BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene
Billie Joe Armstrong endured a rough couple of years.
A highly publicized onstage meltdown followed by intense rehab for substance abuse threatened the future of Green Day following the two most potent albums in their catalog – 2004’s “American Idiot” and 2009’s “21st Century Breakdown.”
But within 30 seconds of Armstrong and bandmates Mike Dirnt (bass) and Tre Cool (drums) bounding onstage at Infinite Energy Arena in Duluth Friday night, it was apparent that Green Day is newly sharpened and ready to rawk.
Armstrong, an elfin bundle of kinetic energy, skittered down a small catwalk, hopped atop monitors, grabbed a fan from the front rows to join him onstage to sing and ripped out serrated riffs from his stars and stripes decorated guitar.
And that was just during the opening “Know Your Enemy.”
For nearly 2 ½ hours, the trio – doubled in size with the addition of touring musicians Jason White on guitar, Jason Freese on keyboards/accordion/saxophone and Jeff Matika on guitar and backing vocals – romped through about half of the songs on their newest release, “Revolution Radio,” reached back to 1991 with “2000 Light Years Away” and zigzagged through much of their 25-year-old catalog with unflagging energy.
The band last played in Atlanta in 2010, and Armstrong seems determined on this tour – which launched last week in Phoenix and runs through early April – to be heard.
Owning to their punk roots, Green Day sprinkled the show, starting during the throbbing “Letterbomb,” with political commentary.
“Tonight, we are not going to live in fear. Tonight, we are not going to live in anger. We are not going to live in lies and we are not going to live in some politician’s stupid ideology,” Armstrong bellowed, pacing the stage like an apoplectic preacher. “We’re gonna sing. We’re gonna dance. We’re gonna love, right? We don’t want racism. We don’t want sexism. We don’t want homophobia. We don’t want xenophobia. We’re freaking Americans!”
But Armstrong is like a frisky puppy immediately adrenalized at the sight of an adoring audience, and he was able to harness his anger and give fans jolt after jolt of musical joy.
Those packing the arena – a collection of teens, tots and the parents accompanying them - were bursting to sing along with “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” and “When I Come Around,” and Armstrong dutifully led numerous call and response chants and encouraged arm waving.
Dirnt joined Cool on his drum riser to thump out the familiar opening of “Longview” – another mid-‘90s favorite – its jumpy riffs and Armstrong’s clipped vocal delivery still invigorating decades later, while old school fans had to smile at the mosh pit that broke out near the stage on the general admission floor during the scrappy “Minority.”
Although Green Day is filling arenas on this tour, their relatively simple stage – banks of lights, stacks of amps, a few backdrops that bore their name and a four-tiered drum riser – and short catwalk give the show a clubby vibe.
Even the pops of pyro that exploded occasionally never felt like a cheesy selection from the Rock Star Accessory catalog, but, particularly as they complemented the swing from the anthemic “Are We the Waiting” to the frantic “St. Jimmy,” a vital storytelling device.
Green Day also displayed a generous spirit by bringing two devotees onstage to sing (during two different songs) and one to play guitar on a cover of Operation Ivy’s “Knowledge.” The guitar was a parting gift for the understandably stunned fan.
While some might quibble about Green Day’s decision to throw in a cover song or have Freese bleat the sax line to Wham!’s “Careless Whisper” (one can only imagine what George Michael would think) considering their own arsenal of material, it’s doubtful many fans left unsatisfied.
From “Basket Case” to “American Idiot,” “Waiting” to “Youngblood,” Green Day bulldozed through its history while indicating that they are nowhere near the finish line.