Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Green Day - Awesome As Fuck (Live)

Ah hello there Green Day, good to see you again. It's been a while, hasn't it? You've been gallivanting around the world in various arenas touring that 21st Century Breakdown codswallop, haven't you? Or as it may as well have been called, 'American Idiot re-done by a band doing a really shit impression of U2'. Oh hello, what's this? A live album/DVD combo from this aforesaid tour? I look forward to every song being dragged out to ten minutes for countless bouts of 'whey-ohs' with the crowd, like you've been doing for the last ten years or more. Oh hold up, the setlist isn't a re-run through your greatest hits catalogue? And it actually contains some fan favourites from the depths of your back catalogue? What's the matter, got fed up of pre-teen girls screaming at you and want to appease the hardcore crew who deserted you when American Idiot went multi-platinum? Not that any band should be in the position of having to appease a narrow-minded and petty fanbase, but I will admit that my attention was grabbed when I saw such songs as 'Burnout' and 'Going to Pasalaqua' would feature, so I picked it up pretty soon after release.

Well, one thing I can report, and one thing that becomes obvious after about four songs on the DVD - nobody's told Billie Joe Armstrong that the whole 'I said whey-oh' shtick wore anorexia-thin while Saddam Hussein was still in power, as he seems desperate to cram it into every single fucking song, even if it's not appropriate. It's gotten so predictable, too - in fact, here's an idea for a night in. Gather up a bunch of mates and a fuckload of alcoholic drinks, watch the DVD, and take a swig every time Billie Joe either does the aforesaid 'whey-oh' thing, or shouts 'let's go fucking crazy!'/'get those hands in the air!' the prerequisite three bloody times per song. Trust me, you won't be able to stand up by the end of the DVD.

So Billie Joe's still reading from the same copy of 'hyping up stadium crowds for dummies', and the rest of the band pretty much look exactly the same as they did at the end of the American Idiot tour. And sound the same, too. So what's stopping you staying at home, sweeping the dust off your copy of Bullet in a Bible and saving a tenner? Well, keep reading, for there have been some changes.

Obviously, this being taken from the 21st Century Breakdown tour and everything, the setlist is geared towards that pile of mediocrity, but you'll be pleased to know that some quality control has occurred, and most of the excess baggage and bloated ballads have been trimmed to leave only the best bits. Things kick off on both the CD and DVD with the one-two hit of the title track and 'Know Your Enemy', and while the latter still sounds like what you'd get if you fed 'Clampdown' by The Clash through 'Generic Protest Rock Song v1.0' software, both have an added bit of bite and zip in a live environment. 'Viva La Gloria!' also appears on both discs, which is presumably why 'Letterbomb' was saved for the deluxe edition bonus tracks, and the two best songs on the album, 'The Static Age' and 'American Eulogy' both appear on the DVD, much to this author's delight, which means I can excuse the inclusion of puke-inducing '21 Guns'.

But as I said earlier, what really makes this package stand out are the rarities that have been dragged up from the history books for our listening pleasure. The tracklisting for Awesome As Fuck at times reads like a fan's mixtape, the sort you'd give to someone who's only experience of the band was a second-hand copy of International Superhits. For example, on the one hand, there's no 'Basket Case', no 'Longview', no 'Hitchin' a Ride', and the entirety of the Warning album may as well not exist. But on the other, we get more obscure album tracks, like 'Burnout', on both discs, as well as the criminally underrated 'J.A.R', first album blast 'Going to Pasalaqua', and the stunning 'Who Wrote Holden Caulifield', which Billie Joe reveals to be his favourite song from Kerplunk!, all on the C.D. Over on the DVD, they dig up their cover of The Who's 'My Generation' from the crypts of 1990, and the inclusion of 'Welcome to Paradise' makes this package worth buying on it's own from a personal standpoint.The trade-off with all these nods to the past and fan favourites is that the setlist on both discs feel unfocused, and they tend to meander around a bit, giving the impression that the band don't quite know what the play next. But while you could complain about this, or nit-pick about how certain songs have been glazed over (on that subject, I'm still waiting for 'Jaded', fellas), the fact that they've managed to trim down their 30-song+ live setlist into a relatively cohesive unit is an achievement, and I do admire the band's conscious attempt to sidestep the hits that everyone's heard a billion and one times before..

What also makes this package very strong are the band themselves. I can rag on them until I'm blue in the face about how repetitive and tedious Billie Joe's crowd-hyping tactics have become, but the fact remains that the band are consummate professionals and brilliant showmen who know how to put on a great show. Tre Cool remains one of the best drummers in the game, nailing the beats and rolls every single time, and even though Mike Dirnt's excellent bass skills have become marginalised in the studio over the last few years, he still gets ample chances to shine here. It's just a shame that Billie Joe's fixation with trying to be a cross between Freddie Mercury and Bono is often to the detriment of the songs.

For example, while the crowd-hyping methods already mentioned are never quite annoying enough to be deal-breakers, a couple of songs have both their kneecaps shot out by Billie Joe's desire to randomly run down the front and wank around with a guitar solo for a minute or two. These moments would veer dangerously close to pretentious twat territory on their own if it wasn't for the fact that they almost unfailing spoil the momentum of the song the rest of the band happened to be playing at the time. 'American Idiot' takes this particular kick to the bollocks just after the bridge, and '...Eulogy' is almost completely spoiled midway through Dirnt's second verse, exactly at the point where the song is supposed to be building towards the epic climax, not sitting around twiddling it's thumbs while the frontman farts around. It'd be like interrupting the climax of Reservoir Dogs to show Mr Pink discussing tooth-brushing techniques for half an hour. It's not even like he's a particularly good improv guitarist, with one of the solos descending into blind noise. Here's a basic rule of thumb - trying to awkwardly ram a solo into the middle of a song will more than likely make you look like a wanker, so don't bother, unless your name happens to be Josh Homme.

There are places on the DVD where the band themselves look and sound a little flat, and not quite as sparky as they were on Bullet in a Bible. This isn't helped by the sound mix on the DVD, which suffocates the guitars and makes the whole thing sound like the band are playing at the Camden Underworld rather than an epic arena. Thankfully, the mix on the CD is very good, with all instruments well-balanced and muscular. The whole digi-screen backdrop to their set (another nab from U2) is also redundant at best, and is only used to show some random graphics, or a cliched quote/clip from the news, or something like that. For me, the best bits of the DVD were when the band seemed to deviate from the predictable and veer off-script, like when additional member Jason Freese thought that what 'The Static Age' was missing was a wailing saxophone solo over the bridge and final chorus, or when Billie Joe grabbed a ski mask from a guy in the crowd, put it on and kept playing, all without missing a beat.

A bit of flash and unpredictability is something largely missing from both the discs, but overall, none of the criticisms I've made should be enough to put you off buying Awesome As Fuck. I seem to be the only one who gets pissed off by the crowd-hyping shenanigans, and as I've already said, the array of hidden gems across the tracklistings are a nice surprise, and they set the discs apart from most live records by big bands. If you're a new fan who just heard Basket Case on the radio and want a starting point, go find Bullet in a Bible first, but if you're a long-time fan, sticking with them whether you liked the epic turns of the 2000s or not, then Awesome as Fuck is, while not a classic, still a fine addition to the canon, and one I'd recommend.

Label: Reprise Records
Release Date:
22nd March 2011
Standout Tracks:
CD - 'J.A.R', 'Who Wrote Holden Caulifield?', 'Cigarettes and Valentines'. DVD - 'Know Your Enemy', 'Welcome to Paradise', 'Jesus of Surburbia'.

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