"So, we come from this place called Gilman Street. It's a club. It's in Berkeley."
That's how Billie Joe Armstrong characterized his band in a speech for Green Day's induction into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame last month. And last night, in an incredible, nearly two-hour set for less than a few hundred people, Green Day made a historic return to the stage at 924 Gilman -- the all-ages, non-profit club that famously served as the band's early home.
Before set opener "99 Revolutions," Armstrong reiterated what he's said over and over again about the venue: "I really think of this place as a very important place to me," he intoned from the stage, "and it's in my heart forever." (Earlier, bassist Mike Dirnt referred to Gilman as "church.")
And so Green Day's set last night was more than just an ordinary show. Introduced by Jello Biafra, the band played a marathon setlist with plenty early material befitting the venue -- deep cuts like "Paper Lanterns," "2,000 Light Years Away," "Only of You," "Private Ale" and "Christie Road." They brought up Tim Armstrong from Rancid for a faithful version of "Knowledge" by Operation Ivy. They joked with the crowd and each other, they extended the microphone to let a few of the many crowdsurfers sing, they swapped articles of clothing with fans, and left everyone inside the small room with shirts drenched in sweat and ears ringing.
In other words, it was pretty much like a typical Green Day show at Gilman in 1993.
Green Day playing at Gilman is special. It's like Springsteen playing the Stone Pony. It's like the Ramones playing CBGB. Except for one key difference: because of 924 Gilman's longstanding ban on major-label bands, Green Day hasn't been allowed to play the one place most dear to their hearts for the past 21 years. They've talked about it in interviews, they've written songs about it, and they've no doubt felt stung by it.
In fact, early in the night, I happened to be standing by Gilman's side door and witnessed Tré Cool denied admittance by a large security guard, who didn't recognize him and slammed the door in the drummer's face for not having a wristband for the show. Yes, it was funny ("I just got dicked! Did you see that?" he exclaimed to those nearby, chuckling at the scene), but it was also a metaphor for how the club has treated its most famous alumni for the last two decades.
Last night was different — the show was a benefit for those affected by the March 21 fire in West Oakland that killed two residents, displaced 34 others, and severely damaged both AK Press and 1984 Printing, publishing and printing companies well-known and loved in the punk scene. The membership of 924 Gilman voted to make a one-time exemption to the major-label ban for the benefit (a vote that "didn't seem very controversial to the membership," as Jesse Townley, long involved with the club, told me last night), and it was agreed that Green Day could play, billed as "Special Guests."
Of course, word got out on who the special guests were. So when tickets went on sale, at $20 each, they were gone in under 10 seconds. Speculation swirled that the tickets had been bought by bots created by Silicon Valley developers, and that the show might be full of tech bros.
But no — it was still the classic Gilman atmosphere, with the crowd goofily chanting "Nick-el-back! Nick-el-back!" before Green Day went on. Gilman history was represented, too, in the opening bands. Bobby Joe Ebola and the Children MacNuggits featured Operation Ivy’s Dave Mello on drums, and a reunited Enemies had Neurosis’ Dave Edwardson on bass; both bands had plenty of fans singing along. Behind me in line to get inside was Richie Bucher, the artist, musician and Cometbus regular who illustrated the iconic cover of Green Day's best-known album, Dookie. And in the crowd, as Armstrong noted between songs, there were far more punks with mohawks than there ever were at the band's Gilman shows in the early 1990s.
Armstrong also pinpointed the exact last show Green Day played at Gilman: "Sept. 6, 1993," rattling it off like a memorized date from history class (and also commented that Green Day hopping onstage in 2001 to do some songs on another band's equipment "didn't really count"). And although Armstrong has played Gilman twice with his other band Pinhead Gunpowder since then, last night truly was a different kind of homecoming.
Indeed, during the show's closing block of American Idiot songs -- culminating in the epic "Jesus of Suburbia," which Armstrong dedicated to everyone in West Contra Costa County -- it seemed a given they'd play that Grammy-winning album's "Homecoming," which ends with the repeated refrain: "Home / We're coming home again."
Instead, they encored with "Minority," slapped some high-fives to the crowd, jumped off the stage and out the side door, and piled into a black minivan with tinted windows and drove away. Ever to return? Time will tell, especially with the club's fundraising efforts and current negotiations about the future of the building.
But for Green Day -- the prodigal sons of 924 Gilman -- and for the few hundred people there to witness their return, it was a night to remember indeed.
Know Your Enemy
Welcome to Paradise
2,000 Light Years Away
Only of You
Stuart and the Ave.
Going To Pasalacqua
When I Come Around
Are We The Waiting
Jesus Of Suburbia