By the time the Foxboro Hot Tubs reached the beer-soaked, shambling conclusion of their chaotic two-plus-hour set in the basement of New York’s Bowery Electric last night at nearly 3 a.m., roughly 950 cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon had been consumed and nearly twice that amount had been poured out over bandmembers’ heads or sprayed into the audience. Two Who songs had been covered, one plastic alligator head had been angrily brandished, a number called “It’s Fuck Time” was played eight times, three women had been kissed and one attempt to repair a marriage by telephone had gone completely awry.
Such is the particular brand of anarchy practiced by the Foxboro Hut Tubs — or, as they are more commonly known, Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt and Tré Cool (along with guitarist Kevin Preston and touring musicians Jason Freese and Jason White). If Green Day’s main concern is a spit-shined and muscular arena punk outfit, the Foxboro Hot Tubs are the exact opposite. The show was a dervish from the first note, bodies colliding and songs arriving in white hot flashes. Armstrong spent more time in the crowd than onstage, repeatedly hurling his body into the audience and allowing himself to be passed overhead from one end of the room to the other. It was a rare and occasionally startling sight: a bona fide rock star coming within literal touching — and often, groping — distance of his fans.
The very nature of the show seemed fantastically quixotic. There are no clear fiscal rewards for the band — the venue officially holds only 108 people, though it was jammed with a few more — and they played just one song, “St. Jimmy,” from the Green Day catalog. What the show did provide was an opportunity for the group to spit at the rules of professional rock & roll. More than anything, they came off as old friends who had known each other for ages, had far too much to drink, and were just going to keep bashing out bleary-eyed garage songs until somebody pulled the plug.
The music is perfectly suited to this kind of giddy haphazardness: the Hot Tubs hang out at the intersection where garage started giving way to punk, and their hot-rodding Kinks-meet-Stooges rave-ups sound best loud, and when most of the band is intoxicated. Sunday’s set list was cobbled together from audience suggestions and the impulses of the band members, which meant that there was plenty of time for Armstrong to dally in perplexing non sequiturs (“I don’t like to Swedish kiss, I like to French kiss”) and several songs got multiple plays. In fact, their latest, “It’s Fuck Time,” gradually evolved into something of a running joke, the kind that’s funny the first time you hear it, hilarious the fourth and excruciating the eighth.
Sunday’s show, as well as a Friday show at Don Hill’s, came at a time when Green Day are at their most professional, earning accolades from unexpected quarters for the Broadway version of American Idiot . In case anyone in the audience had forgotten the musical existed, a few of the show’s cast members took repeated opportunities to remind them, mugging for the audience and showily hamming it up with the band until, a little after 2 a.m., a very weary, very drunk Armstrong playfully chided them by saying, “I love you guys, but you have to get the fuck off the stage.”
There were times the same could be said to the Hot Tubs themselves. As the night went on and the participants became — both internally and externally — alcohol soaked, the show ambled off in odd directions, including not one but two meandering noise jams, one of which even featured darting jazz flute. But the reason the show worked was that the wall between performer and audience was obliterated: Armstrong repeatedly invited people onstage and many obliged, one of whom Armstrong treated to a sustained, open-mouth kiss. He emptied entire cans of beer over his head, then sprayed them out into the crowd. It felt natural and unforced, music being made for the sheer enjoyment of making it, and for the frenzy it instills in those who hear it.
Occasionally, the tight bond between performer and spectator turned out some strange results. Near the end of the show, an audience member stumbled onstage and implored Armstrong to call his wife, who had just left him. “Did you cheat on her?” Armstrong drunkenly deadpanned. The two then clumsily called the woman in question who, unsurprisingly, did not answer. Armstrong, soaked to the skin with beer and steadily moving past coherent ordered the band into another number and the man, crestfallen, did the only thing he could do: looked out into the audience, shrugged, and launched himself over top of it.