In 2004, Green Day released a concept album that would ultimately be realized as a highly successful Broadway musical. American Idiot has now packed up from the broadway stages and is on the road, in Seoul until September 22.
At first it’s a bit hard to imagine how punk rock can become a musical in the first place. There’s a seemingly glaring contradiction in the two artistic styles. A genre that prides itself on being anti-establishment, chaotic, and guttural being transformed into a meticulously choreographed, high budget stage production seems unnatural at first. But give it a minute.
When Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong wrote the album, he was taking a queue from bands like The Who and Pink Floyd, both whom had released concept albums with full story-lines built into their lyrics. American Idiot follows its protagonist, Jesus of Suburbia through the crumbling landscape of contemporary suburban America. Teen pregnancies, military service, and heroin addiction are both embraced and given a wave of the middle finger as the album progresses. The storyline unfolds, cryptically at times, but often in a blunt and unhesitant manner to the melodic screeching and squealing of heavily distorted electric guitars. The album is a brilliant snapshot of the underworld of life growing up in the suburbs.
The musical remains true to its roots. As the play progresses with minimal dialogue, the tracks unfold in the same order as they appear on the album, with little needing to be changed (21 Guns, a track from their followup 21st Century Breakdown is added to the mix in one of the best numbers of the entire show). A live band performs all of the songs during the duration of the performance, and the sudden presence of female cast vocals, taking the place of Armstrong’s usual slurry singing, refreshes many of the tracks in a wholly different light.
Think of a rage induced, cocaine fuelled episode of Glee, and you’ll find yourself in the right frame of mind.
If you’re in Seoul this week, pick up a ticket before the show moves back to the United States on the 22nd, and get ready to scream along.
Here’s the original music video for Jesus of Suburbia, the epic 9 minute centrepiece to American Idiot.