Better Than: This by 2,000 light years.
“Life is not fucking pretty right now. Believe me, I can testify to that shit.” This was Billie Joe Armstrong’s call to arms. Shouted in the middle of performing “Letterbomb,” he wanted the audience to let go with him for just a couple of Sunday evening hours and live in the moment. Begging us to forget work, school, and the outside world, his request was as much a plea to help free each of us as it was one to help free him from the full weight of the aftermath of a very public meltdown.
It’s difficult to forget what happened last fall at the I Heart Radio festival in Las Vegas, where Billie Joe traversed the fine line between rock star antics and some level of mental instability. Maybe that line has always been how much the world actually gets to see. Video of the incident spread quickly and suddenly, and the singer admitted to a struggle with addictions and demons that were never quelled. Now out of treatment, he has rejoined the band to make up for a series of postponed dates and lack of support for the trio of albums they released last year.
The ordeal could have been something left unspoken–a minor slip in the trio’s journey that gets brought up from time to time: “Remember that time they performed in Vegas and …” Instead, Armstrong has integrated every last bit of the memory into his performance and comeback by making the show less about forgiving and forgetting and more about forgiving and remembering while moving forward.
The band’s performance was cohesive yet raw from start to finish. Beginning with “99 Revolutions,” Green Day jumped right into their extensive songbook and packed as many bombs of pop punk catchiness they could into a nearly two and a half hour set. With at least one track from each of their studio albums making an appearance during the evening, it was a well-balanced showcase of how little the energy has changed from each phase in their career.
Armstrong’s performance, under the most minute microscope, felt particularly fresh. Retaining the same silly kitsch and preteen boy ADD that he has mastered onstage, his voice sounded clearer than the past two times I’ve seen the band, and he appeared more focused than every before with every movement having a clear aim and semblance of precision. As always, Mike Dirnt, Tre Cool, longtime guitarist Jason White, and the rest of the musicians who made appearances onstage with the band were as strong as ever and happy to let the singer take over the bulk of the show’s attention.
With some of the distant history moving even farther away from the public’s idea of Green Day’s image, it was nice to see them return to their roots. Performing a cover of Operation Ivy’s “Knowledge” along with the first song Armstrong wrote at the age of 16 (“Going to Pasalacqua”), all the elements of classic Green Day shows from the past and present coexisted seamlessly in one space.
In a recent Rolling Stone cover story, Billie Joe emphasized the importance of Green Day acting as pop’s punk time capsules. “If a kid picks up a Green Day record, there’s a good chance he’ll pick up a Ramones record too,” he said. This isn’t something the band has gained much credit for, but their self-manifestation as a bridge between the past and the future felt more prevalent during this particular performance. Bringing three young fans onstage to perform and stage dive during the set, it was unavoidable to see the joy on these kids’ faces as they triumphantly hugged Billie Joe and were taught how to properly strut alongside him and bassist Dirnt upstage.
As someone who had also seen Green Day as a gateway to a world of punk music, it was impossible not to scream along and smile as they blasted through a series of songs that have lyrics impossibly embedded in my memory and feel pride as they capped off the set with an encore featuring the first two tracks off the album that ignited a new generation of kids desiring to learn that history Billie Joe wants to open doors to, American Idiot. They chose not to end with the classic “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)”–instead, the house lights went up, they left the stage, and we were left with the remains of “Brutal Love” to help us conjure up some parting metaphors.
Critical Bias: The year 2006.
Overheard: An entire arena screaming along to “Bohemian Rhapsody” as it played right up until the lights faded out for Green Day’s set.
Random Notebook Dump: After years of hearing my family make fun of how often Billie Joe mentions the name of whatever city or state he’s in during a show, it’s difficult to not notice the frequency “HELLO BROOKLYN” came out of his mouth.
Know Your Enemy
Stay the Night
Stop When the Red Lights Flash
Boulevard of Broken Dreams
Welcome to Paradise
Geek Stink Breath
Knowledge (Operation Ivy cover)
When I Come Around
Going to Pasalacqua
Highway to Hell/Brain Stew
King for a Day
Shout/(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction/Hey Jude