During "Minority," the motorized 2000 Celtic-thrash mash-up that closed Green Day's main set Saturday night, Toyota Center's video screen became a collage of flyers from the group's early days, before the platinum albums, roadies, Grammys and extra live musicians (there were four Saturday). Meanwhile, frontman Billie Joe Armstrong, showing little if any fatigue after more than two hours of running, jumping and screaming, might as well have been back in those clubs as he doused the adoring crowd with a Super Soaker. Green Day spent its first decade playing sweetened-up, tuneful songs that never deviated very far from the basic punk-rock template established by the Ramones, whose "Do You Remember Rock 'N Roll Radio" ushered the band onstage Saturday. But even then, three-chord shootouts like "Basket Case," "Welcome to Paradise," "She" and "When I Come Around" were arena anthems disguised in Converse and wallet chains.
Then the band became the rock superstars they are today by building the politically inflamed anthems of 2004's American Idiot and this year's 21st Century Breakdown around a musical framework as close to Bruce Springsteen and the Who as Social Distortion and Stiff Little Fingers - and even, on the new "East Jesus Nowhere," Queen. But live, Green Day counteracts its turn toward more serious-minded subject matter with dynamic front man Billie Joe Armstrong both submitting to and sending up all sorts of arena-rock gimmickry, making cliches like explosions, singalongs, covers (the Isley Brothers' "Shout") and hauling random fans up onstage to sing, dance or play - which he did at least half a dozen times Saturday - seem if not new, then at least fresh. Aftermath was right in the middle of that thought when, during Breakdown's "Know Your Enemy," Armstrong trotted out perhaps the oldest arena-rock trick in the book: heading into the crowd, a device employed by everyone from Bono to the Foo Fighter's Dave Grohl.
Strumming his guitar the entire time, Armstrong and his requisite security retinue made their way through the general-admission worshippers on the Toyota Center floor and began climbing the stairs of the section where Aftermath and his brother John happened to have aisle seats about 14 rows up, going up and up until they reached our row. At first it looked like they were going to keep going, but Armstrong chose precisely that moment to jump on the back of John's seat and drape his guitar across my brother's ample shoulders. As Armstrong got situated piggyback-style, John tried to sneak in a couple of strums, but, he says, "he batted my hand away." Hard to begrudge Armstrong, who gives so much of himself to the audience during a performance, for wanting to keep at least a little distance between him and his audience. But only a little. Saturday made Aftermath wonder what he must have been like in those punk-club days, because Green Day can finally command venues whose size matches Armstrong's infectious, boundless energy. And it looks like they'll be there for a while. Setlist
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Song of the Century 21st Century Breakdown Know Your Enemy East Jesus Nowhere Holiday The Static Age Before the Lobotomy Are We the Waiting St. Jimmy Boulevard of Broken Dreams Murder City Hitchin' a Ride Welcome to Paradise Burnout When I Come Around Brain Stew/Jaded Longview Basket Case
She King for a Day Shout 21 Guns Minority Encore American Idiot Jesus of Suburbia Blood, Sex & Booze Pulling Teeth Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)