It’s early Sunday afternoon and Green Day is sending thousands of Lollapalooza ’94 fans into the usual swirling, euphoric frenzy. The retro-punk of the trio’s “Welcome to Paradise” is greeted with a torrent of flying shoes and water bottles.
At least there is no mud.
“Look at this,” bassist Mike Dirnt, 22, tells the crowd gathered at Cal State Dominguez Hills for the next-to-the-last show on this year’s Lollapalooza tour. “It’s the poor man’s Woodstock. I don’t see as many hippies.”
Three weekends ago, Dirnt and the rest of Green Day were across the country at Woodstock ’94 . . . facing thousands of other fans in the muddy fields of Saugerties, N.Y.
This Berkeley rock band--whose new “Dookie” album has rocketed into the national Top 10--was the only Lollapalooza act to play at both festivals.
Minutes after the band’s performance Sunday, lead singer-guitarist Billie Joe (who doesn’t use his last name of Armstrong) sits in a backstage trailer talking about the differences between the two memorable days of rock ‘n’ roll.
“It was a natural disaster because there were people that died,” Billie Joe, also 22, says, referring to the three-day Woodstock ’94, where two people in the crowd of about 300,000 died--both, in part, because of pre-existing medical conditions.
“By the time we got on stage there, it was something like 750 broken ankles. There were like 100 people per hour going into the medical tent, supposedly for anxiety attacks. It was insane. You had no room to go anywhere, nothing but mud.”
The band members--including drummer Tre Cool--were soon so covered with mud themselves that they couldn’t play their instruments, and they ended up throwing mud back at the crowd, some members of which climbed on stage.
There were so many fans on stage by the time Green Day’s set was over that Dirnt was mistaken as one of the stage divers and tackled by a security guard. Their appearance scheduled for the next day at the Lollapalooza ’94 gig in Miami had to be canceled because Dirnt’s front teeth were broken in the melee.
But Dirnt is far from bitter.
“Who gives a (expletive) about that?” he says, sitting with Billie Joe. “The fact of the matter is that it was a great show. That was an unfortunate incident.”
Green Day’s memories of Woodstock ’94 are ironic because the band had wondered about doing the show at all--making fun of the hippie culture it represented. Besides, how would they fit into a show that included the “classic rock” sounds of Joe Cocker, Traffic and Crosby, Stills and Nash?
“I went in there with really low expectations and came out overwhelmed,” says Billie Joe. “It was the closest thing to chaos, and complete anarchy, that I have ever seen in my whole life.”
Adds Dirnt: “It took me a few days to stop thinking about it.”
If their memories of Lollapalooza ’94 aren’t as dramatic, they are still positive. After all, this was the festival they had been looking forward to playing this summer. The band joined the Lollapalooza festival Aug. 5, replacing the Boredoms in the opening slot.
Billie Joe and Dirnt are more comfortable with the alternative rock emphasis of Lollapalooza ’94, where the bill also included such acts as Smashing Pumpkins, the Breeders and Nick Cave.
When Lollapalooza ’94 was booked last spring, Green Day was still relatively unknown on the national scene--which is why it was put in the opening spot on the show, rather than a more prominent position late in the day.
But the group’s sound--which is modeled after the late-'70s punk of the Clash and the Buzzcocks, down to the occasional British accent in the vocals--has made Green Day one of the crowd favorites on the tour.
Billie Joe tries to be philosophical about the rapid rise of a band, which a year ago was a support band in clubs.
“It’s here today, gone later today,” the friendly, outgoing singer shrugs about Green Day’s popularity. “You never know what’s going to happen. I think that 15 minutes (of fame) is getting shorter and shorter.”
Friends since age 10, both Dirnt (whose real last name is Pritchard) and Billie Joe grew up in Rodeo, a small, working-class town in Northern California where they began playing music as teen-agers. Both were 17 when Green Day recorded “1,000 Hours,” its first EP for Lookout, which was a tiny Berkeley-based label.
The band gravitated toward the often upbeat style of early punk rather than the grim hard-core vein of punk that began dominating the scene in the ‘80s. “It got violent, and it got macho, too,” said Billie Joe, of the hard-core approach.
The singer, who is married and expecting his first child soon, prefers to slash at his guitar to less stark and nihilistic aspects of teen-age Angst . “Some people call it demented, because we sing sad songs in such a happy way.”
He smiles and adds in a disarming, sing-song fashion: “I love being miserable.”
* HITTING THE HEIGHTS
Lollapalooza seems to have finally hit a pinnacle. F8