In 2002, Green Day attended their first Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction festivities as musical fill-ins for the Ramones, performing three of their songs in honor of the seminal New York punk band’s induction. On Saturday night, the multi-platinum East Bay pop-punks played three songs from their own catalog, celebrating their ascension into the pantheon of the greats with a blistering set that featured “American Idiot,” “When I Come Around” and “Basket Case.” Showcasing their history, vintage photos and ads from their early days playing clubs like 924 Gilman Street ran on the screens behind them.
In an interview with Rolling Stone conducted shortly after news of their impending induction broke, frontman Billie Joe Armstrong allowed that picking just three songs to encapsulate and celebrate a quarter-century of recording would be no easy feat. “It’s hard because there’s the Lookout! years that are important to us,” he said at the time, referring to the band’s early punk label. “It would be nice to play something from those years that’s meaningful.”
Even so, Armstrong said, he relished the opportunity to perform the songs, as well as to revisit a long and eventful journey that began when he and bassist Mike Dirnt formed their first band, Sweet Children, as MTV-addicted middle schoolers. “We can look back with gratitude and reflect with gratitude without feeling like it’s some nostalgic trip.”
Green Day’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame actually offered the band a brief respite from a period of difficulty and uncertainty; off the road since March 2014, the band members have understandably been more concerned with Dirnt’s wife’s recovery from breast cancer and touring guitarist Jason White’s battle with tonsil cancer than with recording or touring. They warmed up for their big moment at the Rock Hall with a show at Cleveland’s House of Blues Thursday night, which broke a two-year live hiatus and celebrated their early years (the band’s first drummer, John Kiffmeyer, joined for a flash back to their Nineties days).
“We’re family,” Armstong explained to Rolling Stone. “I’ve always wanted to have that atmosphere where we run things because of the way we learned to do things through the punk years. It’s always been run in a collective way where we’re able to say the things we need to say, but also be able to listen to each other. It’s not perfect. Nothing is perfect. We have this bond and it’s about the music. We’re a gang and we’ve always been that way. . .We need to be there for each other in a different way rather than standing next to each other and playing really loud.”
Not that there’s anything wrong with playing really loud, of course — and for their three songs on Saturday night, Green Day did just that. “For me, rock & roll is not an outdated term,” Armstrong told Rolling Stone. “To me, it means freedom. It was a way for me to express myself and I’m eternally grateful for the fact that I’ve been able to do that pretty much my whole life. It’s never lost that meaning for me, whether I’m a fan myself or for Green Day fans. It’s just the most liberating thing in the world. The fact that we’re getting recognized for it in the company we have, it’s just an incredible feeling.”
Additional reporting by Dan Epstein, Andy Greene and Alison Weinflash