.Pinhead Gunpowder at Gilman Street

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“One request: ditch the cell phones and digital cameras. If they weren’t here, fuck ‘em.”
Apparently something happened tonight called the Grammy Awards, a bloated, self-congratulatory clusterfuck which, as a music journalist, I should probably attempt to care about. But even if for some sadomasochistic reason or another I followed the Grammys like a hawk, I’d have to opt instead for witnessing an event infinitely more electrifying and significant: Billie Joe Armstrong’s grand return to the stage at 924 Gilman Street.
Gilman in itself holds a big place in my heart; from 1990-1995 I played there, slept there, volunteered there, and went to more shows there than I can count. And of the 20 or so times I saw Green Day—including the time they fulfilled a request to play my own high school in 1991—none was as special as seeing them at Gilman, because it was and still is the most miraculous and amazing club the world has to offer.
Billie Joe, now a decorated Grammy alumnus himself, suffered the psychological blow of not being able to perform again at Gilman—essentially his home and breeding ground for six formative years—when Green Day signed to Warner Bros. in 1993 (the club explicitly bars major-label bands from its lineups). In a number of songs and interviews, he made the scars public; yet skirting back to the venerable warehouse fifteen years later, his less-mentioned but no-less-brilliant “other band” Pinhead Gunpowder was added onto tonight’s hush-hush Sunday evening show. (Judging from the long line that snaked around the block as the doors opened at 5pm, the news that Billie Joe was playing didn’t exactly escape the wildfire of Message Boards and MySpace postings like the organizers hoped.)
Pinhead Gunpowder does not play a lot of shows. In fact, they’ve only played 17 shows in 17 years. And though the band had just finished up a round of Southern California dates the previous week, tonight’s show carried a particular historical weight.
“We’ve played some shows, like down in San Pedro, the kinds of shows I haven’t played in 15 years,” he explained to me, hanging around the side door before the doors opened. “It’s been fuckin’ great. But this place…”—he paused, stared nervously at the club—“I haven’t played here in a long time.”
Playing Gilman again for Billie Joe is probably a lot like getting dumped by an amazing girlfriend, only to have her call up years later out of the blue for a roll in the hay; strange, kind of awesome, and more than slightly nerve-racking. Nearby, some people arrived with video equipment; “What are they filming for?” asked Billie Joe, no doubt concerned that his private communion with Gilman could be turned into a documentary critique.
But if the love showered on him tonight was any barometer, then Billie Joe needn’t have worried. Two girls at the front of the line, who’d arrived at 7:30am, came around the corner and approached him; some gushing-adolescent conversation and a couple of hugs later, the girls ran back to the line shaking, shuddering, and coming precariously close to throwing up in excitement.
And onstage, after setting up his own equipment and adjusting his own mic stand, Billie Joe had the world in his hands, from the opening chords of “Find My Place” to luminous chestnuts like “MPLS Song” and “Losers of the Year.” Not a drop of animosity remained from 1993. Bodies crushed, heaved, and lurched as one in the wonderfully chaotic fray of the crowd, where I and hundreds of others tried to stay on two feet. Gilman staffers on either side of the stage, most of them in grade school when Green Day were banned from Gilman, all sang along.
“Welcome home!” someone yelled.
“Welcome home!” replied Billie Joe, in a sort of gleeful amazement at the phrase, and then began singing, “Welllll-come hoooo-me, wellll-come hoooo-me!”
Obviously enjoying the shit outta the occasion, Billie jumped around like a madman, quoted John Denver and Don McLean lyrics, and slashed away at his black Gretsch guitar. Through “Reach for the Bottle,” “Before the Accident,” and, in a dedication to Pinhead Gunpowder’s old guitarist Mike Kirsch, “Future Daydream,” he couldn’t have appeared more inspired on Gilman’s well-worn stage. Being tangled in the sea of people up front, I swayed and sweat and gasped for air along with every goddamn beautiful moment of it all.
After “Mahogany,” the lights came up, the side door opened, and Billie Joe Armstrong ambled out onto Eighth Street. I caught up with him, steam emanating from his drenched body, in the same spot where beforehand he’d expressed uncertainty.
“That,” he told me, “was great.”
P.S. Pinhead Gunpowder brought out a lot of faces I haven’t seen in a while. Jesse Luscious, Robert Eggplant, Paul Curran and Patrick Hynes: nice seeing you all. You too, Aaron. And massive kudos to the opening band, Zomo, who were almost as great as the headliner.


