Local Live: Pinhead Gunpowder

Pub date March 5, 2008

LOCAL LIVE On the wall behind the stage at the 924 Gilman Street Project, someone has scrawled in green paint among the other graffiti, "Punk: Do It Yourself" — words that most of the volunteers, bands, and show-goers at 924 Gilman seem to live by. One longtime habitué, Billie Joe Armstrong, appeared to have abandoned the idea and the venue the day his band Green Day signed a record deal with Warner Bros. more than a dozen years ago. However, on Feb. 10, Armstrong was back on the Gilman stage for the first time in aeons in a rare appearance with his side project of 17 years, Pinhead Gunpowder.

The band sounds something like Insomniac-era Green Day, but they play at an even faster pace. And while Pinhead Gunpowder’s music reflected the sounds of so many other pop-punk bands that frequent the Gilman stage — La Plebe, Carnal Knowledge, and Zomo also performed that night — Armstrong stood out from the rest of the punk vocalists. His famously raucous showmanship transferred flawlessly from the arena to this smaller space. Here, without spotlights and pyrotechnics, his flair and drive to entertain became even more apparent.

At one point, someone in the crowd tossed a black fedora to Armstrong, who put it on his head, tilted it down over his face, and yelled, "Do I look like Michael Jackson?" Yet for the first time in years, he didn’t look like a star: the eyeliner and black suit–red tie combo of late were conspicuously missing. Dressed down in a striped shirt and sporting matted bleach-blond hair, he looked much like he did in 1994 when he stumbled on fame as a teenager. He was in his element, playing loud, fast punk.

Behind him sat Pinhead Gunpowder lyricist and drummer Aaron Cometbus, also well known for his longtime zine Cometbus. Cometbus’s lyrics and prose include tales of squatting in abandoned houses and dumpster diving, and since his stories continue to jibe with his lifestyle, he continues to be welcomed with open arms by the East Bay punk community. Nonetheless, Pinhead Gunpowder’s lyrics might as well be fiction when tumbling out of a millionaire rock star’s mouth. But this seemed to worry no one as the audience yelled along and cheered between songs.