Gig review: GREEN DAY – British Summer Time, Hyde Park, London, 1 July 2017

Green Day’s headlining slot on the first Saturday of the first British Summer Time bonanza was sandwiched between Phil Collins the previous evening and Justin Bieber the night after. Interesting schedule. A rose between two thorns? A fart between two cheeks? Hard to say really.

It was clear enough, scanning the line-up, that this gig was metaphorically, if not physically, in a different ball park to the other two. Emphasising the point, Stiff Little Fingers ambled onto the main stage at precisely 1.30pm and smashed out a criminally short half-hour set full of 40 year-old angst and bile.

There were plenty of hard core fans down the front to lap up classics like ‘Suspect Device’ and ‘Nobody’s Hero’. Encouragingly there were also plenty of youngsters getting stuck in to the chorus on ‘Barb Wire Love’, complete with doo-wop backing vocals from bassist Ali McCordle. ‘Tin Soldiers’ was excellent, powered along on a riveting bassline.

There was no time for any politicised banter from frontman Jake Burns in such a short set. His most controversial statement was the dodgy polka-dot shirt on his back. A supercharged blast of ‘Alternative Ulster’ had everyone bouncing. And then they were gone.

Next of the punk originals up on the Great Oak Stage were The Damned. Was this too early in the day to say the gig had peaked? Probably. Nevertheless, The Damned set the bar pretty high for those that followed. Not just the music, either. They looked just great. Dave Vanian commanded the stage, sporting his time-honoured jet black/ghostly white goth styling, and delivered his dramatic baritone into a vintage chrome mic held in gloved hands. Captain Sensible dressed in trademark red beret, John Lennon sunglasses and a stripy shirt took care of all the between-song raps.

The set was electric, dynamic and crowd-pleasing. ‘Love Story’, ‘Neat, Neat, Neat,’ and ‘Nasty’ came and went in a hail of lyrical salvoes and scything guitar. ‘Nasty’ was particularly sharp and hard. The rest of the set was interspersed with their mid ‘80’s hits. ‘Grimly Fiendish’ benefited from some well placed brass; ‘Eloise’ was a joyous sing-a-long moment; and ‘Alone Again Or’, the Love cover from ‘Anything’, seemed to strike exactly the right uplifting note for this warm summer afternoon. ‘Smash It Up’ rounded things out beautifully. Always leave ‘em wanting more. Perfect.

British Summer Time has expanded in the last couple of years to include two other stages on the site. In between the main acts, there was time to check out some of the other talent. New York’s Jesse Malin has a diverse cv that includes fronting hardcore bands to collaborations with Ryan Adams and Bruce Springsteen.

His set here was a vibrant and fresh mix of new wave and alt country, with big dollops of brass to break up the sound and keep it interesting. ‘All The Way From Moscow’ had a rocky feel and the set closed out with a cover of The Clash’s ‘Rudie Can’t Fail’.

SWMRS garnered a generous, enthusiastic crowd and their no-nonsense, Ramones-ey punk looked to be going down a storm.

With so many bands and so little time, I abandoned this lot to catch The Hives on the main stage. This proved to be a mistake. The Swedish garage revivalists come with a lofty live reputation and there is no doubting the effort the band put in.

Frontman Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist was all over every track with the chatter. If he wasn’t down and dancing with the crowd at the front, he was orchestrating sing-a-longs. To say he was a real live-wire would be an understatement. But there’s a time and a place. In a small venue, this would be excellent. Here, in the flowing acres of Hyde Park, with a crowd that was not their own, they struggled. Most of the punters felt a little removed from events on the stage. The antics detracted from the music, which became rather disjointed and incidental.

Over at the Barclaycard stage, The Orwells delivered a strange set. There was an infectious energy about this Chicago outfit’s loose punk, grunge, Pixies/Smashing Pumpkins clatter. Opener, ‘Who Needs You’, perhaps their best known track, crackled out of the PA.

The real edge was provided by vocalist Mario Cuomo. His pained nasal squall worked with the deconstructed sound, but surely only hinted at the discomfort in his performance. The involuntary writhing, the climbing of gantries and contortions flat out on his back as he spat out the lyrics went way beyond swagger. The tortured gyrations, the pithy acknowledgement of the crowd and the strained interactions with the rest of the band gave out some disturbing signals.

In the middle of the raggedy, blues influenced ‘Dirty Sheets’ he stopped the band and said, ‘No, no. This is not where we are at right now’ and instead led them into ‘Double Feature’ from last year’s ‘Terrible Human Beings’ platter. Half way through a Crazy Horse-inspired grunge guitar workout from Matt O’Keefe, Cuomo disappeared from the stage completely and left his brother Dominic to finish the song and lead the band offstage. There was a dangerous quality about the band and I rather liked it.

Back on the main stage, the surprise package of the day were undoubtedly Gogol Bordello. This gypsy punk ensemble played the sort of rumbustuous, feel-good music that provoked a 40 minute park-wide dance-a-thon. The band hail from New York, but the heritage is all about traditional Eastern European vibes spiked with dance, dub and rock. There’s a strong Jewish influence to the sound too, and I was half expecting one of the compositions to break down into something from ‘Fiddler On The Roof’ at any moment.

