pinches the bass strings (or his brow) like Mike Dirnt. And then there is Billie Joe, a bit of a Charlie Chaplin character: one part poetic genius, one part circus clown, and three parts masterful communicator/lead singer/rhythm guitarist of one of the hottest bands on the planet. The band's three more anonymous sidekicks are all heady musicians as well.

In action, Billie Joe and Mike run from one end of the stage to the other, they jump, they slide---all the while kicking out song after song after song. They also interact with the audience in a manner that I've never witnessed, Billie Joe going so far as to invite the entire audience to sing along as he did with "Boulevard of Broken Dreams," or asking volunteers from the crowd to come up to strut their own stuff and to not just sing along but to hold court---king or queen for a moment in the evening. One young Malay dude with green hair was just such a lucky invitee. Though his vocals were mediocre, he used his chance under the hot lights to imitate Billie Joe with quite a bit of finesse, much to the band's obvious satisfaction. After his singalong through "Longview," he and Billie Joe embraced, then Billie Joe slipped a fat envelope into his back pocket: money or back stage pass?

Back in the mosh pit, life had become a bit more civilized. Yes, personal space was lacking. Yes, the breath of the tall Chinese kid beside me was repugnant. Yes, my neighbors' hand-held cameras occasionally slipped too far into my view and I was forced to push them away. But we were all in it for the music, and in that way, we bonded, even if only momentarily, chanting along: ole ole ole ole, or hey oh, I say, hey oh!

The music went on non-stop for two and a half hours, the musicians showing not just a great talent for reproducing the gems from their albums but also very serious athleticism. When Billie Joe finally bid us good night and then completed his introductions of fellow band members, no one was fooled. We knew an encore would follow in the form of the classic songs, "American Idiot" and "Jesus of Suburbia." What none of us might have suspected though was that a medley of three more songs would follow --- "Last Night on Earth," "Wake Me Up When September Ends" and "Time of Your Life"--- all played  commandingly in acoustic solo fashion by the singer-songwriter himself.

By the time the last stroke of Billie Joe's clangy guitar faded into the rafters, the mosh pit had become as meaningful as a giant womb, with each of us finding a sort of collective calm in a cultural experience of accelerated worth. No regrets, I then thought to myself. Not on this day.


Anonymous said...

Awesome review and recap of one of the best nights of my life! I love your personal touch on this unbelievable musical event! Many thanks! Cheers! Green Day rules!

Jerone JI LU said...

In fact, I am not a real fan of Green Day. Before the concert, I guess the only song I had listened to was "Wake me up when September ends". When my friend asked me whether I want to go or not. I told myself to give it a try. Going to a rock band concert is what I have never experienced before and I want to have this experience no matter what it will be like. Hence, I listened to several albums of them before I went to the concert. It was exactly like what you have described. At first I did not find very comfortable due to the pushing and bad smell among people. However, when time went on, I tried to focus more on the music and the atmosphere Green Day had created. It was a crazy night for me and also it was the best night. From this, I understand that sometimes life is all about experiences and I want to be a parent or a grandparent who can tell my children about my unique experiences in the future.

Ji Lu

Rohan Rajiv said...

Ah! I wasn't there but I sure wish I had. I personally love Boulevard, Time of your life, Wake me up, Holiday among others.

It's funny that while I am listening to music at least for a total time of 4-5 hours during the course of the day(via background music etc), I have never been able to convince myself that spending 100 odd dollars for a concert was worth it..

Not sure if that is being miserly now.. Still waiting for my first concert experience nevertheless! :)

Glenn said...

Great Post! Made me feel like i was there as well. could feel all the adrenaline running through me.

One of the best bands around, with a great frontman in Billie Joe Armstrong. Excellent showmanship, lots of charisma and writes really meaningful songs.

Too bad i can only catch them on youtube.


Emily said...

