While hardly the most important question, it was something many have wondered as more and more tributes shows for the victims of the Ghost Ship fire are announced: What, if anything, will Green Day do?
Lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong addressed the fire at a previously scheduled stop at Live 105’s Not So Silent Night at Oracle Arena last weekend, but it seemed like something more directly tied to Ghost Ship was needed, especially given Green Day’s status as one of the biggest bands to call Oakland home.
The trio of Armstrong, bassist Mike Dirnt, and drummer Tre Cool are also local business owners as well: Armstrong and Dirnt own Oakland Coffee Works, Dirnt co-owns Rudy’s Can’t Fail Café on Telegraph Avenue, and Armstrong co-owns the Oakland guitar shop Broken Guitars with fellow Pinhead Gunpowder member Bill Schneider.
It was fitting then that Green Day – or two-thirds of them anyways (Tre Cool was not in attendance)—chose another small record store to play a short set in honor of the Ghost Ship tragedy. Of course the band wasn’t actually on the bill, but a bit of intuitive tea leaf reading made it fairly easy to see that they might be making an appearance. Organized by SWMRS, an Oakland punk quartet that features Armstrong’s son Joey on drums, the benefit also featured Jakob Danger, Armstrong’s second son, as a supporting act.
When SWMRS tweeted “some very very very special guests” would be playing with them, it seemed more than likely that Green Day would make an appearance.
Before they did, there was hip-hop from opener Ricky Lake and guest Young Ocean, who jumped into the crowd to stoke their energy. Then Jakob Danger came on, decked out in an Oakland Raiders shirt, his deep baritone voice echoing over the fuzz of speedy guitars. While the prospect of seeing Green Day at the 49 person capacity 1-2-3-4 Go! Records venue had many excited, the young crowd ultimately seemed just as excited to see SWMRS take the stage. Fans knew all the words, and delighted in instigating mosh pits in the intimate space, with one attendee going so far as to stage dive.
Four or five songs into SWMRS’ set, they brought out Billie Joe Armstrong and Dirnt. With Joey on drums and the other members of SWMRS assuming the role of a back-up band, the two members of Green Day launched into a mini-set that included “Armitage Shanks,” “Stuck With Me,” “Scattered,” “Waiting,” and “Murder City.”
The two seemed to be in high spirits and were especially excited about the Oakland Raiders, who earlier that afternoon had clinched their first playoff berth in 14 years.
“The last time the Raiders were in the Super Bowl, he was just a baby,” Armstrong said while pointing to his son behind the drums. “Now look at him. He’s a curly-haired fuck.”
The family affair for the Armstrongs was fully complete when Jakob Danger was invited by his dad to return to the stage to play guitar on “Murder City” off 2009’s 21st Century Breakdown.
From the first note of “Armitage Shanks,” the entirety of the small space was one rambunctious mosh pit, with plenty of errant elbows and giddy smiles that harkened back to the days when Green Day thrashed out three-chord anthems at the nearby 924 Gilman.
Following “Murder City,” Armstrong brought out bassist Bill Schneider to run through three songs from Pinhead Gunpowder, the elusive East Bay side project that also features fellow Green Day member Jason White. Again, with SWMRS backing them and Joey on drums, the two played “Losers of the Year,” “Life During Wartime,” and “Anniversary Song.”
To close the evening, the elder Armstrong joined SWMRS for a cover of The Mice’s “Not Proud of the USA.”
While the mood was far more celebratory than somber, there was something about seeing Green Day play at a hole-in-the-wall venue that spoke to the power of Oakland’s music scene. It was a reminder both of what we lost in the Ghost Ship fire, and why it so vitally important that we continue to fight for DIY spaces, so that artists have the chance to live and thrive across the Bay Area.
Slamming shoulders with crust punks below a few barren halogen lights, the sweat from Armstrong’s forehead splashing onto the crowd — it was everything we live for as fans of music and especially the local scene that has sustained and enhanced our communities here for so long.
After a song in which a member of the crowd successfully crowd-surfed across the tiny audience, Armstrong addressed the crowd.
“I know it’s been a tough 2016,” he said, “but 2017 is going to kick its ass.”
In fact, it already seems like Armstrong’s prophecy will come true, as SWMRS just announced via Twitter that they raised over $3000 from the show. Right on!
Thank you to everyone who came out to our benefit last night. It sold out 5 minutes before doors opened and we raised over $3K. Thank you!
— SWMRS (@swmrs) December 19, 2016