10-year-old guitarist shines at Green Day's Outside Lands homecoming in San Francisco
Near the end of Green Day's explosive performance at San Francisco's Outside Lands on Saturday night, front man Billie Joe Armstrong told a story reminding the crowd that one of the top bands in the world had started out in the Bay Area's underground punk scene.
Armstrong recalled a time in 1991 when they played at San Francisco's Dolores Park with a bunch of other punk bands.
"The cops came and shut it down ... They didn't shut this one down," Armstrong shouted.
Bam! The crowd went wild for one last time, and then Armstrong signed off for the night with an emotional "Good Riddance," a contemplative acoustic song that's more mellow than the band's typical hyperactive hits.
It was a striking, sentimental moment that left the sweaty crowd, who had danced their asses off for more than an hour, thinking about how far this hometown band had come. The local punks with a bratty attitude that played at UC Berkeley frat parties and thrashed through countless sets at 924 Gilman have been rock royalty for years, but it felt different seeing them playing in front of a sea of tens of thousands of locals. I've been to Outside Lands many times, and I'd never seen a crowd this big at the main Land's End stage.
Saturday was Green Day's first time ever playing Outside Lands, and the loud, high-energy band was perfectly suited for the festival's massive Polo Field, waking up a crowd that had taken a nap during Mac DeMarco's sweet but sleepy performance earlier in the day.
The show started as Green Day's performances have in recent years — with a drunken white rabbit holding a tallboy and dancing on stage to the Ramone's "Blitzkrieg Bop." And then a pumped-up Armstrong and his two band mates, Tré Cool on drums and Mike Dirnt on bass, fired off crowd-pleasing hit after hit: "American Idiot," "Holiday," "Know Your Enemy."
A cover of Kiss' "Rock and Roll All Nite" was a fun surprise, and Armstrong used the moment to remind the crowd that despite a festival lineup heavy on R&B and pop headliners, rock 'n roll is still alive.
Among the oldest songs they played was "Welcome to Paradise," a mosh pit classic that first appeared on "Kerplunk" in 1991 and then again on "Dookie" in 1994. I heard it live for the first time at the Catalyst in Santa Cruz in 1992.
The boyish Armstrong, who was dressed in all black and wore thick eyeliner, is a showman and a master at engaging the crowd. Between songs he repeatedly shouted out, "Let's go crazy" and "S-A-N F-R-A-N-C-I-S-C-O." There were lots of nods to the East Bay, where Armstrong and Dirnt grew up and met in high school at age 14. Cool hails from Mendocino County.
At one point, Armstrong got the crowd to chant, "Hey ho."
"I want everyone to go crazy all the way to the back," Armstrong hollered.
Bam! The rock star rewarded his audience with massive flames shooting up from the stage.
But while the crowd "went crazy" again and again, it was a 10-year-old boy that led the people in the audience to lose their minds.
"Who knows how to play guitar?" Armstrong called out to the crowd. "It's only three f—king chords."
Armstrong carefully scanned the audience, like a teacher picking a student to come to the front of class, and identified a 10-year-old boy near the front. "You're 10 years old and you know how to play guitar?" Armstrong said. "Can anyone vouch for him that he can really play guitar?"
Someone must have vouched for him because soon the doe-eyed boy sporting a 49ers hat was on stage, giving the punk rock god a big hug. A collective "aww" reverberated from the crowd.
Armstrong threw a guitar around him, and the boy killed it. Without any hesitation, he played the chords for the song "Knowledge," a cover from Operation Ivy, a Berkeley band that used to perform at the city's punk rock club 924 Gilman, where Green Day also got its start. Green Day often plays this song at shows and calls up an audience member. I saw him do it at a show at Oracle Park less than a year ago, but I can't even recall who made it to the stage. This boy I will never forget.
The boy kept going — and the crowd roared far louder than any other moment in the show. One woman standing behind me was sobbing and screaming at the same time.
When Armstrong asked the boy his name, he replied it was Montgomery. Armstrong told the boy he'd call him Monty — and the crowd started chanting his new rock star name.
"Oh, and you can keep the guitar," Armstrong said.
It was as if Armstrong was telling the boy, "I did it. You can do it, too."
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