The confetti rained down on a rapt audience that had spent the last four hours fist-pumping, pogoing and wailing on air guitars. Two years after it was first announced, the Green Day-led Hella Mega tour — a demonstration of rock’s selling power — came to a fiery end Monday night in Seattle.
The intergenerational crowd of mothers and daughters, boyfriends and girlfriends, dads and … other dads, who packed T-Mobile Park, hung on every word during Green Day’s sentimental send-off of “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life),” a remarkably enduring ballad that soundtracked every Y2K high school graduation.
Apparently loud enough to hear from West Seattle, the amp-cranking blowout — for which Green Day was joined by fellow mainstreamed pop-punks Fall Out Boy and alt-rock hitmakers Weezer — closed Seattle’s biggest concert weekend in two years with a bang. The tour’s pandemic delays only fueled anticipation among eager rock fans, who stood to shout along when Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” came booming through the speakers before Green Day even took the stage. (Ever see an entire baseball stadium reenact that scene from “Wayne’s World”?)
“Goddamn, it took a long time to get here,” frontman Billie Joe Armstrong remarked, midway through their set, as Mike Dirnt’s bouncy bass line started a revved-up “Longview.”
Live music doesn’t always go according to script, evident in Hella Mega’s hella delays, and throughout a stacked weekend of COVID-altered concerts. But that unpredictability is part of the magic and sometimes even the most adverse circumstances can make for the most memorable nights.
After a sprightly crunching “Minority,” Armstrong pulled a 15-year-old fan on stage to join them on guitar for a cover of “Knowledge” by revered ska-punks Operation Ivy, Green Day’s old label mates from their pre-fame days. It’s a move the band’s pulled for at least 20 years, back when they were on heyday Warped Tours with other pop-punk hooligans. After trying to teach her a few chords under the Jumbotron’s microscope (no pressure, kid) it just wasn’t clicking, and Armstrong turned instead to a less-rootable grown-up to take her place.
The crowd-work misfire became a heartwarming moment when Armstrong tracked the girl down afterward to give her the guitar, possibly the coolest souvenir of summer’s biggest rock tour.
I’ve been seeing live music, in one form or another, at least semi-regularly since restrictions eased this spring. But when pandemic shutdowns forced the industry into a painful hibernation, I often thought about some of my fondest concert experiences. Rarely were they the times when everything went smoothly.
Labor Day weekend started out with a near disaster when, right before showtime, Dave Matthews Band vaguely announced they would play their Gorge Amphitheatre shows in an “alternate format” after COVID-19 sidelined its backbone rhythm section. It could have been an expensive bummer for roughly 25,000 fans, including the legion of die-hards who travel from around the country for the annual “Labor Dave weekend.”
Instead, they saw Matthews and a rejiggered lineup rise to the challenge, for three nights, and left with an “I was there when” story that will forever be part of DMB lore.
However you slice it, the startup Day In Day Out festival, which brought welcomed laid-back vibes to Seattle Center this weekend, lost some bang-for-the-buck when two of its top four acts, Aminé and Big Wild, canceled due to positive coronavirus tests. Aminé was probably the artist I was personally most excited to see. Though had he played, years from now I’m less likely to remember the finer details of Aminé’s set than I am seeing his replacement — hometown favorite Sol — deliver his impromptu first show since the lockdown, closing an uplifting set with a touching tribute to a friend lost to COVID-19.
Similarly, I remember 2018’s Capitol Hill Block Party as the year sleep-deprived Seattle rapper Sam Lachow, who admitted staying up until sunrise (or damn near), high-kicked his way through a fill-in main stage set with only a few hours notice, and possibly even less sleep. (I had to be reminded this weekend it was GoldLink he substituted for.)
At the end of the day, live music, for me, is less about flawless execution than it is making memories.
When I shared my review of DMB’s unforgettable Sunday set on social media, a dear friend and old show-hopping accomplice left a comment. It reminded me again of a memory I turned to throughout the pandemic when I found myself missing live music.
During a brutal 2012 heat wave, defunct Washington thrashers Black Breath played an industrial space-turned-punk house that acted like an oven in the summer and an ice box in the winter. Clutching cheap beers that were hot as soup by the third sip, we crammed shoulder to shoulder with a hundred other sweat-drenched punks in a scene that would have given the fire marshal a panic attack. It must have been a million degrees under late bassist Elijah Nelson’s thick red mane (may he rest in peace) as the band blazed through a set that was even heavier than the air in the room.
It was the second most physically uncomfortable show I’ve ever been to (I’m still too traumatized to talk about the first). It could have been a miserable disaster.
But it was one of the best nights of my life.