The avalanche of sounds was matched by a colourful stage show that had as much in common with a circus as a gig. Exuberantly attired players flitted around and exchanged places seemingly on a whim. Breathless stuff that had me scurrying for the band’s back catalogue the next day.

The only real glitch in the scheduling was having Rancid on the main stage whilst The Stranglers were confined to the second stage, where there was an inadequate sound for the size of the crowd that pitched up to see them. We picked our way though the hordes,  Moroccan flatbread wrap in one hand, pint of craft beer in the other (how Festivals have changed…), and managed to find a spot close enough to hear Dave Greenfield’s keyboards flesh out ‘(Get A) Grip (On Yourself)’ above JJ Burnell’s excellent, but swamping, bass lines.

This was a low-key set by the band’s own lofty standards and they would really have been better on the big stage instead of Rancid. It would have been nice to see guitarist/vocalist Baz Warne take the gig by the scruff of its neck. Nevertheless, ‘Hanging Around’ certainly hit the spot and both ‘Golden Brown’ and ‘Peaches’ provoked mass chorusing.

The crowd began to disperse back to the main arena for Green Day before The Stranglers had finished the set. One of their finest moments, ‘No More Heroes’ was delivered in an underwhelming atmosphere that had the air of exit music for a film. Desperately disappointing and no real fault of the band.

No such underplay with Green Day. Quite the opposite. Not one, not two, but three intro tracks. One of which, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ was sung with such gusto by the crowd that a video of the rendition shot from behind the band’s empty drum stool went viral on social media.

As the final piece, ‘The Good, The Bad, The Ugly’ died away, Billy Joe Armstrong and the boys jogged onto stage and burst in to a tough sounding ‘Know Your Enemy’. They are born entertainers. Before the track had closed out, a guy from the front was invited up to sing the final verse. He was so excited. He skipped round the stage and gave every band member a hug, even kissing  BJA full on the lips. I’m pretty sure he didn’t get as far as actually singing the song.

The band went about their business with thoroughness and alacrity. The show lasted only a few minutes under three hours and drew on every album in their 30 year career. New material stood up strongly.  ‘Bang Bang’, ‘Revolution Radio’ and ‘Youngblood’ all from last year’s studio album featured in the first half of the set and went down a storm. The anthemic qualities of ‘Revolution Radio’ in particular were very obvious in this arena.

Green Day suited this environment. The fat vocal hooks and accessible buzz saw guitar riffs of their best songs cut through; and Billy Joe Armstrong can work the crowd without getting up their collective nose. Take note, Howlin’ Pelle.

Maybe the highlights came from ‘American Idiot’. Certainly, ‘Holiday’ and ‘Are We the Waiting’ were enthusiastically received. ‘Boulevard of Broken Dreams’ was sung back to the band as if it was ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. And a real standout was the muscular, dark-edged ‘Letterbomb’.

There was more time offered up for crowd interaction. A young woman climbed onto the stage to sing ‘Longview’ and this time the fan moment actually happened. Infact, she owned that stage. Jumping up on the drum riser, strutting around and generally being so at home that I suspected a plant!

Three other tracks from their breakthrough album ‘Dookie’ also featured. ‘Basket Case’ and ‘When I Come Around’ were the best of them.

Billie Joe took things down a notch for a medley section that featured snippets of Lulu’s ‘Shout’, ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’ and ‘Hey Jude’, amongst others. There was much communal singing at this point and with the vocalist laid flat out, some incoherent mutterings about freedom and rock ‘n’ roll saving the world. A rare ramble in an otherwise pretty tight show.

During ‘Knowledge’ a fan was invited up to play the final riff. However, hilariously, she couldn’t actually play guitar and was politely ushered off the stage. Undeterred our hero found another willing volunteer who did a pretty mean job of smashing out the chords. She was introduced to us as Stella and so, chants of ‘Stella’ were ringing round the park as she was told that she could keep the guitar. She departed in a stage dive back into the crowd. A pretty special moment for her.

‘American Idiot’ was saved for the first encore, followed by the excellent ‘Jesus of  Suburbia’ with drummer Tre Cool swapping places with the front man on guitar for a few bars.

Perhaps surprisingly, the final encore consisted of a mini-acoustic set with Billy Joe Armstrong alone under the spotlight.

‘Ordinary World’ was a weak, flaccid choice, first off, but ’21 Guns’ redeemed the situation with an uplifting chorus. Finally, ‘(Good Riddance) Time of Your Life’, the Glen Campbell track that Green Day have made their own, closed out the triumphant show.

This was a great day out. The band picked up a bit of flak a couple of days later for the way that a Glasgow concert was cancelled and staff were left unpaid. All I can say is that at Hyde Park, Green Day were nothing but fully committed, top end, value for money entertainment.

Review by Dave Atkinson

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