Green Day American Idiot – American punk-lite at its best. (Theatre Review)

Green Day’s American Idiot

Sydney Opera House – Concert Hall

January 11 – 14. You can grab your tickets here.

Being a fan of hard core punk, I never liked Green Day. Americanized watered down punk-lite, they were a mish mash of decent riffs tied together with THAT song ensuring no one could have the time of their life. The Green Day brand of punk has always been the non-conformists uniform, so I was open to the idea of them transforming into rock musical territory. I could see the brand easily franchising into yet another money-making exercise for Billie Joe Armstrong. I am by far in the minority in my refusal of Green Day’s authenticity and there is no doubt that those songs are damn catchy, so for “those who can live with McDonalds n’ such” this rock opera cum punk musical about the disappeared Whatsername will come as a thrill ride into a nostalgic blend of live, perfectly orchestrated, materialistic ode to punk aesthetics.

Punk is inherently existential. It is nihilistic, severe, desirous, disembarrassing, broad, abecedarian, and violent. It’s categorized by the Sex Pistols, and spawned out of a hatred for tame acts like Billy Joel and Simone and Garfunkel labeled as ‘rock’ in the early 1970’s. It was a subculture that scornfully rejected the political idealism and Californian flower-power silliness of hippie mythology.  Punk was a wake-up snarl to an atrophied establishment – a “loud raucous ‘No!’” (Garry Mulholland, Fear of Music, 2006). In place of refinement and privilege it allowed for vitality, activity and inclusivity. It allowed for a traversing of literal space between band and audience, and in the case of the Sex Pistols, an eventual blurring of the two. As a counter to chardonnay sipping, bottled water and cocaine it engaged with spit, sweat and blood. Punk is ferociously anti-capitalist. Instead of giving us organisation, plans, schedules and routine, it grinded into an unshakeable present that favoured immediacy over all else. Part of the aesthetic included an inability to be stage managed. Punk live is not a performance, but an event. Punk is music that is anti-music.

So how do you avoid the contradiction of punk as anti-music? You walk the tightrope and you stay there. You keep being true to the original point. Its difficult because punk is outsider aesthetic, but it is still an aesthetic. By its very nature, Punk attracts attempt to water it down, like the fashionably current arguments about its origins. Punks task is to identify the limits of our musical discourse. Punk, like its message, was intense and to the point. Human existence is vividly exposed by exploring its boundaries and extreme situations present the punk musician with a perfect narrative method. Punk operated with disgust manifest as anger and cynicism towards a complacent bourgeoisie insensitive to possibility and the fragility of their forms of life. In the grotesque or immoral lies a strange beauty that punk embraces, but it must be anti-power and therefore anti money. Consistent with this is Joe Corre’s burning of Sex Pistols memorabilia in 2016 as a protest that Punk was dead. His comment to the press:  “Stop conning a younger generation that it (Punk) somehow has any currency to deal with the issues that they face. It is not. It’s dead and it’s time to think about something else.”

So what is there to make of a bunch of Green Day fans sitting in the comfortable, expensive seats in the air conditioned great hall of the Opera House sucking down their Peroni or Apple Thief Cider after dinner on Sydney Harbour? Not only this picture, but to know the set up is at the hand of Billie Joe Armstrong himself? So much for conning a younger generation into imagining Punk can speak for them. This kind of theatre is joyfully and inherently right wing, gleefully appropriating one of the strongest symbols of anti-capitalism to sell its cheesy wares. Green Day’s American Idiot is the precise opposite of Punk aesthetic – unless you imagine it to be just another tired ideology. It’s ramshackle graffiti is precise and beautifully choreographed and its spray painted dirt is carefully arranged. This, surely is the height of cynicism, that a Green Day fan can be lured to the Opera House to pretend to be punk, while being fed a story about a disaffected youth turning to music for solace in a world where commodity and to be commodified is everything – orchestrated by the band themselves?

Still, for those of you who see “true fan” manifest in the purchasing of goods, this rock musical will not let you down. The music is great, and it is a wonderful celebration of the orchestrations of a great album, if you aren’t too tied to meaning. The three young friends struggling with how to be authentic or even ‘be’ in some sense in a world that doesn’t understand them (all male) are Johnny (Linden Furnell), Tunny (Connor Crawford) and Will (Alex Jeans). Other stand outs are Phil Jamieson (from Grinspoon) as St Jimmy and Phoebe Panaretos as Whatsername.

If you love Green Day, and don’t care about any of the carry on I’ve stated above, then this is a wonderful night out that will particularly appeal to the younger generation keen to get closer to the Green Day brand.