Last time Green Day played in the UK, over two years ago, it was to 90000 fans at Wembley Stadium. Tonight, they’re playing to an audience of just 2000 at London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire. When they announced the surprise show, tickets sold out in mere seconds, and dedicated fans have camped outside the venue in excited anticipation for tonight, making sure to secure a spot on the front row.
The night begins somewhat unexpectedly: drummer Tré Cool emerges with an acoustic guitar, claims that Billie Joe has laryngitis and is unable to sing, and proceeds to perform All By Myself from 1994’s Dookie on acoustic guitar, accompanied by Billie on the drums. It’s clear from the off that tonight is going to be no ordinary rock show.
Green Day are perhaps best known for their impressive live performances and enthusiasm for audience participation. Billie Joe Armstrong is a born entertainer, and is always keen to make sure everyone in the audience feels part of the show. There are plenty of his usual call-and-response ‘hey-oh’s throughout the set, as well as the band’s standard act of getting fans up on stage: one lucky audience member is invited up to sing during Know Your Enemy, and another to play the whole of Going to Palasacqua on guitar.
There is a real party atmosphere: Billie Joe jumps and dances around the stage with the energy of a teenager; he laughs and jokes with the crowd, showering them in water from a giant water pistol and then toilet paper from a giant, um, toilet paper gun. During King for a Day/Shout, he plays a duet on the kazoo with saxophonist Jason Freese, who is sporting a sparkly wizard’s hat. In American Idiot, Billie commands the crowd to ‘spread out’, and they obligingly create a huge open space in the middle of the floor, before going wild when the final chorus kicks in.
The two-hour long set includes a range of classics spanning over the band’s whole career: old favourites such as She, Basket Case and Minority are played alongside tracks like St. Jimmy and Letterbomb from 2004’s American Idiot, all of which are met with an enthusiastic response from fans. They also play some brand new material from their upcoming trilogy of albums, including Stop When the Red Lights Flash and Nuclear Family, which all contain irresistibly catchy choruses and upbeat energy typical of Green Day.
After nearly 25 years as a band, Green Day can still put on a live show rivalled by no other. Tonight they have proved that they are capable of not just creating a spectacle at arena shows, but also of putting on a fantastic stripped-down show in an intimate setting.