On Friday May 9, the first of two benefit shows was held for the independent neighbors AK Press, a publisher and distributor, and 1984 Printing. In March, their West Oakland headquarters burned down in a deadly fire that claimed two lives. The second benefit show took place May 17, at the same legendary venue: 924 Gilman Street in Berkeley. The all-ages collective-run club has hosted shows since December of 1986 and has nurtured tons of bands including Operation Ivy, Rancid, AFI, Neurosis, Jawbreaker and of course, Green Day.
Internet forums began rumbling last week before exploding into a full on frenzy over rumors that Green Day would headline the second show. Speculation mounted enough so that when the $20 tickets went on sale at 9am May 16—the morning before the day of the show—it only took 10 to 15 second to sell out. Almost immediately the Facebook event page flooded with posts from fans, outraged and claiming bots had snatched up all the tickets while others threatened to show up anyway. Volunteers did their best to weather the storm, explaining that no foul play had taken place and reminding people the cause for the show. Some simply fueled new rumors, identifying alternate bands as the secret headliners.
On one side of the rumor mill were those claiming the Green Day was in fact playing because they’re a home-grown band and have nothing but love for their community. The other half disregarded any notion of the band playing because of the ban the band received roughly 22 years ago. Since its inception, Gilman St. has remained steadfast against any major label act gracing the now iconic stage. Thanks to a recent vote held by the volunteers of the club regarding a temporary lift on the ban, the rumors were confirmed as Green Day once again played “The place we consider home” for the first time since 1993, said Green Day front man Billie Joe Armstrong.
In the hours leading up to the show, volunteers and longtime patrons assembled in front of the club to help keep the street clear and the fans safely organized. Thankfully there was no mob, nor did there seem to be an angry or upset face in sight. Roughly an hour to doors opening a line assembled down the block before trickling in under a large sign above the doorway that read, “SOLD OUT.”
Opening the show were Bobby Joe Ebola, who featured Operation Ivy’s Dave Mello on drums and whose front man, Corbett Redford, has been working on an East Bay punk scene retrospective, tentatively scheduled for release this winter. Playing main support were The Enemies, featuring Neurosis’ Dave Edwardson on bass, and who reunited specifically for this show as requested by Green Day. Both bands are longtime Gilman alumni, which helped lend a hand in creating an old-school Gilman St. vibe.
Some familiar faces in the crowd drew whispers among fans who tried to inconspicuously point out X’s John Doe, AFI’s Davey Havok, and Richie Bucher, the artist for Green Day’s 1994 breakout album, Dookie.
Another familiar face took the stage to introduce the no longer secret headlining band, Dead Kennedy’s vocalist Jello Biafra; which caused a collective swell of the crowd toward the front and an uproar of cheer. Biafra made it a point to remind the crowd of under 200 why they were there. Eventually he admitted, “Now would be the time the band is supposed to be walking up here because I’m running out of shit to say.” Moments later, a flood of sunlight burst into the dimly lit room from the side door, revealing Green Day drummer Tré Cool.
Following a humorous “Nick-el-back, Nick-el-back”, chant from the eager crowd, Green Day walked onto the Gilman stage together for the first time in 22 years, aside from an impromptu mini-set in 2001. The band began their set with 2012’s “99 Revolutions” and a few other more recent tracks before playing early material like “2000 Light Years Away,” “Only of You,” “Going to Pasalacqua,” and “Burnout.” The crowd swayed and broke into various areas of pogo dancing, moshing and circle pits. Even those firmly in back couldn’t help but move along with the energy.
Midway through the set Billie Joe proclaimed that he wanted to bring a friend to on stage. Rancid’s Tim Armstrong blasted onto the stage, popping up next to his longtime friend to perform a song from his former band, Operation Ivy’s “Knowledge.” Better known hits and some deep album cuts followed, as Green Day was all smiles and in good spirits and joked with the audience. At times the crowd became a choir, even singing louder than the PA could pump out Billie Joe’s vocals. Armstrong would go on to explain, “You know it’s funny, some of the people with mohawks in 1993 didn’t really come up to the front.” Signifying that not only was it nice to be home, it’s nice to be fully welcomed home.
As Green Day attempted to leave the stage, the crowd made it clear they would not have it. The band agreed to one more song and burst into “Minority.” Almost immediately all four members of Green Day waved to their fans and threw out high fives before walking off stage and out the side door.
Secret or not, this show was not booked to be a spectacle. This was a benefit concocted by a caring punk community faced with a drastic time of need.
Words and photos by Jordan Wolfe.