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Green Day: Punk Rock With A Sense Of Humor

by Carol Cooper

Green Day: Nassau Coliseum, NY

By matching the cheeky insouciance of the early Beatles with the amphetamine hooks of the Ramones in the late '80s, Green Day graduated rock and roll high school built for maximum velocity.

By undercutting the nasty edge of punk nihilism with a fairly broad and accessible sense of humor, Green Day has achieved a mainstream appeal the envy of most of its peers and many of its role models.

The trio stayed independent with Berkeley, Calif.-based Lookout! Records long enough to establish two albums' worth of street credibility while a still-teenaged Billy Joe, Green Day's front man, penned sardonic odes to adolescent sexuality and began cribbing from The Catcher in the Rye. Now 23, with a child of his own, Billy Joe has leaped to major-label success in what seems an almost embarrassingly lucky turn of events -- but the irony is far from lost on the band. Instead, it becomes the ideological core of yet another album.

Headlining Sunday night at Nassau Coliseum in support of its fourth record, Insomniac, Green Day more than justified the millions of records sold upon its leap to Warner Bros. and MTV celebrity with 1994's Dookie. Backing Billy Joe's manic screech, Mike Dirnt mugged behind his bass like an electrocuted Rockette, and drummer Tre Cool churned out thunderous tom-tom rolls and kick patterns miked higher than anything else in the mix.

Rocketing between old material and new, the band thrashed through subversive rants such as "Brat," "Welcome to Paradise" and "Geek Stink Breath" before segueing into a version of "Longview," to which the audience sang along with every word.

This rapport is why Green Day makes music in the first place, and fortunately for its corporate sponsors, it intends to keep giving fans what it knows they want. The creative growth on Insomniac is both subtle and shrewd. Themes of alienation, boredom and creeping mental decay remain a key feature of most songs, but now take into account the changing fortunes of a band that can no longer count poverty or obscurity among the many evils, real or perceived, that afflict it.

"Walking Contradiction" both accuses and exonerates the band of hypocrisy, "86" viciously lampoons the whole notion of nostalgia, and yet "Brain Stew" becomes the kind of juicy prog-rock anthem even the "moms and dads" that Green Dayskewers can relate to.

Having straddled the four-chord line between power-pop and punk, now Green Day pushes the limits of glib categorization even further by slipping rockabilly and heavy-metal licks in between its jittery rave-ups. Is Green Day growing up? It sounds that way from here.

Published in: Newsday, 1995