Before the stadiums around the globe, a sweatbox on the Sunset Strip.
That was the idea at work Tuesday night when Green Day, Fall Out Boy and Weezer crammed into the tiny Whisky a Go Go for a surprise concert meant to herald the massive tour the three alt-rock bands had announced earlier in the day.
Called the Hella Mega Tour, the road show will visit open-air ball parks in the United States and Europe next summer, including stops in each act’s hometown: Dodger Stadium for Weezer, Chicago’s Wrigley Field for Fall Out Boy and San Francisco’s close-enough Oracle Park for Green Day, whose early single “Welcome to Paradise” happily described the “cracked streets and the broken homes” of its scrappy East Bay stamping grounds.
With a capacity of around 500, the Whisky — packed tight Tuesday with fans who’d lined up to pay $25 for tickets (and, of course, with plenty of music-biz insiders) — offered a warm reminder of the old days, as Pete Wentz of Fall Out Boy observed during his set.
“People ask what it was like” when the band started out, he said. “Basically this, with less suits buying expensive drinks.”
Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong was equally moved by the air of intimacy. “Get drunk, get sweaty, have sex,” he urged the crowd after blazing through his 2000 hit “Minority.” Then, really getting into the spirit, he went more specific — “Use your vagina! Use your penis!” — before appearing to realize how many cameraphones were beaming his words to the outside world.
“I’m gonna stop there,” he said with an impish grin.
All the Instagramming and FaceTiming may have felt like an intrusion, but to some extent it was also the point of this gig, part of an elaborate Hella Mega promotional blitz arranged by the groups’ shared management firm, Crush Music. Hours before the show, each band released a new single and revealed details about its upcoming album. And all three outfits are set to perform separately this week on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” — one way to bring attention to a genre whose place in the pop-cultural conversation has receded as hip-hop (and its admirers) has taken over the center.
But might rock be on the cusp of a comeback? Sure, Hella Mega is using a trio of acts to fill venues that Taylor Swift and BTS can fill by themselves. Yet the stadium tour is one of several signs of hope for fans who view guitar bands as more than historical reenactors.
On Monday, Tool’s “Fear Inoculum” — the first album in 13 years by that proudly cerebral hard-rock group — displaced Swift’s “Lover” atop the Billboard 200. That came after a recent No. 1 debut by masked metal act Slipknot. Later this week, Korn will release a new record, followed Sept. 20 by the latest from Blink-182, which has been playing arenas and amphitheaters this summer.
And those are just the veterans. Young rock bands like the 1975 are thriving in the streaming environment, while indie acts such as Big Thief and Whitney are exciting the type of folks who adored Pavement and Sebadoh in the 1990s. Even Billie Eilish, the year’s biggest musical success story, has spoken about rock’s influence on her hip-hop-attuned pop — and has been endorsed by no less a revered rocker than Dave Grohl of Nirvana and Foo Fighters.
It’s almost enough to make you believe Armstrong had more than self-serving hype in mind when he introduced “She” at the Whisky by crowing (in saltier language), “Rock ’n’ roll is” definitely “alive!”
At least it was Tuesday. Playing out for the first time since the end of its tour behind 2016’s “Revolution Radio,” Green Day was downright ferocious in its hourlong set, which mixed sneering pop-punk oldies like “Welcome to Paradise” and “Basket Case” (both from the band’s mid-’90s breakthrough, “Dookie”) with darker, more recent stuff, including a handful of cuts from its last comeback effort, 2004’s “American Idiot.”
Before “Bang Bang,” about a “semi-automatic lonely boy,” Armstrong smeared pink lipstick on his mouth for a Joker-like effect, then jumped from the stage into the crowd. And he tweaked a George W. Bush-inspired lyric in “American Idiot”'s title track to denounce President Trump.
“This is a protest song,” he said later, making clear one purpose he sees for rock, as the rest of the band revved up the crunchy “Holiday.”
Yet Armstrong wanted simply to cut loose too, as when he led the group through its new single, “Father of All...,” an odd but effective mash-up of Led Zeppelin-style riffs and propulsive ’60s soul drumming. Not unlike many a tune from back in the day (or most current rap hits on Spotify), the song is only about 2 ½ minutes long — “too short,” Armstrong decided after he finished it here. So he and his mates — bassist Mike Dirnt and drummer Tré Cool, plus a touring guitarist and keyboardist — played it again.
If Green Day was drawing subtle lines between generations of musicians, Fall Out Boy was more explicit in arguing that rock fits alongside Lil Tecca and Post Malone, the latter of whom gives a shout-out to Fall Out Boy in his song “Wow.”
Wordy yet muscular power-emo jams like “Centuries” and “This Ain’t a Scene, It’s an Arms Race” had a nimble rhythmic quality borrowed from hip-hop, while Wentz was dressed, jersey over hoodie, like the stars of countless rap videos. In the studio, Fall Out Boy invited the past-his-prime Wyclef Jean to appear on its new single, “Dear Future Self (Hands Up)” — a bit of a head-scratcher for a group that’s exercised better taste in the past. With no Wyclef at the Whisky, though, this turbo-charged surf-punk blast had an appealingly frantic energy that caught something of what Wentz referred to as our “chaotic” times.
Performing first as “your friendly neighborhood opening band,” per frontman Rivers Cuomo’s description, Weezer seemed the least concerned with updating its trademark style.
“Buddy Holly,” “Hash Pipe,” “Beverly Hills,” “Say It Ain’t So” — each ultra-catchy fuzz-rock tune was fundamentally unchanged from how it sounded when KROQ started spinning it years ago. And for the band’s new song, “The End of the Game” — the lead single from an album due next year titled, uh, “Van Weezer” — Cuomo impressively re-created Van Halen’s vintage pop-metal attack.
It’s a different approach than the one Weezer took on its beat-heavy self-titled record from last year. But maybe Cuomo figures that the return of rock means it’s now safe to look back.