Green Day knows how to build an audience into a frenzy of anticipation, even when it’s not their music that’s doing the building. As with all of their recent gigs, last night’s performance at Hard Rock Live opened with a recording of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” all six minutes of it, followed by a recording of the Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop” in which the only “performer” onstage was the Drunk Bunny: a dude in a bunny suit, whose presence has lent a jocular air to Green Day concerts for the past 20 years, spinning himself into a tizzy before collapsing onto the floor and being dragged off by a stagehand. The energy in the room was that of a bubble expanding to its near-breaking point. We were, indeed, all revved up and ready to go.
These songs represent the twin poles of what Green Day has become, especially as a live act: part theatrical, arena-rock-powerhouse, part humble, three-chord punks from northern California. The trio, supplemented by an additional three touring musicians, represented both ends of the spectrum in fine fettle last night, delivering a hit-filled spectacle that earned all of the fist-pumping, pogoing, slam-dancing and crowd-surfing it deserved.
The band opened with the one-two-three punch of “American Idiot,” “Holiday” and “Know Your Enemy,” establishing a high bar the group still managed to vault throughout the evening. The latter included Billie Joe Armstrong’s customary invitation to a fan to sing the last bridge with him; the guest in question was warmly received with a hug and a few off-mic words from Armstrong. Later, during the band’s cover of Operation Ivy’s ska-punk benchmark “Knowledge,” Armstrong brought a 9-year-old boy onstage to play guitar, and he slayed it—even nailing the last note while jumping off an elevated platform with deft rock-star gravitas.
The band was as tight as you would expect from a group that has been together for 35 years. Tré Cool’s drumming was technically precise and as thunderous as a churning storm. Mike Dirnt’s bass lines could cut through steel, while his ambling introduction to “Longview,” as Pavlovian a moment as any in Green Day’s catalog, was a delight to experience. Armstrong’s guitar straddled the interrelated genres of punk, metal and alternative, with resounding head-banger “Brain Stew” landing with the heaviness of Thor’s hammer.
Could I have done without the superfluous cover of Kiss’ “Rock and Roll All Nite?” Sure, especially considering it’s a slot in the set list that could have gone to any number of Green Day originals that would have made the theater go bananas, like “She” or “Bang Bang” or “Nice Guys Finish Last” or “The Grouch” or “Warning.” Otherwise, the set generously spelunked material dating all the way back to the group’s 1990 debut 39/Smooth. The inclusion of “Disappearing Boy,” which Armstrong dedicated to Venus and Serena Williams—who were evidently in attendance last night—was genuinely surprising.
Armstrong wasn’t much for crowd banter, other than the obligatory shout-outs to Florida and its southern metropolises, but by limiting the chatter, it simply left more time for songs. The cascade of hits kept coming, each performance more grandiose than the last. “Minority” felt like the roof-rattling set closer of the night, but then so did “Basket Case,” but then so did “King For a Day.”
Supplemented by pyrotechnics, sparklers and confetti, the band even left room for a riveting drum solo—a feature that would have been frankly verboten in the old purist punk days—and an absolutely wailing saxophone solo that cheekily integrated a snippet from Wham!’s “Careless Whisper.” I lost count of the number of moments of communal ecstasy this show inspired. By the time of set closer “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life),” Armstrong had effectively purged the song of its original bitter irony, and embraced its lyrics earnestly. We certainly did have the time of our lives.