  1. Great article… I was there..
    Like several others line buddies, it had been quite a long time since I crossed that threshold. I was also there on that last fateful show in 1993… God, has it really been 15 years?
    It’s funny after all of these years that I still see familiar faces, quite a few of us even brought our kids (feeling old). We were perched by the side of the stage where the band loads up. I must admit it was a little hard to read Billie Joe. At first he appeared to shy away from the crowd and the cameras. But your conversation with him leads to the understanding that he was trying to feel out the crowd..and the club again.
    I think he missed us (the crowd) as much as we missed him and the whole event became more of a homecoming. Just a reminder that Gilman has meant so much to so many.
    Thanks Billie Joe

  2. to billie:
    Only of You
    I wish I could tell you
    But the words would come out wrong
    Oh if you only knew
    The way I felt for so long
    I know that we’re worlds apart
    But I just don’t seem to care
    These feelings in my heart
    Only with you I want to share
    The first time I caught a glimpse of you
    Then my thoughts were only of you
    I hope that when time goes by
    You will think the same about me
    Many nights awake I lie
    I only wish that you could see
    I know that we’re only friends
    I hope this feeling never ends
    If I could only hold you
    It’s the only thing I want to do.
    The first time I caught a glimpse of you
    Then my thoughts were only of you

  3. I was at that show, and it was grand. I (probably like quite a bit of people there) got to meet Billie Joe (and Mike Dirnt who was also at the show) and could not have been more thrilled. During one point of the show, I got Billie’s attention and tossed my black, pin-striped fedora hat to him and he put it on and said, “Does this make me look like Michael Jackson?” and then tossed it back. That is something that I will never forget.

  4. I was also at this show, and you did a great job writing it up. It was such a fantastic show—despite getting crushed down front (you would not believe the bruises I have on my knees today) I loved every single act, especially, obviously, Pinhead Gunpowder. I was that tall woman with the magenta streaks in hair. Hee.
    Definitely a show to remember. “Homecoming” is a good way of putting it. I’m glad I got to be a part of it, even if I somehow managed to miss the chance to say hello to Mr. Armstrong himself. Fantastic.

  5. So just thought i’d point out that i was ONE of the TWO girls that ran out and almost barfed.
    the other girl was my best friend Becca/
    the review pretty much said covered what we went through.
    all the pain. bruises. and barf.
    i would GLADLY do it all again for Billie.
    “But if the love showered on him tonight was any barometer, then Billie Joe needn’t have worried. Two girls at the front of the line, who’d arrived at 7:30am, came around the corner and approached him; some gushing-adolescent conversation and a couple of hugs later, the girls ran back to the line shaking, shuddering, and coming precariously close to throwing up in excitement.”
    <—–yuppppp. that was us! xD

  6. There were actually 3 girls and one guy, I was one of the girls that came up to him. At first we didn’t want to approche him for the simple fact that he was talking to a group of people and we didn’t want to be rude. My friend Becca was the one crying uncontrolably and could verly stand up right, Denise was the girl that called her mom because she was so exited she could’ve puked [she didn’t get there at 7:30am but she jumped in line with us], and then you have me & Justin we were dying on the inside but we tried not to let it show. I couldn’t even think of anything to say after all Billie Joe gives me autisum!?!! I almost forgot my name when i huged him. It was great.
    Im glad Billie played at Gilman after so many years. There were times when I saw him try to hide his grin, but by doing that he just turned around with a bigger one. My legs and arms are still bruised and soar from being slamed into the stage. I think I have rug burn on my hands too, but it was all worth it.

  7. Very well!
    Pinhead Gunpowder always in our heart.
    Why don’t you come in our city, Rieti in Italy?
    There are many fans, you will enjoy very much!
    Bye Bye!

  8. Wow. I have lived on the east coast the entire span of my involvement with the Punk scene. Ive wanted to go to 924 as long as I can remember. haha Ive even read books about it and im getting The address numbers tattooed on my wrist, and Ive never even been there. just goes to show you that that place has the influence and ability to keep us all dreaming. Loved the article, Green Day’s my favorite band of all time and PHGP is right up there. Im so fuckin jealous its not even funy haha


  10. brought tears to my eyes.
    i loved the emotion put into it.
    seriously best article I have read in a long time.
    happy “almost” B-day Billie Joe!! XD

  11. I was standing next to the two girls who were first in line. In fact, I have your picture (red plaid skirt)
    standing in the threshold of Gilman, if you want it…
    hit me back at http://www.myspace.com/greendayfan518
    That show was crazy chaotic!
    In the picture there is a girl with red hair. It looks like she is standing in the front row, but there was a whole row of people in front of her. Some of us were hunched over, bracing our arms against the floor of the stage, just trying to be OK. I personally figured I was too weak to hold back the crowd and I just layed on the stage, next to Billies Microphone guy…you cant see him either! He is in front of the red haired girl. The front line will NEVER have the pleasure of being in a picture because we were so far buried underneath the fray…unless someone took a picture from the stage itself…I keep hoping…


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