News Column

Green Day Grants Intimate Access

September 25, 2013

The News & Advance

Green Day has spent most of the last decade stoking bonfires of opposition.

And following the release of two ambitious concept albums -- 2004's "American Idiot" and 2009's "21st Century Breakdown," the former having been adapted into a Broadway musical -- the Grammy-winning punk-rock trio didn't exactly douse the flames when they began issuing their mosh-pit-worthy trilogy in rapid-fire installments this time last year.

In fact, the band's triple play -- "!Uno!," "!Dos!" and "!Tre!" -- with longtime co-producer Rob Cavallo only seemed to prove singer/guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong, bassist Mike Dirnt and drummer Tre Cool still had plenty of gas left in the tank.

But what would have been a standard promotional rollout for the three-album collection was halted by Armstrong's treatment for substance abuse, after he delivered an onstage tirade at the 2012 iHeartRadio Music Festival in Las Vegas.

The frontman abruptly ended Green Day's set by smashing his guitar and exclaiming, "I'm not [expletive] Justin Bieber."

Shortly thereafter, amid a torrent of media headlines about his angry rant, Armstrong entered a month-long outpatient rehab program.

Clean and sober now, by his own account, the band picked up where they left off in March, continuing their mammoth "99 Revolutions Tour" in support of the trilogy.

Indeed, the hook-savvy Northern Californians may be one of the biggest rock acts in the world, but in a new documentary, "!Cuatro!," available this week, they offer an intimate look at how their momentous LPs came together. (It's worth noting that all of the footage was shot before Armstrong's rehab stint).

Performing in sweaty clubs and hunkering down in a multitude of production facilities -- like New York's legendary Electric Lady Studios and the Bay Area's Jingletown Recording, where chief songwriter Armstrong mined through some 65 tracks -- the film presents all the elements of the Green Day lore that fans have yet to see unfiltered.

The honed buzz of Armstrong's mid-1960s guitar clamor, Dirnt and Cool's airtight gallop, and the frontman's lyrical emphasis on girl troubles and starting the party that never stops echo repeatedly in the background, like a supporting actor playing an Oscar-deserving role.

While the doc kicks off with crisp, high-def scenes that obviously were shot digitally, the format changes as you follow the band's story, with certain footage appearing as if it were captured Camcorder-style or in black and white with a 16-millimeter graininess.

This technique of switching between digital and film, and all of the added effects, gives each sequence a distinct vibe.

"!Cuatro!" is skillfully directed by Tim Wheeler, who serves up a properly paced and vastly entertaining diary of the year-and-a-half long journey Green Day embarked on to make "!Uno!," "!Dos!" and "!Tre!"

Although mostly focused on the recording process, the movie also grants viewers a glimpse into the personal lives of band members, which now includes guitarist Jason White, who toured with Green Day for 13 years before being recently added as an official part of the lineup.

In one especially revealing scene, Dirnt is shown apologizing to his two young children as he heads off to "work," in essence explaining to his kids that he has to leave them, his loved ones, in order to please a room full of other people.

Still, plenty of humor and hijinks find their way into the final cut, with Armstrong and company often resembling a 21st century version of the Beatles in "A Hard Day's Night."

If that comparison isn't enough to suggest where Green Day themselves might be headed, maybe it's best to leave you with some of Armstrong's own words about the nature of his band's desire for longevity.

"I think sometimes taking time off feels dangerous to me," he says in the opening moments of the documentary. "For us, we just need to keep that evolution going. Let your audience grow with you and grow up with you and, at some point, grow old with you."

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(c)2013 The News & Advance (Lynchburg, Va.)

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