I spent much of June and July in the mountains somewhere between Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, and 1982. The details of the sabbatical–who/what/where/when/why were you in the mountains for two months, Chris?–are tangential to my purposes here. Suffice it to say it was a great two months and all part of the master plan. Yes, I’ve got one. And yes, if you’re picturing me twirling a mustache, you’re right.
Not surprisingly, the pro’s of mountain life are also the con’s of mountain life. For example:
Fact: There aren’t many people around.
Pro: There aren’t many bad people around.
Con: There aren’t many good people around.
Fact: Technology, and techno-communication, is limited.
Pro: Fewer distractions.
Con: Less ways to get help in case of bear attack.
Fact: It’s cooler on a mountain.
Pro: It’s not three-thousand degrees every day.
Con: It’s still too cold for this debutante.
The list goes on. Mountain life is at first a welcome if jarring shift from the Nashville norm. Your pace slows, your mind relaxes, you start to stop. You kick your feet up, whittle some Civil War figurines, join a jug band, and take a deep breath.
Two months later, you’ve fully adjusted. You have a beard. You distrust the government. You save your money in coffee cans. Anything over 30mph in a car feels like lunacy. Your name is Chris but you go by “Shep.” You don’t know when, or how, it happened, but you flipped.
So when my sabbatical ended last week, I drove back to Nashville with the shell-shocked, wide-eyed wonder of a man behind his times. I was exhausted, confused, paranoid, underfed and overwrought. I was out of energy, ideas, and coffee. I came down that mountain suspended between two times and two places, running on fumes, and did what anyone in that position would do:
I went to a Green Day concert.
Now, I’ll start by saying this wasn’t any Green Day concert. This was:
1) The Nashville concert for their 21st Century Breakdown tour.
2) A concert to promote 21st Century Breakdown. I’ll fully review this record soon, but for now I’ll say it’s somewhere between “outstanding” and “making me question Milam’s March Madness results.”
3) My first Green Day concert despite years of excessive fanship.
4) My reintroduction to modern life.
I literally drove straight into Nashville, showered, ate with my brother, then drove with him to the Center Formerly Known As Gaylord for the concert. This is me, upon arrival:
Do I look like I know what’s going on here? The fact that I’m even using a phone is a testament to the powers of long-term memory. Thirty minutes later, surrounded by the tickets and passes and supersonic noises and the groping masses of humanity, this is what I looked like:
There’s your before and after. Remarkable. I was in no way prepared for modernity, public spaces, or social interaction of any kind. Yet, there I was, thrust backstage before one of the biggest rock bands in the world played one of the biggest rock shows in the world, all fireballs and punkrock brimstone.
Before the show, I watched in amazement as individual text messages appeared on the JumboTron, courtesy of some symbiotic relationship with Verizon. “Cheer if u luv Green Day!” And they did. I spun around expecting a bomb to go off. “Cheer if u luv Obama.” Boos abound! What was that noise? Is this a riot? And what are these booers booing? And what are they listening to? And what did they like about American Idiot? Whoamiwhatamidoinghere???
If you told me I was bleeding from my ears, I would’ve believed you.
And just when I was about to black out and leave in the rickshaw I rode in on, lights out, music on. I remembered: music. Green Day. Oh yeah! I’m Chris Milam, and I used to live on earth, and I love music. And the band played on…
They opened with “21st Century Breakdown,” the title track off the record. They demanded the audience cheer, during songs with infectious energy, and between songs, with rockstar authority. They blazed through the new standouts with the zeal of a band reborn (again), like a poker player smiling at his winning hand.
Green Day’s live show is the best of all worlds: the forethought, tightness, and grandeur of a rehearsed “big rock show”; the fierce, constant, and driven energy of a “band that has something to prove”; the spontaneous party atmosphere of a band that, above all, wants everyone to have fun.
Green Day doesn’t want to give you what you paid to see. They want to give you that, plus everything you didn’t expect. They’ll give you every old hit (Dookie a-plenty). They’ll read your mind and include your single biggest sleeper favorite (“She”). They’ll put “Minority” next to a “Shout” cover, ask a seventeen year-old to play all seven minutes of “Jesus of Suburbia,” don absurd hats and close on a somber note, literally ask the audience to sing but silently demand the audience get up, stand up, cheer, chant, raise their fist, raise their glass. Everyone did, because it was impossible not to.
I’ve been to many concerts. I’ve been lucky enough to see some great ones. While it’s very hard to compare a Pearl Jam show (with its wild reverence and emotional tidal waves) to a Counting Crows show (when they were a band) to a Dylan/Lucero/Anyone Else show, I can say this:
I don’t know that I’ve seen a better concert than Green Day.
After the show, we followed the yellow-linoleum road underground, backstage, through a tunnel, to some curtain-lined room, where we were lucky enough to be accompanied by Jason White‘s family.
And, sure, I got to fangush and drool and note the exclusively Irish taste of the beer selection (Harp and Guinness only) and stop short of telling Mike Dirnt that “Longview” was the third song I learned on bass and and generally smile so much my face got sore. And that’s all wonderful and cool.
But standing in that seat after two months removed, after two months without music, without its memories, without a visceral connection to it…standing in that seat to hear the first single off the first album I ever bought, singing with the songs that are just as alive today as they were then, played by the band that matters even more now than they did then, a band proving with every release and every concert that rock isn’t dead, and pop isn’t dead, and there’s plenty of room for New and Great in the Age of Old or Good…just standing in that seat and feeling connected to music again was the greatest gift.
Thank you, Green Day. Your lazerlight supersonic seizure brought me back to life.