Isn't SXSW for unknown, and up-and-coming bands? And if so - and even if not - what is Green Day doing there?
Well yes, it still is. Kind of. But it's also for old as the hills acts, like Iggy & the Stooges and John Fogerty and Stevie Nicks, who are all in Austin this year, as well as seasoned vets like Steve Earle, Public Enemy, LL Cool J and Flaming Lips. In short, it's for anybody who has anything to sell.
It can be about music "discovery," to use one of the industry's current buzzwords, which everyone from public and satellite radio to Internet music services such as Rdio, Pandora and Spotify, which are represented in full force at the confab, purport to be in the business of. But it's really about promotion, an opportunity for acts of all sizes to take advantage of a giant gathering of the entertainment and digital media, plus thousands of music fans, to shout out loud that they've got a new story to tell. And new merch to sell.
Most bands come to Austin to launch new projects. Green Day's story - 20 years after they played the recently closed Sixth Street punk club Emo's, while promoting their breakthrough album Dookie - is a bit different. In the fall, the band released three power pop punk albums, titled Uno!, Dos! and Tre!, which were meant to mark the band's return to immediately unpretentious songwriting after the consecutive rock operas of America Idiot in 2004 and 21st Century Breakdown in 2009.
That planned returned to form was botched, however, when singer Billie Joe Armstrong went off the rails with a profanity laced tirade in September and went into rehab. So instead of launching, Green Day were re-launching at SXSW, trying to regain their footing as they embark on a rescheduled tour that comes to the Liacouras Center in Philadelphia on April 3.
The band has two movies that played the SXSW Film Festival - Cuatro!, about the making of the three albums, and Broadway Idiot, about Armstong's role in the prodcution of the American Idiot musical. In addition to one of those no holds barred Rolling Stone interviews that put him on the cover of the music mag, the other piece of the puzzle was a high profile SXSW show at the Austin City Limits' Moody Theater - right there on Willie Nelson Boulevard.
The blessedly early Friday night show - considerate of the band's still young fan base and the needs for conference goers to get on with the business of seeing new acts - found Green Day grown to six members on stage, and still sounding propulsive, punchy and at times explosive. In addtion to playing plenty of new material, the band went back to early nuggets like "Welcome To Paradise" and "Burnt Out." They covered AC/ DC's "Highway To Hell" and Guns N' Rose's "Sweet Child Of Mine." And they scored points for bringing a woman on stage to translate lyrics - and guitar solos - into sign language, and when Armstrong flubbed a cue at one point and laughed at himself, quipping, "And I wasn't even on drugs."
Still, Green Day have plenty of work to do. It's hard enough - and kind of stupid - to try to get your audience to digest three new albums worth of music at once. It's more difficult when you shoot yourself in the foot by going into rehab and watching those albums go largely unheard because you weren't around to promote them. At the ACL, the band's devout audience was patient and excitable enough during the new material, but they really were there to hear the hits.