SXSW, Friday, March 15: Green Day, Diamond Rings, Cold War Kids
Green Day (East Bay, CA), 8 p.m. at the Moody Theater
I found myself on the outskirts of a mosh pit Saturday at Green Day’s SXSW concert. Soon I was in the middle of it, jumping and yelling with a handful of the band’s dedicated fans at one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen.
Lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong came to play.
In their usual fan-first mindset, Green Day offered its fan club first crack at 500 priority tickets, so the floor was packed with die-hard Green Day fans ready to bring the house down for even a mediocre performance. But what they — and I — got was an incredible mix up of urgency and levity.
I knew the crowd would be great before the show started. I hit it off with two kids, who were about the age I was when I first heard Green Day, when we all sang along to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” and the Ramone’s “Blitzkrieg Bop,” which were playing over the speakers before the show.
As the band took the stage in the dark, a western movie theme song playing, the crowd was already at excitement level-nine.
The first song, “99 revolutions,” hinted at what was to be the tone of the night, as Billie said, “This isn’t a café…it’s a celebration.”
I had never been to a Green Day show before — the radio in my ’94 Chevy truck played their songs when I drove to high school and their first albums were some of my first albums, too — so I had no idea what to expect. But after I sang along to a few old favorites with the 1,000 fans around me on the floor, I felt right at home. We were all there for one reason: to have fun.
Hard driving tunes like “Burnout” and “Holiday” were interspersed with the somber “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” and the sweet “Christie Road.” During the performance of “Longview," Billie brought a teenage fan on stage to sing with him. The fan didn’t just sing a few lines; the lucky guy jumped around and worked the crowd like a pro, and we all fed off his happiness. This was one of the most memorable parts of the show, and Billie wasn’t even the one singing.
As the show waged on, costumes, toilet paper guns and water canons rained down on the crowd. In the middle of the set, “Disappearing Boy” morphed into a string of short covers including Ozzy Osbourne's "I Don't Know," Guns N' Roses' "Sweet Child O' Mine" and AC/DC's "Highway to Hell." Later, Green Day covered short pieces, including The Isley Brothers' "Shout," Ben King's "Stand By Me" and the Beatles' "Hey Jude," while Billie writhed on the ground and urged the crowd to sing the “na na na nas.”
The show closed with three encore songs including “American Idiot.”
As it became clear the show was winding down and would not last all night, as Billie had hinted that it would, the people around me got more intense in their effort to enjoy the show. The green-haired, lanky punk kid next to me flailed and waved, the shorthaired girl in the middle of the pit began instigating the boys to mosh and fight harder, and everyone hung on every note. I began to feel increasingly vibrant, turning around and singing along as though my first show might be my last. Why go to a show and sit on the sidelines? Get in it.
As the crowd pushed closer to the stage, compressing against the front, leaning into or away from the people around them, the space around me created by the head banging and shoving of the crazy punks was welcome breathing room, a sanctuary in the midst of madness. As the show came to a close I realized how sweaty I was, some of it mine, some of it borrowed from those around me.
When I left the show, I knew I might never see Green Day again, and certainly not in a venue like the Moody Theater at SXSW. I was glad I waited in line for two hours before the show, and I was glad I made the drive. For the first time since we arrived at SXSW, I knew the trip was worth it.
Diamond Rings (Toronto, ON), 8 p.m. at VEVO TV Control Room
Traditionally adorned in '80s-style glam rock makeup and bedazzled shoulder pads, Diamond Rings (a.k.a. John O’Regan), arrived at the venue wearing simple black clothing with his signature blonde coif. The simplistic style was indicative of the type of set the Toronto native would be playing. Instead of the electronic-type music he records on his albums, Diamond Rings sat alone on stage and played an acoustic set of his songs that left us mesmerized.
Diamond Rings played all of his classics and a few hits from his new album “Free Dimensional,” but without all of the usual instrumentation. His voice was definitely the emphasis as he crooned skillfully with only the sound of his acoustic guitar in the background.
The intimate setting of the venue let the 30 or so guests interact with the artist in a way that was unexpected and refreshing considering his usual showmanship. Between songs, O’Regan stopped to make jokes and tell stories, at one point even asking the crowd where everyone was from.
We left the concert feeling like we gained a unique, close look into the mind of Diamond Rings that few people would ever get to experience.
Cold War Kids (Los Angeles, CA), 11 p.m. at Stubb's
A sizeable crowd gathered for the Cold War Kids performance in the open, outdoor venue behind Stubb's, a barbeque restaurant located at 8th Street and Red River Street. By this point in the evening, the intoxicated concertgoers were showing up in full force, making it somewhat difficult to avoid sloshing drinks and wildly dancing people in the crowd. These things didn’t matter, though, when Cold War Kids took the stage. The alternative rock band got a huge welcome from the audience and began rocking out in their typical, all-or-nothing style.
The band played songs from their newest album, “Mine Is Yours,” older crowd-favorite classics like “Audience,” and even some new songs that hint at a new album release in the future. Of course, the audience truly got involved when the band played their No. 1 hit “Hang Me Up to Dry.” We found that song was definitely the highlight of the performance. To close the show, Cold War Kids played a cover that seemed to put most of the crowd to sleep, leaving us wondering if maybe the band has lost its charm.
It was by no means painful, but it wasn't life-changing either. We went in to the show as casual fans, and we left unchanged. And it seemed significant, especially in retrospect, that the only song that really seemed to affect everyone in the crowd was from an album that's over six years old. As much as we love "Hang Me Up To Dry," we think it's time for the California band to rise to the occasion and produce a new hit that will meet Cold War Kids' own standards.