Now that Green Day has released an amazingly realized “rock opera”—full of political and social commentary, no less—it’s tempting to say Billie Joe Armstrong and his cohorts have grown up. American Idiot picks up where 2000’s Warning left off; it’s a smart, thoughtful look at suburban alienation that distills The Kinks, The Who and The Beatles into a sound that represents a clear step forward from Green Day’s slacker-punk past.
That doesn’t necessarily mean the band is completely grown up, however, and that’s a good thing. Armstrong has developed into a premier frontman, working the arena crowd as effectively as he used to relate to audiences in much smaller venues. He still found time to pretend he was masturbating and drop plenty of random f-bombs throughout the night. After all, it’s one thing to be serious, it’s quite another to be boring.
And boring is one thing Green Day has never been. From the opening riffs of “American Idiot” through “Jesus of Surburbia” and the anti-Bush “Holiday,” all off the new album, the band was a bundle of kinetic energy, bouncing feverishly around the stage, which was set with red-and-black flags emblazoned with the new album’s heart-shaped hand grenade logo. The setting provided none-too-subtle commentary on the fine lines between pop, politics and fascism.
The mostly teenaged crowd responded with as much enthusiasm to these songs as they did to slacker anthems like “Longview” and “Basketcase,” which were recorded when most of the audience was still in grade school. And while the concert included the usual dose of tongue-in-cheek covers (bits of Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” and Metallica’s “Master of Puppets”), it also featured an extended version of “Shout” as a coda to “King for a Day.” Sure, it’s from Animal House, but it also demonstrated the band’s willingness to dabble outside the narrow constraints of punk, a trait they share with their heroes, The Clash.
Augmented by an extra guitarist, horn player and keyboardist, Green Day fully recreated the lush “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” and gave older material like “Hitchin’ a Ride” and “Brain Stew” an expanded sonic impact. But the most impressive instrumental performance of the night came from Tre Cool, who’s one of the best drummers in rock.
With most of Green Day’s fans at least 15 years younger than the band members themselves, the group realizes it’s no longer speaking to its peers. So you can forgive Armstrong if he got on a soapbox toward show’s end, telling the audience “It doesn’t matter who’s in the White House. You determine your own future.”
And who’da thunk ten years ago that Green Day had much of a future at all?