This post reminds me of the first rock band concert I attended a few years back. Despite the fact that I am not a fan of Black Eye Peas and had little knowledge of their songs and albums, I decided to give it a try when my friends invited me. Similarly, we got ourselves mosh pit tickets. It was a great experience but due to my habit of being extremely self conscious and my introvert character, I guess I did not enjoy it totally. Unlike the others in the mosh pit who were jumping, screaming and singing to the music, I was standing there quietly, swaying to the music, enjoying it my way. I had a totally similar experience at my second concert, the 2008 countdown party at Vivo City, where I got a mosh pit ticket as well.

In my opinion, I think it depends on one’s personality and interest. I personally prefer Chinese pop music and I am not so into rock band and loud music. Thus, I tend to enjoy concerts by Chinese singers since I am more familiar with their songs. One of which was Gary Cao’s, a Taiwan based Malaysian singer-songwriter, concert. For this concert, I got myself a regular seat, a few rows behind the mosh pit. Before I went for his concert, back last year, I was not a fan of him either. However, his concert was such a blast and fantastic that I fell in love with his music instantly. I got home that night, did some research about him (in terms of his songs and albums) and got some of his songs into my mp3 straightaway. Even today, his songs will always be in the list of songs I select when I go for KTV sessions with my friends.

Overall, it’s a great experience to have, knowing the difference being an audience standing, jumping and squeezing in the mosh pit and seating somewhere in the concert hall or Singapore indoor stadium, enjoying the music.

Nicole said...

Gosh! I have to say, I had so much fun reading this post. It makes me wished I was actually there!!! My favorite Green Day songs are 'Time of your life' and 'Boulevard of Broken Dreams'. I have yet to attend a rock band concert. But I am making a promise to myself to attend one in the near future. I do hope to attend a Coldplay concert soon!! I love to attend such events and to soak up the atmosphere with really great company of friends and others.

This makes me think of my attendance at the Mamma Mia! musical in London. Not so much a rock band or pop concert, this smash hit musical also provided me with an experience I'd never forget. I was so entertained, not only by the performers on stage, but also by the people sitting around me. Based on songs by Abba, many knew the songs. I was especially impressed by my neighbour, a girl who was no more than 10 years old, and she could sing all the songs in the musical! You could just see the people in the theatre “jumping” within their seats and grooving to the beat. The musical ended with an all-time high. Everyone stood up from their seats and started dancing to the songs “Dancing Queen”, “Super Trooper” and “Mamma Mia!”. I had such a great time there and simply typing this is enough to put a smile on my face.

I do love to share and listen to such experiences of people attending concerts etc. I also do hope to have my own experience at a rock concert one day, someday soon!!!

Ranmali said...

I loved reading this post. Green Day is my all-time favourite band and I agree that Billie Joe Armstrong is one of the better, smarter lyricists out there (I'm pretty sure Travis of Blink 182 is a better drummer than Tre though!). When I first heard that Green Day released a new album that raises political issues, I was so sure I wouldn't like it as much as their previous albums like Dookie or Nimrod. Listening to all the songs in the album though made me realize that this album had far more depth and meaning to it than all their other songs. In fact, it was like the entire album had a storyline - with subtle and not-so-subtle themes of a youth enslaved by commercialism and media. It was a fresh concept for Green Day and I really liked it.

It's a pity I couldn't be there to see them performing these songs live, but I was in Oman. It always happens. Linkin Park came to Singapore, I was in Oman. MLTR came to Sri Lanka, I was in Oman. Incubus came to Singapore, I was in Sri Lanka. When I'm in Singapore, none of my favourite bands are touring.

Your post made me feel like I was really there though, so thank you- and an experience from a mosh pit no less - I enjoyed reading it! Here's hoping I'll someday finally find myself in the right place at the right time!

Brad Blackstone said...

Thanks to each of you who has responded. I can see that some of you are real Green Day fans (Glenn and Ranmali, maybe even Rohan) and others initiates. Yes indeed, you would have loved it!

Whatever your musical persuasion, attending a rock concert in the mosh pit is an experience you all need to have. To do that though in the most comfort fashion possible, I'd suggest getting in quickly so that you can get a position next to the stage. That makes the whole experience more tolerable, especially since you can actually see the show. Otherwise, it's probably advisable to buy a seat.

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