OAKLAND — Anyone living in the neighborhood of Oracle Arena could’ve been forgiven for thinking that Saturday night’s installment of Not So Silent Night didn’t begin until 10:30 p.m., because despite an actual start time of 6 p.m., the arena remained something of a library until the headlining local heroes, Green Day, hit the stage.
After a painfully long wait, the arena shook as Green Day launched into the title song from their 2004 rock opera, American Idiot. Hundreds of kids with general admission tickets who had hitherto been idly milling around on the floor, watching the likes of Bastille and the Head and the Heart, were transformed with the strum of a few power chords into something resembling the crowd at a full-fledged punk show, complete with mosh pit.
After following with another track from American Idiot, “Holiday” and “Know Your Enemy,” from 21st Century Breakdown, the Bay Area trio offered up “Bang Bang,” from newly released Revolution Radio. Lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong paused during the bridge of the song for a brief call to arms.
“This election has left us all confused,” he said. “But I gotta tell you one thing, I’m not gonna stop fighting. I’m from fucking Rodeo, California, motherfuckers. We don’t stop fighting for anything!”
Green Day is known for taking political stances, as exhibited by much of the lyrical content of American Idiot. At their previous live performance, the American Music Awards in November, they also paused “Bang Bang” to chant “No Trump! No KKK! No fascist U.S.A.!”
After the song, Armstrong told the rapt audience about his experiences as a youth, moving to a warehouse in west Oakland with bassist Mike Dirnt.
“You meet all these people, and they’re like the most beautiful people you’ve ever met in your life,” he said. “You’re in this other world where there’s activists, there’s artists, there’s musicians, there’s punk rockers and there’s freaks and weirdos.”
They dedicated their performance of “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” to the 36 victims of the Dec. 2 Ghost Ship warehouse fire and Armstrong made an impassioned plea for the preservation of one of the Bay Area’s most cherished natural resources, “freaks and weirdos,” by finding a way to ensure their access to affordable housing.
“My heart just goes out to all the people that perished in that warehouse, because these are people just here looking for themselves, just trying to have a moment where they can all just celebrate being an artist, and being weird, and having fun.”
With the crowd eating out of their hands, they leapt into “Longview,” off Dookie, the 1994 record that helped launch their careers. The song’s sprawling, iconic bass line had the crowd hanging from the rafters as they sang along.
Following the band’s tradition, Armstrong invited an audience member to join the band onstage to finish the tail end of “Longview.” He selected a scrawny kid with wavy, shaggy red hair, who couldn’t have been more than about 13 and bore a striking resemblance to a 13-year-old Armstrong.
It turned out the mini-me knew more than just a few chords, and when the song came to an end he lobbied successfully for the chance to play deep cut “J.A.R.” Armstrong, grinning ear-to-ear, knelt down to bow at the young fan’s feet, as he shredded away. Armstrong sent him on his way with a spankin’ new electric guitar.
Old school fans may have appreciated the youngster for more than his musical prowess, because “J.A.R.” was the only deep cut of the night.
Green Day offered up two more songs from Revolution Radio, “Youngblood” and “Still Breathing,” along with older songs “Hitchin’ a Ride,” “Brain Stew,” Basket Case,” “When I Come Around” and “Minority.” Many fans were left disappointed when the band declined to perform an encore, but Armstrong did leave them with a little piece of advice.
“If you see someone walking down the street, anyone that’s walking by, give ’em a hug!” he shouted.
Elsewhere on Saturday:
Saturday presented something of a disjointed lineup, composed of six bands from six different genres, ranging from electronic rock to indie-folk. The artists not named Green Day were Day Wave, K. Flay, Phantogram, the Head and the Heart and Bastille, and while there were some interesting highlights among them, the crowd’s lack of enthusiasm for much of the evening was not unwarranted.
- Oakland native Day Wave, opened the show by filling in for Catfish and the Bottlemen, who were mysteriously absent. Jackson Phillips played a brief set of mellow indie-rock, marked by melodious keyboards and catchy vocals.
- Stanford grad K. Flay was another pleasant highlight of the pre-Green Day portion of the night with hip hop and electronica. Kristine Flaherty’s haunting vocals, sandwiched between rapid-fire rhymes, covered themes ranging from heartbreak to aspirations of greatness. Her stage presence briefly roused the audience as she danced across a foggy, purple back-lit stage.
- Phantogram’s set was mostly forgettable, with awkward choppy pauses between songs. Sarah Barthel introduced the duo’s second track as a “blues song,” which was somewhat incongruent with the electro-pop sound that followed her announcement.
- The Head and the Heart seemed to imbue the crowd with some energy with their folky sound infused with violin and piano. But there was an awkward moment when one of their guitarists face-planted into the drum set mid-song.
- Bastille’s set ignited the crowd for the first time all night, though it paled in comparison to what came later. Dan Smith and his band put on a smooth show for pop fans, but musically it wasn’t very impressive. Smith’s vocals were blatantly turned way down and even off at times, in favor of a background track. His major contributions were occasionally singing, looking pretty and banging a drum from time to time, despite the presence of a dedicated drummer.
Follow reporter Julie Parker at Twitter.com/jpwhatsername.